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a plastic children's toy cat disguised with sunglasses and a fake white beard, being interviewed for a job by another cat in a business suit.

74: How the Undercover Candidate exposed the shocking truth of recruitment

A Fortune 200 HR Leader, 250 undercover interviews, and her unlawful findings.

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Join us in this eye-opening episode with Nora Burns, a former Fortune 200 HR leader turned undercover candidate and employee.

With a career spanning over 20 years in Human Resources, Nora shares her ground-breaking research journey, where she underwent 250 undercover job interviews and worked incognito in frontline roles at five Fortune 500 companies.

This episode sheds light on the startling recruitment practices she uncovered, many of which were unethical and illegal.

Key Talking Points:

  • Nora Burns’ unique transition from HR leader to undercover candidate.
  • Insights from her extensive undercover job interviews and experiences.
  • Ethical implications of the recruitment practices she discovered.
  • The impact of these practices on candidates and workplace culture.
  • The necessity for a shift towards more ethical hiring practices in the corporate world.


Connect with Nora:

Pre-purchase Nora’s book:

Listen to More on Discrimination at Work from Truth, Lies & Workplace Culture

Listen to More on Recruitment from Truth, Lies & Workplace Culture

General Support with Mental Health and Well-being

If you have been affected by any of the themes in this episode, or are currently struggling with your well-being, the following resources may be useful.

 Mind website:

If you are feeling in distress or despair, including feelings of suicide, please do consider calling the Samaritans for free on 116 123 or email

Connect with your hosts

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📣 Got feedback/questions/guest suggestions? Email

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The Transcript

⚠️ NOTE: This is an automated transcript, so it might not always be 100% accurate!

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[00:00:00] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: I think the most misunderstood aspect of workplace culture is that it doesn’t matter what the sign says on the wall of the break room. It matters what employees say when the manager leaves that room. That’s your real workplace culture. And so we can’t dictate it from the top. We can encourage it. We can develop it.

[00:00:17] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: We can put resources and strategy behind it. But we can’t simply put up a poster or a plaque and think that that’s what it is.

[00:00:24] Leanne: Hello,

[00:00:29] Leanne: and welcome to the Truth Lies and Workplace Culture podcast brought to you by the HubSpot podcast network, the audio destination for business professionals. My name is Leanne. I’m a business psychologist.

[00:00:40] Leanne: My name is Al. I’m a business owner. And we are the award winning psychology podcast that is here to help you simplify the science of people and create amazing workplace cultures.

[00:00:49] Al: Yeah. If you didn’t hear the news, we won an amazing award. just before Christmas. Uh, go back to the last episode, listen to the first three or four minutes. You’ll hear us talking about it. Um, it was very, very exciting award winning podcast. Never thought we’d say that. I know. Well, I did, but I didn’t think we’d say it quite so.

[00:01:07] Al: And on that note, let’s welcome you to another episode. So today we have got an amazing guest. We’ll go into that in a second. I just have something I want to talk about first though, Lee.

[00:01:15] Leanne: Um, we remember safe space. I’ll need.

[00:01:18] Al: Good. Good. Good. Thank you. Thank you. Well, we went back to the UK over Christmas, bought our annual supply of Yorkshire tea.

[00:01:24] Leanne: Um, anyone tried the jam and toast one?

[00:01:27] Al: Well, this is what I want to talk about before we do that quickly. If you are from Yorkshire tea or tailors of Harrogate and you’re listening, um, then, uh, we’ve got a really good engagement program, which I think you would love. So, uh, Get in touch, slide into my DMs.

[00:01:39] Leanne: We’ll accept tea as a means of payment. Well,

[00:01:42] Al: actually, that’s a good point because if you do, if you do buy our services, then we will, we guarantee to invest a percentage of it back into tea. So it’s basically free. Basically. Always be closing in that. Anyway. Oh, exactly what I wanted to talk about. So they do the normal tea.

