Mitigate Bias in Hiring With a Simple Rubric

So, you’re hiring. You’ve figured out the role, built your pool, and decided how to test your candidates on racial equity competence. Next up: mitigating bias in assessing your candidates.

Bias is like dental plaque—barely detectable (at first) and totally unavoidable, but the longer you ignore it, the worse it gets (here’s an appetizing Google image search: “tartar”). Prevention works to a limited extent, but regular maintenance with a variety of tools is the only way to keep it in check. Lucky for us, mitigating bias is—dare we say—a little more fun and a lot less gross than flossing.

One way to lay the groundwork for equitable hiring is by using rubrics as an anchoring mechanism. As a hiring manager, your job is to shepherd the process—define the role, get input from your team, and weigh all of the evidence to make a final decision—with the rubric as your trusty sidekick.

How to create and use a hiring rubric:

  1. Write down 3-5 must-haves and define the bar for them. (Already used our Figuring Out the Role Worksheet? You’ve done most of this step!) Ask yourself these questions:
    • Must-haves: what does this quality look like in practice?
    • Defining the bar: what’s the level of ability that your hire should have when they start? On a scale of 1 (Big Red Flag in this area) to 4 (Definitely meets the bar), what would a “4” be?
  2. Assemble your team. Pull together a diverse group to review applications and interview candidates (we recommend two people per round after the initial screening). Having different backgrounds and perspectives represented on your team will help you avoid the “like me” effect—the tendency to think more highly of people who are similar to us.
  3. Share the rubric and get aligned. Meet with your team (even just for 10 minutes!) and discuss the criteria and how you’re testing for them. Don’t skip this! Without getting aligned on the rubric, people will default to their own (often biased) criteria to assess candidates.
  4. For each round, have your interviewers fill out the rubric and debrief together. Interviewers should fill it out independently and then discuss their impressions—backing up their insight on observable behaviors and evidence rather than gut feelings. Debriefs give interviewers the chance to check for biases or assumptions, especially if there are discrepancies. Debriefing with the rubrics also ensures that candidates are measured against the bar you’ve defined, so that you’re hiring the right person (not just the current best option who may not actually meet the bar).
  5. Make your decision. Weigh all feedback and decide whether to reject or advance your candidate. If you find that you need more information to make a decision, use the rubrics to identify the evidence you still need, and follow up accordingly.
  6. (Optional) Revisit your rubric. If you’re hiring to fill a position just once (or once in awhile), you won’t need to continually refine it. But, if you’re hiring multiple people for the same role (like organizers or trainers), consider vetting your rubric over time to make sure it’s helping you achieve equitable results.

Remember: the rubric is not a magic wand. While it can help your team spot and counteract implicit bias, no rubric can replace the human elements of perception and self-reflection. Plus, in order to achieve equitable hiring outcomes, you’ll need to consider multiple angles in addition to your rubric, such as building a strong pool and assembling a diverse hiring team. (Remember the plaque? Keep flossing! And brushing, and using mouthwash, and going to the dentist…)

Ready to get started? Check out our template and samples!