The tech recruiting original sin: resumes and pedigree bias


Over indexing on resumes and pedigree to filter candidates out of the tech recruiting process is growing the access gap for underrepresented minorities

This article is part of a larger series examining issues of access, bias, and inclusion in tech recruiting and hiring.

In previous blog posts, we’ve covered how highlighting strengths is a more predictive and inclusive interviewing approach than identifying weaknesses, we shared data about how code tests undermine diversity initiatives, and we discussed the benefits of tech recruiters and hiring managers looking for culture adds instead of gatekeeping based on culture-fit.

Despite all the improvements organizations have been able to make to their hiring and interview processes by increasing interview capacity and consistency, resumes remain one of the most problematic methods of filtering out candidates.

Resumes and tech recruiting pedigree bias

There are troves of research and documentation around the problems with resume screening, but in reality, the resume is only a symptom of a deeper underlying issue: pedigree bias.

Last month, Karat’s Portia Kibble Smith met with URx founder and Facebook Diversity Partner, Wahab Owolabi, for a conversation about diversity, University Recruiting, and inclusive hiring practices. Wahab was quick to point out that “pedigree bias” often serves as a significant barrier to entry for many underrepresented minorities in tech.

“It’s company founders and successful engineering leaders who have an unconscious bias towards the backgrounds and profiles that they’re familiar and comfortable with,” said Owolabi. “If you’re a grad of a top-10 computer science (CS) program, and you’ve only worked with other top-10 CS grads, there are cultural norms, shared experiences, and communication styles that you inherently look for when hiring.”

The growing access gap

Pedigree bias and over-reliance on resumes are so prevalent across tech recruiting, that some top companies filter out thousands of applicants based on the last paragraph of a resume.

“We were trained to start at the bottom of the resume and look for pedigree before anything else,” noted one former big-tech recruiter we spoke with. “If you didn’t go to a top-CS school or didn’t have a prestigious internship, we’d move on to the next resume without giving it a second look.”

The biggest problem with this approach is that pedigree bias, resume screens, exclusionary code tests, and “culture-fit” have a compounding effect on underrepresented minorities in tech, making it harder for them to access interviews and careers.

Many students from underrepresented communities don’t envision themselves working for a major player like Apple, Facebook, or Google. This is often attributable to a lack of exposure to the tech industry.

Having an aunt or uncle who works at a FAANG company that helps land a summer internship is a prime example of how those with the “in” network can get exposure early on. In isolation, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of proactive experience.

However, when a prestigious internship is essentially required to even make it to a first-round interview, it puts impossible standards on a new grad who didn’t have the internet growing up, let alone a family member or close friend inside the industry.

Closing the access gap on campus

The most innovative companies are looking for more ways to engage with students and other candidates outside of the traditional tech recruiting pipelines. Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Databricks are partnering with Karat and several HBCUs and HSIs to close the access gap early on in a student’s career. Since 2018, they’ve brought practice interview programs to CS students across the country. Not only does this give students exposure to practical interview experience, but it helps professors update their curriculums to better match the skills most in demand by leading tech organizations.

Enterprises are also championing initiatives including apprenticeships, mentoring programs like InternHacks, and community college certification programs like AWS Educate. But there are also huge, untapped pools of talent that offer competitive advantages to companies who invest in building the right relationships.

Thoughtful University Recruiting programs are critical in building diverse engineering teams. Going beyond the traditional top-CS schools to HBCUs and HSIs is a great way to expand talent pipelines. The next step is to usher those candidates through a scalable, inclusive interview process that highlights strengths and in turn, potential.

To learn more about building diverse University Recruiting pipelines and inclusive interviewing programs, check out our free webinar next week. On August 20, Karat is partnering with tech recruiting leaders from Databricks and Lowe’s to share tips and best practices for starting (and maintaining) relationships with diverse schools, developing consistent and inclusive interviewing programs, and creating DEI metrics that set your team up for success REGISTER HERE

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