[00:01:56] Al: Uh, if you’re not, if you’re not British, then you probably were like, why the hell are they talking about tea? Tea is very, very important. They do the normal tea. Then they did one with biscuit, like biscuit flavor. It was great. It was like you drinking tea without a biscuit and, but it tasted biscuits. It was lovely.

[00:02:07] Al: Tried the jam and toast one this morning. Not a fan.

[00:02:10] Leanne: Really? Not for me. Before we do quickly, you might need to edit this. We’ve been bubbling for a little while now, we’ve got an episode to get on with, but anyway, I wanted, I had some new listeners that either reached out or got in touch, or I saw comment on stuff that we’ve been putting up there.

[00:02:26] Leanne: So I just want to say hello, first of all, to Amy in Sydney, Australia, Steve in Koh Phangan, Thailand, and the person or persons in St. Lucia that have yet to identify themselves. They also have us. Um, but have got us to the top 10 in Apple podcasts in that beautiful part of the world. Welcome.

[00:02:44] Al: Might be top five, actually.

[00:02:46] Leanne: What did I say? I think you said top 10. Oh, no, it wasn’t top five. Technically correct on both counts. Yeah. So yeah, welcome. We’re thrilled to have you even if you are all in warm and sunny places and my toes are frozen. It’s fine. I’m fine with it. Welcome. It’s fine.

[00:03:02] Al: It’s fine. So Lee, let me start off with an email.

[00:03:05] Al: I think this whole,

[00:03:06] Leanne: yeah, it did. We get lots of emails from potential guests asking to be on the show, which is lovely. But to be honest, most of them aren’t Very good. I didn’t know that. Interesting. I’ve lost count of the number of guest requests we have for people who want to talk about marketing. Um, so yeah, sorry if you’ve emailed and we’ve said no or indeed not replied.

[00:03:27] Leanne: Um, but late last year I got an email from a woman who had such an interesting story. It was a brilliant email. I knew we had to get her on the show immediately. I remember you

[00:03:38] Al: being so excited. You were so excited. You stopped and you made me take my headphones off so you could tell me what you, what she said.

[00:03:44] Leanne: I did. Well, the reason is, is that this woman has done over 250 job interviews, all undercover. So up until recently, she was an HR executive for Fortune 200 company, but she decided to start a project called the Undercover Candidate, where she’d find out just how bad the recruitment experience is today by going through.

[00:04:07] Leanne: Said recruitment experience. And then she took it one step further and actually took on a couple of jobs with a few of them to see what the employee experience was like. That project was called Undercover Employee.

[00:04:19] Al: If you’ve ever seen the TV show Undercover Boss, then you’ll know the format.

[00:04:23] Leanne: Yeah, exactly.

[00:04:24] Leanne: Exactly. The incredible woman. And when I spoke with her, we proper nerded out for about an hour about all things, recruitment and workplace culture. Luckily Elle has managed to edit this down to around 30 minutes, but you’ll be able to see the full interview on YouTube shortly. Just

[00:04:41] Al: before Leanne introduces everyone and gets us all in the right mood for it.

[00:04:44] Al: Just want to quickly apologize. We were let down a little bit by our, um, by the online studio app that we use. I won’t name it. but it rhymes with heme yard. Um, and, uh, and so the recording that we’ve got of, I guess, uh, the audio is perfect, but if you’re watching on YouTube, then there is, it’s that it’s weird.

[00:05:00] Al: Cause it’s like her, her lips aren’t quite matching it. So I’m sorry, I’ve tried to do something with it, but I can’t. So, so screw you recording app, but anyway, you will enjoy it nevertheless. So should we go meet our guest for today? The amazing Nora

[00:05:14] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Burns. I am Nora Burns. I am based in Denver, Colorado in the United States.

