Let’s Uncheck All the Boxes

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Oct 30, 2015
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

You won’t often find a policy question where the conservative Koch brothers and liberal legislators like U.S. Senator Cory Booker are in agreement.

But here’s one: the debate over “Ban the Box,” which would make it illegal to ask about criminal convictions on job applications.

Why are two sides that see eye to eye on so little coming together on this particular topic?

The answer lies not only in ideas of basic fairness and redemption, but also in a truism that everyone learned in grade school: don’t judge a book by its cover.

You see, “The Box” is an incredibly blunt and oversimplified tool for assessing the quality of a job candidate or the likelihood that they’ll be able to succeed and deliver results in a given position. “The Box” doesn’t really tell us anything, except the fact that a job candidate made a mistake in their past. What it lacks is any form of nuance or context, any indication of which hard or soft skills the candidate might possess, how they operate under pressure, or whether they demonstrate strategic thinking and dedication.

Hiring organizations need to take a broader and more thoughtful view of job candidates. This goes well beyond “Ban the Box,” which would give once-troubled candidates a real chance at becoming productive members of society again. Employers can and should work a lot harder to get all the info they can about the people they’re hiring, in every situation.

This means getting beyond the basics of the resume. Let’s look past simplistic credentialing indicators like where a candidate graduated from college. A great example is a major Global 500 organization that focused on hiring mostly Ivy League graduates for its sales roles. Yet after analyzing data of top sales performers, it found that most of them were not actually from Ivy league schools. This demonstrates how “box-like” factors can be helpful quick indicators — but lack any sort of meaningful depth or insight.

Instead, employers should re-focus on the basics when it comes to hiring. Put together a screening process that provides a fuller picture of a job candidate. Consider personality or other assessments that can generate insight into a candidate’s mindset. And perhaps most important — talk to others the candidate has worked or interacted with in the past. Job references are typically the most neglected part of hiring, but if done right, they can provide some of the best information an employer can get about a job candidate’s performance. Instead of considering assessments or reference checking as a “pass” or “fail,” use the insight earlier in the hiring process to conduct better interviews.

We know from our own data that when employers take steps to get a fuller view of job candidates, they sometimes can even surprise themselves with the decisions they make. Countless customers of ours from major retailers to large hospitals have made hires who were not initially at the top of their lists based on resumes alone — all because of smart input from the hiring process and surprising “intel” from job references.

Our economy and today’s employment landscape are far too complex, nuanced, and challenging to rely on box-checking to make hiring decisions. Let’s not only “Ban the Box” when it comes to folks who are trying to turn their lives around — let’s ban all the boxes, for good.

image from Shutterstock

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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