Based on a true story. If you are interested in learning more about the Swedish Discrimination Act (in Swedish), head over to my post evaluating a range of answers to requests based on Chapter 2 Section* as final assignment for an advanced university course in Swedish Labour Law.
*”If a job applicant has not been employed or selected for an employment interview, or if an employee has not been promoted or selected for education or training for promotion, the applicant shall, upon request, receive written information from the employer about the education, professional experience and other qualifications that the person had who was selected for the employment interview or who obtained the job or the place in education or training.”
And it sounds promising, right? Surely, erasing typical male words is not only an easy thing to do, it´s intuitive that this will increase your influx of female candidates. An attractive low-effort-high-impact recruitment intervention. Or is it?
In this post, I walk you through the original research and some of the media coverage done on the topic and give some tips on how to implement a more gender-balanced perspective in your job ads. I will also take a critical stand regarding if – from a bigger perspective of attracting talents and making them apply – working on your job ad wording is worth the effort. Maybe not surprisingly, my answer is “no” but I believe that in your context, it might be an interesting puzzle piece to consider.
According to the Swedish Discrimintation Act (diskrimineringslagen 2 kap. 4 §) internal and external applicants have the right to receive written information on the qualifications of those candidates that have been invited to an interview or that have been selected for the position. Based on relevant literature and legal practice from the Swedish labour court, I analyse a couple of anonymised answers from employers which received a request based on DL 2 kap. 4 §. Replying to those requests can be a tricky undertaking if you don’t follow a competence-based and structured recruitment process. I elaborate on practical implications and provide suggestions on how to improve recruitment processes so that “DL 2 kap. 4 §”-requests don’t take you by surprise.
This essay is written in Swedish but automated translation to English usually works pretty okay.
Feel free to copy this job posting blue-print for your next HR-professional opening for a Swedish company. You will greatly reduce the number of applications from competent (international) candidates and in addition severely harm your employer brand. All translations my work, originals taken from real job descriptions.
Du har en PA-utbildning och minst tre års erfarenhet av brett HR-arbete med HR-frågor. (= You have a ”PA”-qualification and a minimum of three years of experience from broad HR-work with HR questions.) 
Erfarenhet av att arbeta i process med ARUBA (= Experience from working according to ARUBA) 
Vidare är du en street-smart person. (=Besides that, you are a street-smart person.) 
Du älskar att vara spindeln i nätet. (= You love to be the spider in the web.) 
In a increasingly global world with applicants from all over the world, understanding international degrees becomes more and more important. Applying abroad with a German dual corporate Bachelor degree (“Duales Studium”) made me aware that what is regarded as competitive study program in one country might not be seen as such in another. Here are three common misconceptions I faced during my application processes.
I could look up you name in the job posting but I am writing so many applications that I keep loosing track of the hiring responsible.
Anyways, I thought the position sounds interesting. I would love to write something outstanding about my perfect fit. But your job posting reads exactly the same as all the others. I don’t really know how to make my cover letter special but I know I am the right one for the role.
And my fit for the company? 100%. Because you have a great company culture and you focus on people. I am a great human being.
I have exactly the years of experience you are asking for. No matter what I have taken away from these years or not. I have them. Trust me.
Of course I can work with all the weird internal tools and systems which you developed yourself. Nobody else uses them but I hacked into your company network to find out that they have the same features as the common ones on the market.
You do project management completely different? Well, then you are doing it wrong but I am happy to learn it your way.
In all your e-mails to follow I will overlook the myriad typos and grammar mistakes. You insist me to be fluent in three languages while you cannot properly communicate in one.
You will most probably call me out of the blue to ask me numerous questions and cannot answer one business related question yourself. That’s okay. I know you are working on several hiring processes in parallel. And I can relate to that.
I’ve several other application processes ongoing and as soon as you tell me where I am on your shortlist, I am happy to share details about my processes as well.
One in a million
PS: You might have other open positions and you will ask me for which role I fit best. With all the cold calls, online tests, un/structured interviews and case studies you will put me through – why don’t you tell me?
Research-based and evidence-based have become the new HR buzzwords. They are everywhere. Practitioners start their presentations with a bunch of academic references and the audience becomes quiet. Nobody will ever question the validity and applicability of a Schmidt & Hunter (1998) paper, right?
This has been my final assignment for the first course of my Master’s studies about digital literacy (Winter 2014). I was fascinated by the interconnection of (adult) education and getting a job, as well as the discussion about what it meant to be workplace literate. It was an ambitious assignment which I still find interesting to read, even though it is a bit too lengthy and not straight to the point. Enjoy!
The struggle for finding a superordinate definition of literacy can be retrieved regarding workplace literacy discussions (Mikulecky, 1988; Perin, 1997; Hull 2000; Belfiore, Defoe, Folinsbee, Hunter, and Jackson, 2004) and the influences of technology, being of interest for the workplace as a transforming key factor (Reinking, 1998). When literacy is seen as an age-independent continuum, distinguishing sharply between young and adult learners becomes hindering (UNESCO, 2009). In addition, the traditional dichotomy between literate-illiterate slows down the acknowledgement of lifelong learning (UNESCO, 2013). Rather, literacy is synonymous with “fundamental components of a complex set of foundational skills (or basic competencies), which require sustained learning and updating” (UNESCO, 2013, p. 17) to function as an empowering tool enriched by literate environments (UIL, 2010). The workplace connects various age groups with an enriched literate environment, where a social practice view of literacy is appropriate. When literacy is perceived as context-specific (UNESCO, 2005), a context definition backs the detection of skills and competencies for successful participation. Recruiting as a potential interface bridging literacy and context contributes by specifying required competencies to apply functional literacy in the work context. However, the expansion of literacy concepts complicates analysing it and distinguishing from “expressions such as knowledge, competence and learning” (Säljö, 2012, p. 6).