[00:05:19] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And my area of expertise is workplace culture, very specifically how your hiring process and your onboarding process really sets the stage for your workplace culture. I am known for being the undercover candidate and the undercover employee. So what that means is I’ve been on over 250 job interviews, not as myself.

[00:05:42] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Not because I’m unemployable, but for research purposes, and also worked on the front lines of five Fortune 500 companies here in the US, where they did not know that I’m a former HR executive in the Fortune 200, but rather they saw me as another in a long line of polyester uniform wearing employees.

[00:06:00] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Bringing up orders, stocking shelves, driving the truck, cleaning the bathrooms.

[00:06:05] Leanne: I do quite a bit of research myself here at Oblong and love this idea. To be honest, I want to do it as well. So as a fellow research nerd, I wanted to find out how Nora set up the

[00:06:17] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: project. The Undercover Candidate Project started because I was consulting on hiring, um, processes and redefining and reimagining hiring for client organizations.

[00:06:28] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And I can really picture myself in the conference room where this hit me, that I was helping this organization redesign their hiring process when I had not been on the other side of the hiring table in more than a decade. So I thought, oh, you know, I’ll just do a handful of interviews in a neighboring city that I can easily drive to, but I won’t be easily recognized in should the HR executive walk through the door.

[00:06:46] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: So, it started with a handful of interviews, thinking maybe I just need to experience what the other side of this is to become better at my job. And I was really horrified by what I experienced, just lazy interviews, bad questions, some bordering on, um, if not unethical, at least unethical, could be illegal if you made a hiring decision based on the information here in the United States.

[00:07:09] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And I was like, this is bad. And then I love. I love data and I realized I needed more data. This was such a subset of being in this one, one suburb of Denver. And so I met with my business coach and with some HR pros and some ethicists and put together the project plan and committed to doing at least 100 interviews in different cities across the United States so that it wasn’t a bias of one particular style of leadership in one city.

[00:07:36] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And It just grew and soared from there. So, and now I actually do it as an offering for clients where we audit their hiring process by sending candidates through. And looking for all of the things that I observed and identified as potential flaws and leakage of risk assessment information or just dangerous hiring practices that’ll get you to the wrong hire.

[00:07:58] Al: But I want to know what was the most surprising thing that she

[00:08:01] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: discovered? I think the things that surprised me the most is that we’re pretty lazy about our hiring. And that sounds pretty harsh. And I can’t think of another better word for it when hiring manager after hiring manager is reading my resume or application while walking down the hallway with me trying to figure out where they’re going to interview me.

[00:08:21] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: The bulk of the interview and the most important part of the interview is actually the hour that happens in preparing for it so that you have a really spectacular experience both you as the hiring manager and the candidate. Without that preparation, the interview is not going to go well, and you’re not going to get the best candidate.

[00:08:37] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: So it was the lack of preparedness, walking in, being left waiting in waiting rooms for 10, 15, 20, 35 minutes and thinking, you got to think about your candidate as if you’re meeting with the CEO, right? You need to be on time, ready, prepared. They are so important to your overall organization, and if we’re treating them poorly, then it’s not going to get better.

[00:08:59] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And It’s like a first date, right? If you show up late and slabby and rude on a first date, you’re not getting a second one. It’s not unlike that. Just the

[00:09:08] Leanne: questions are different. I’ve consulted with quite a few organizations around recruitment and recruitment is one of the three fundamentals of recruitment.

[00:09:17] Leanne: Our RX7 coach methodology that we’ve created at Oblong, but I find this real world experience really fascinating. Nora has been in HR for a long time, so she knows how recruitment should be done. So what were some of the mistakes that she saw? I

[00:09:31] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: was asked an inordinate amount of times if I had kids. And what’s interesting, and again, I show up as I am, right?

[00:09:40] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: I did this research as a 40 and 50 year old woman. And so part of that is, is some of the bias that goes in there. I’ve asked men my age. Nobody’s been asked. I’ve asked it in the middle of a keynote. where the room is filled with men and say, who here has been asked during a job interview if they have kids?

