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THE POWER OF PLAYBACK

The startup Adam Grant is betting on to fix bias in hiring is out of stealth mode

man in suit tries on tie
Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
Ready for that interview.
  • Sarah Todd
By Sarah Todd

Senior reporter, Quartz and Quartz at Work

Wharton School professor Adam Grant has spent a lot of time studying what’s wrong with job interviews. Interviewers ask useless questions, make snap judgments, and favor candidates with backgrounds that are similar to their own. They’re easily dazzled by smooth talkers, and they place too much weight on credentials and not enough on skills and motivation.

In sum, as Grant wrote last year, “Managers are constantly betting on the wrong people—and turning down the right ones.” In the US, these missteps often work to the advantage of privileged, confident, rugby-playing white guys with Ivy League degrees, and to the detriment of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Now Grant has joined the chorus of work and management experts who are betting on technology as a way to improve fairness in hiring. The organizational psychologist is advising the software startup BrightHire, which was founded in July 2019 and officially came out of stealth mode this week with $3 million in seed funding, led by Flybridge Capital. Grant says BrightHire, co-founded by Ben Sesser and Teddy Chestnut, is “the most compelling platform I’ve seen to help companies run fair and inclusive hiring processes.” He’ll receive compensation in the form of stock options.

So what’s unique about BrightHire in particular? After all, the market for job interview and hiring technology is chockablock with companies promising to use algorithms and AI to address hiring bias and root through candidate pools to help companies hire the best possible candidates. The burgeoning industry has attracted ample criticism about just how effective these tools really are, and whether they might wind up perpetuating more bias themselves.

BrightHire, however, isn’t in the category of companies that automate decisions about who makes the cut. Rather, its features are largely aimed at assisting flesh-and-blood interviewers and hiring managers during and after video calls with candidates—a particularly timely idea in the Covid-19 remote era.

The software offers an “interview assistant” that keeps interviewers on track during conversations, displaying the predetermined questions they’ll need to ask each candidate—an approach that’s meant to ensure that the interviews are standardized and thus less vulnerable to subjective evaluations and impressions.

The interviews are automatically recorded and transcribed, along with any annotations added by the interviewer, so that frazzled hiring managers can easily review their fuzzy memories after a jam-packed day of conversations and share the candidates’ answers with the rest of the hiring team.

BrightHire also offers data analytics that alert companies to patterns in their hiring process—perhaps Black women candidates are consistently less likely to make it into the final round of interviews, or interviewers are using language like “work hard, play hard” to describe company culture, which might send an unwelcoming signal to older candidates. The goal is to “hold up a mirror to the hiring process,” BrightHire CEO Sesser tells Quartz, thereby enabling employers to figure out what they may need to change.

The software also may help people realize just how untrustworthy their initial ideas about candidates really are. One of the most common pieces of feedback from users, according to the BrightHire chief revenue officer Chestnut, is people who say, “When I go back to review the conversations, half the time I’m changing my perception by having access to that conversation.” Whether we’re hungry or tired or in a good mood, after all, can have a big impact on what we think of another person in the moment. As Chestnut notes: “Your first impression is a very bad gauge.”

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