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Most businesses work hard to make their hiring processes fair and free of prejudice. But sometimes identifying intangible sources of bias can be difficult. That’s why your best defense against subjectivity is objectivity and science. Specifically, following guidelines used by Industrial Organizational (I/O) psychology, which is the scientific study of human behavior in work settings.

But even if you don’t have an I/O psychologist on your staff, there are best practices you can follow and resources such as technology that can help. Cynthia A. Hedricks, Ph.D., our chief analytics officer here at SkillSurvey, discussed hiring compliance and other issues in a webinar she presented for the Human Capital Institute, An Insider’s Guide to I/O Psychology: Cutting Through the Confusion to Make Better Hiring Decisions.

I/O psychology provides a quantitative and statistical approach to assessing candidates’ knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). And, today’s hiring software gives you the tools to statistically analyze information that you gather during the hiring process, to ensure that there is no bias in the information that you gather with respect to gender, race/ethnicity, or other protected classes. For example, whether one class of candidates is consistently getting lower ratings on an assessment or other type of hiring test than other classes of candidates.

Relevance is Key

The primary catalyst for EEOC lawsuits are hiring processes that rely on criteria that are not job related, says Dr. Hedricks. In 2014 alone, the EEOC filed 133 new merits lawsuits and resolved 136 additional ones for a total monetary recovery of $22.5 million.

“Questions asked of candidates, or other relevant others such as their references, must be appropriate, and aligned with successful outcomes in that particular job,” emphasizes Hedricks, “General or even specific questions that are unrelated to what is required for job success can make your process vulnerable to lawsuits.”

At SkillSurvey, I/O psychologists create surveys that contain behaviors relevant to job success, as indicated by scientific research. Furthermore, they also conduct studies to validate whether the reference feedback on the candidate is predictive of job success, once the candidate is hired. Beyond predictive validity, other scientific best practices are embedded in the company’s reference-checking solution, such as ensuring reliability and compliance.

Supporting compliance in reference checking

Here’s a look at how I/O psychologists support compliance in the reference-checking process. First the hiring company selects the reference survey from SkillSurvey’s online library of 350 job-specific surveys. Different questions are asked about candidates interviewing for a sales position versus a medical assistant, for example.

All references for a particular job candidate are presented with the same survey questions, and in the same online and secure format. The automated and consistent process itself is another proof point for mitigating legal risk.

Hedricks recommends that companies take a similar I/O grounded approach to in-person interviews as well. Only ask about skills and behaviors that are relevant and proven to be essential for a specific job. And ask the same questions of every candidate for a given position, and in the same format.

Software makes it defensible

Using validated and consistent I/O based reference-checking software not only helps you eliminate bias; it makes it defensible. In the event of a claim, you have electronic documentation that demonstrates the consistency of your processes. And your solution provider should be able to demonstrate statistically validated results for the questions being asked of the candidate’s references.

For example, an article published in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment cites a study that tracked and observed 150,000 new hires who were processed by SkillSurvey’s Pre-Hire 360. It confirmed there’s no statistical differences in results based on race, gender, or age. Powerful scientific studies and results like this, published after a rigorous review process, give companies confidence that their hiring processes are compliant.

Without an automated solution, there are doubts about whether compliance standards are being met consistently by every department and every recruiter and hiring manager.

“The lack of proven consistency and a lack of a central repository of reference information are could put your company at greater risk of being challenged legally,” says Hedricks.

Want to learn more? Listen to the webinar presentation, An Insider’s Guide to I/O Psychology.

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