[00:09:59] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: The only people who will raise their hand are women. It is, uh, sometimes asked as a, I’m just trying to make you feel comfortable. I’m trying to, you know, break the ice. Hey, you know, I’m trying to get to know you kind of a thing. It doesn’t mean that it’s any less dangerous to ask because it’s a, here in the United States, we’ve got, um, protection on family status and there’s a huge discriminatory and biased effect because women are being asked the question and men aren’t.

[00:10:22] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And really what some of these organizations are asking is, how many sick days are you going to take? How, you know, how many soccer games do we need to schedule around? And those types of things. So I was really surprised that in today’s day and age, people are still inquiring as to if I have kids and again, sometimes completely innocent.

[00:10:42] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: They’re trying to find some commonality to talk about. It’s still dangerous and still not appropriate.

[00:10:46] Al: Right. Okay. Trigger alert. Gen X white privilege straight child free middle class business owner here. That’s quite the Venn diagram. If I probably just mean it, if I spent All this money and time on finding an amazing person to hire, then don’t I have a right to know if they’re about to take three months off to look after a kid?

[00:11:07] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: The short answer is no. The other thing is, um, it is, we have, we have protections here in the United States. There’s protections about that. There’s legal protections having to do with, with that and asking about pregnancy. And if you plan to have kids, those are all things you make a decision about that.

[00:11:20] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Um, on your hiring process that you can get sued for find yourself in front of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about and more importantly, it sends a message to the employer to the employee that that you don’t care about their whole selves, right? Like, in terms of if we’re we’re want to make sure that you can give your full coverage, right?

[00:11:37] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Life to us 24 7, 365, that’s not what the workplace is willing to do anymore. And so it, it goes into that kind of cultural element as well. And the thing is, you have no idea if I’m going to have kids or not. If I’m, if I’m in my thirties as a woman, I decided not to have kids by that time, but I’m not going to mention that because it’s not relevant to the job.

[00:11:59] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And you might have a guy who’s going to have seven kids. And he wants to spend an inordinate amount of time with his kids, and he doesn’t want to work even full time. So there’s nothing that, that you can really make based on our gender, because those, those norms are shifting. Um, but yeah, it doesn’t, it’s really none of your business.

[00:12:18] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: What matters is the fact that I can do the job. That I have the skills and abilities to do the job, and that I am presenting myself as a person who will continue to do

[00:12:27] Leanne: the job. It’s the same in the UK. Uh, you should never ask questions regarding pregnancy or future plans to have children at a job interview, or indeed at any other time of the employee’s tenure, to be frank.

[00:12:40] Leanne: If you do, you’re providing candidates with strong evidence that you’re in breach of laws against sexual discrimination found in the Equality Act. Act 2010. You might be thinking Leanne, why are you phrasing it like that? Evidence rather than proof? Well, the law is a grey area in this respect, as it isn’t in many.

[00:13:01] Leanne: It’s not illegal for you to ask a person if they plan to have children, but it is unlawful discrimination if you use that information to make a hiring decision. Any evil genius business owners out there who have a white fluffy cat on their knees may be thinking, cool, awesome, ask the question. I just won’t say that’s why I didn’t hire them.

[00:13:23] Leanne: Well, unless you have an evidence led recruitment process and objective marking criteria that you’re happy to release to candidates. And their solicitors under the Freedom of Information Act, being honest, I’d advise against it. You will be taken to court. You will be asked to pay considerable compensation.

[00:13:40] Leanne: And to candidates, you are not under any obligation to answer these questions during an interview. In fact, even if you are pregnant at the time of the interview, you are under no obligation whatsoever to disclose that information. The thing is, right, being ethical and effective in your recruitment process is one thing.

[00:14:01] Leanne: What makes my head explode is that business owners out there, many of them, the majority of them don’t engage experts to develop and run their recruitment processes. And because they’re not doing that, they are putting themselves and their businesses at risk, huge, huge risk that you wouldn’t imagine.

