This article was first published in Private Client Adviser on 22 August 2014 and is reproduced by kind permission (www.privateclientadviser.co.uk)
Following Macfarlanes’ announcement last month of their plans to leap aboard the innovative bandwagon that is CV-blind interviewing, I felt that this new practice needed considered analysis. The way in which law firms recruit candidates for training contracts is understandably a ‘hot topic’ of trainee-focussed literature, and having penned several blogs providing tips on getting a training contract, it seems prudent to consider whether CV-blind interviewing will affect the current advice that is available to applicants. My concerns centre on how the scheme will actually operate in reality and what, if any, benefits it will provide to candidates and employers.
Firstly, how will the graduate recruitment team ‘vet’ applicants for the interview shortlist? How can the risk of human bias be removed from this stage and not from the interviewers’ panel? In reality, doesn’t this mean that prejudice still occurs, just at an earlier juncture? Further, how will the ‘information gap’ between the graduate recruitment team and the interviewers be dealt with – will there be some form of Chinese wall in place to ensure information that may cause bias is not relayed? And what information will be allowed through, if any?
Surely it is only by gaining an understanding of an applicant as an individual that any interviewer can truly ascertain whether they are right for the particular firm? This means that essentially, aside from having the requisite qualifications, the context of an applicant’s educational background can be disregarded. Are interviewers really so blinkered that the very sight of a CV would limit their ability to see beyond it? I would argue that the exercise of going beyond the person on paper can, and should, be achieved without taking the paper away altogether.
This is my primary concern about the CV-blind process and the resulting ‘anonymous applicant’. Applications are not simply a box ticking exercise; rather they require not only detailed, but personal answers which help to convey unique information at the initial selection stage. Will interviewers still see the applications? Will the format of the application change to exclude background details and/or will there still be an opportunity to include anecdotes in your application form as it is only the interview that is ‘blind’? There is a clear risk of an individual’s ‘application merits’ being lost in translation if this is the case. A meeting between those who vet the applications (the CV-sighted) and the interviewers (the CV-blind) would be required to facilitate a ‘joining up’ of minds in making a final decision. However, doesn’t this negate the objective of the scheme? Or is the aim to provide a CV-blind vacuum in which the interviewers can formulate an unbiased opinion, to then be updated with pertinent application/CV information afterwards and as appropriate?
This brings me to another question that perhaps is too wide for proper analysis here: can you really tell if someone has been privately or state-educated? More importantly, if a distinction can be made, what exactly is it that you can deduce aside from the fact that their family had/did not have the money/desire to send them to a private establishment? It is commonly accepted that first impressions are formed in less than 30 seconds. However, this is within 30 seconds of meeting someone, not from finding out where they went to school. Further, although the school you attended may not be relevant at interview, surely the university is? ‘Lower ranked universities’ are indicative of an applicant’s calibre (and of school grades, which in themselves are indicative of commitment, capacity etc) and if the university admissions process is unbiased, then a first from Oxford is infinitely more impressive than my own 2:1 from Southampton!
Is it really impossible for people to simply make a conscious effort not to judge someone on their background? CV-blind interviewing purports to counter the bias within our psyche of which we aren’t even aware. Surely, when making a conscious effort not to judge, the remaining, uncontrollable bias of which you are unaware of is almost imperceptible in its nature? In my opinion, a CV ‘partially-sighted’ scheme might be more favourable, where information that is deemed relevant to inviting someone to interview is relayed, but information that is both non-essential and introduces a risk of bias is not.
In conclusion, the human element of the interview process means that there is always going to be scope for interviewers not only to infer things about people from their backgrounds, but also infer things about their backgrounds from their personalities. Will the absence of a CV really preclude this?