The challenge of defining proper language requirements
To establish some kind of strategy around language skills in a corporation does not seem to come naturally. Whereas larger, multi-national corporations might discuss an English language strategy, it is the local language of smaller firms which often acts as knock-out criterion for competent job seekers. Funnily enough, this also depends on the position to be filled. Where programmers might get along without speaking the native language, HR employees see themselves in the opposite situation. When you receive enough applicants, language can be a convenient and easy-to-apply gate-keeper. But does this gate filter for competent employees?
New employees need to do both, perform on the job and socialize with their colleagues. If they lack knowledge of the local language, they will never be able to do both, won’t they? Digging deeper, the answer does not seem as straight forward anymore. Defining, assessing and nurturing (not yet existing) language skills can be key to attract and retain long-wanted competence. This post analysis four scenarios. All of them line out challenges which can occur when language requirements are everything but not thought through.
What is a good command of German? – It depends.
As with all competencies, language requirements read differently depending on the role and the context of the job and the company.
How would you interpret “very good command of German” in a barista’s job description for a coffee-house franchise in Vienna compared to the same requirement for a corporate purchaser in a multi-national firm with their headquarter in Hamburg?
It all depends. The barista would need German to be able to read work and shift instructions and to communicate with (German-speaking) colleagues. For customers ordering in German, s/he needs to communicate with customers in a limited and repetative context. Customers order a drink (mostly some sort of coffee), maybe a snack, might have their particular special (soya-free, low-fat, etc.), pay in cash or with card, and then wait for their order to be served. Someone with basic German knowledge (or even without any) would be able to learn the phrases needed within some weeks – as soon as s/he is motivated enough. The corporate purchaser has to negotiate with external vendors, has to understand terms and conditions as well as legal contracts. The vocabulary and communication skills are more advanced, also taking into account that some statements might be legally binding. Most likely, someone without basic German knowledge would not be able to do the job right away. The interpretation of the description “very good command of German” depends.
How “Thinking, Fast and Slow” gives hands-on ideas for improving candidate selection
I cut myself through Kahneman’s bestseller, which is admittedly a bulky book. Whereas I admire Part I-III, it is Part IV (about the way we make choices) which was a tough chapter for me. However, I can highly recommend this book to those being interested in the way humans work and how this plays into principles of economics.
Chapter 21 “Intuition vs. formulas” covers comprehensive advise on how to improve interview procedures using concrete language beyond the human resources jargon. If you are about to have a training with line managers or a talk to management about why you need to build up structured interview competence, read this chapter first. Or send it out as a copy. It is a great way to describe the importance of structured decision-making without being at risk of throwing around HR buzzwords.
Kahneman describes that experts are always inferior to algorithms – a bold statement that most probably you are about to disagree on. He sees two reasons for his claim. First of all, experts try to be clever by making situations more complex, which reduces validity. Secondly, humans are inconsistent when summarising their judgement of complex information.
How does this apply to interview procedures?
If you are not amongst the lucky ones having well-established structured interview guidelines at hand, Kahneman compiles all you need to know in two paragraphs. The below main points are enriched by my own thoughts and experience.
Decide on roughly six success criteria (traits) for the position you are about to fill. They should be as independent from one another as possible and assessable by asking questions during the interview.
Decide on how you want to weight each trait in the overall final result of an interview. This is also one of my major learnings after I implemented my first structured interview together with a line manager. If you are unsure on how to weight, rate all traits as equally important.
Decide on questions you want to ask to assess each trait, decide on a rating scale (maybe 1-5, make sure to leave room for comments) and discuss, what a good/bad answer would look like for you. The last point is especially crucial, if you have more than two assessors and if you want to brief other assessors later on.
By leaving time for open questions at the end of each interview, you can give some power back to the line manager (especially interesting for sceptical line managers). Be careful that the answers to those questions do not interfere with the answers to the standardized questions before.
During the interview, each trait should be evaluated one after the other, only rate the next one after you rated the preceding one. This means: continue to the next question only after everybody has evaluated the recent trait based on the current answer to the interview question.
When you have several interviewers, mention, that it does not help to cheat. Rather than looking at the rating of others for help, assors should make comments about a candidate answer to justify their ratings afterwards.
Plan some minutes after each interview to discuss the results with all interviewers. If the results differ, ask for concrete examples from the candidate’s answers. After the discussion, average all assessors ratings per question.
Add up the scores based on the weighting you have agreed upon.
Truly believe that you will make a better decision based on this procedure. Be bold and choose the candidate with the best average rating.
The most difficult part of structured interviews and candidate assessment is actually sticking to the procedure. It demands a lot of discipline. Keep this in mind. Sometimes it takes some iterations and trials until everybody can agree on the benefits of making sound decisions. From my experience it’s worth the effort.