Job application process needs a shake-up at many employers

Applying with CV and unstructured interview unfair
Two female students walking on the stairs in a campus building
Smiling students having a conversation
Alexander Santos Lima

You're looking for the best person for the job, but you end up with someone you 'click' with. That might not seem like a problem, but the 'nicest' applicant isn't always the best candidate. Research from EUR shows that many employers need to completely restructure the application process to ensure equal opportunities. "You need to structure the process, from the job advert to the job interview," says labour and organisational psychologist Janice Odijk.

Discrimination is still common in recruitment. A name that sounds Dutch on a CV is 30 to 50 percent more likely to receive a positive response than a name that sounds foreign. Odijk says: "People are often unaware that they are discriminating. But it's something we all do. If you positively evaluate someone who resembles you, it automatically gives a good and (self-)confident feeling. We know this from psychology."

"This has to do with social identity, an important source of someone's self-image. It's very normal to evaluate someone who resembles you more positively. However, during a recruitment process, it shouldn't be about the gut feeling of the evaluator. It should be about the qualities of the candidate."

By reducing this subjectivity of the evaluator, you can ensure equal opportunities for everyone. Labour and organisational psychologists Janice Odijk, Annemarie Hiemstra, and Marise Born from Erasmus University Rotterdam have investigated this.

Janice Odijk talks about her research on stage at Studio Erasmus.
Psychologist Janice Odijk on stage at Studio Erasmus.
Arie Kers

No cover letter, but a questionnaire

The most important aspect of making the recruitment process fairer is treating everyone equally. Two key tools are recommended for this:

  1. Objective selection
  2. Structured interview

Often, individuals pick up a job description that has been sitting around and dust it off. However, this isn't the optimal choice. It's crucial to first establish a clear job profile and then write a job description based on that profile.

"Usually, a specific number of years of work experience is requested. Yet, there is no evidence suggesting that someone with 5 years of work experience performs better than someone with 2 years of experience. People often assume that extensive years of experience in a particular field suffice. It's one of many misconceptions about what can predict suitability for a position. However, what this individual has actually accomplished or learnt speaks volumes more about their qualities and suitability. Someone with fewer years of work experience may possess precisely the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the role," explains Janice.

From the profile, a standard questionnaire is created. All candidates respond to these questions beforehand. "Sending a CV is unnecessary. You specifically inquire about the competencies required for the role. A CV frequently contains irrelevant details such as place of residence, age, and hobbies. The fact that you enjoy skiing adds negligible value to most positions."

Janice Odijk.

Janice Odijk over discriminatie en uitsluiting tijdens sollicitatieprocedures - Studio Erasmus

From our university, psychologist Janice Odijk, along with colleagues, investigated the innovation of recruitment and selection methods for personnel. The research in this article was conducted on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. Since September 2023, Odijk has been working at TNO. She remains affiliated with EUR to eventually pursue a doctoral degree.

Asking everyone the same questions

During the job interview, it is important to ask each candidate the same questions in the same order, according to the research. "This eliminates any room for discussion topics that are irrelevant to the position," says Odijk.

Unfortunately, job interviews at 85 to 95 percent of Dutch companies are unstructured. Odijk explains: "Recruiters or HR staff go into the interview without prepared questions. They figure it out during the interview. It starts with: tell me something about yourself? Implicit associations then take the lead. Whether you get hired depends a lot on who you're dealing with."

Colleagues in serious conversation over a cup of coffee.
Alexander Santos Lima

Research demonstrates effectiveness

Research from our university shows that structured interviews result in much less discrimination in the process. In the study, candidates with various ethnic and cultural backgrounds were interviewed. They all had one thing in common: they were all equally suitable for the position.

"During an unstructured interview, there were significant differences in the evaluation of the candidates. While all candidates should be equally good. We controlled for that. In the structured interview, these unwarranted differences disappeared. Everyone was assessed equally," says Janice.

Structuring, Structuring, Structuring

The tools work! Candidates and positions are evaluated more objectively. There is more diversity in an organisation, and everyone gets equal opportunities. "Large companies are already using this method for recruitment and selection, such as NS, PostNL, Avans Hogeschool. The companies are enthusiastic, but applicants also see these companies as more professional. They found the process much fairer. In a standard interview, employers often look for a connection. This connection is often based on prejudices and stereotypes. You filter that out by structuring everything," explains Janice.

Read the research report

How is it organised at our university?

"Our Recruitment and IDEA-teams are actively working to increase structure and inclusion in EUR’s recruitment and selection. We are keen to apply the recommendations of this research!", say Mark Baas, Project Manager Recruitment & Employer Branding and Katarina Putnik, Senior HR Policy Advisor IDEA.


Marjolein Kooistra

Communication Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Email address
06 83676038

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