[00:14:23] Leanne: Taking elsewhere, like in financial practices or in health and safety. I would bet that 95 percent of SMEs out there are regularly committing unlawful discrimination every time they recruit for a role. And I want to give you some examples on this. In your job advert, you should be saying that you’ll care for workers with a disability.

[00:14:44] Leanne: Not doing so is unlawful discrimination. You have to be able to prove that if you’re saying in your job advert, That you’re looking for a recent graduate or somebody highly experienced, that that is an actual requirement of the job. And that is only defensible if you conducted a robust and more than likely independently ran job analysis.

[00:15:06] Leanne: Otherwise you’re excluding younger or older people from applying and that is unlawful discrimination. Even where you advertise could cause indirect discrimination. For example, if you’re only advertising in men’s magazines or in colleges with a lack of ethnic diversity, you are more than likely committing unlawful discrimination and no, ignorance is not a defense.

[00:15:31] Leanne: That’s why recruitment is a science. That’s why recruiters are very well paid for the work that they do. And that’s why Nora, Nora and I lose our patience with business owners and leaders when they continue to ignore recruitment practices, a critical aspect of workplace culture.

[00:15:47] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Cannot have a strong workplace culture unless or until you have a strong recruitment and hiring platform.

[00:15:52] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Because it all traces back to how we find people, where we find people, and how we treat them when they’re coming in the door. Your relationship, any relationship that you have, doesn’t start 60, 90 days in. All of this ties back to remember how we met. Well, how we met is the hiring process. How we met in the employment relationship is how I was recruited.

[00:16:13] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And we all too often forget that It’s an employment relationship. We remember the employment part. There’s taxes. There’s paperwork. There’s benefits. And we forget the relationship part, which is the core part, the core part of why people come and why they leave. So if I, as a candidate, am coming to your organization to do an interview and you leave me waiting in the waiting room for 20, 30, 40 minutes.

[00:16:34] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Um, and then they, their first interview is an interrogation and not a conversation. That has now set in my mind the story of what our relationship is going to be like. And it’s going to carry forward from there. When I show up on the first day of employment, you hand me a dirty uniform while telling me how important it is to have a clean uniform.

[00:16:56] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: True story. That tells me that I can’t really trust you. And that’s part of the basis of our relationship moving forward. You can’t fix that at 30, 60, 90 days easily. It is, the framework of the relationship has been set.

[00:17:10] Leanne: I 100 percent agree, but I also know that Recruiting is often done by management within a company, and therefore, that’s often where you need to start.

[00:17:21] Leanne: Nori thinks the problem is that managers assume they know how to recruit properly. Spoiler, they don’t. If

[00:17:29] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: you ask a group of managers and hiring managers and leaders how, you know, about the importance of hiring, they will all agree it’s, it’s radically important. And then you ask how much time do they spend.

[00:17:40] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: It’s 15 minutes of preparation for an interview, and there is, and that’s just, that’s just a huge disconnect. And part of it is, I think they don’t know where the tools are and the resources are to become really much better at it. And a lot of organizations don’t train their managers on hiring. They assume Danger, danger, because they have been managers at previous jobs that they have already learned those skills.

[00:18:05] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And it’s, it’s a default mechanism. We assume people have the skills, even though we’ve proven time and time again that it doesn’t exist in the market. The other is people assume that they’re good at hiring because they have been hired. Like, Oh, I’ve participated in an interview. I know what interviewing is.

[00:18:21] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And so they then ask the same questions that they were asked when they were in the hiring process. The problem is, if I’m asking questions that I was asked when I first joined the workforce, I was 17. That was more than a few moons ago and things have changed quite a bit. We shouldn’t be asking people what they do for fun and what their spouse would think about this job.

[00:18:44] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And if they have kids and things like that, that aren’t relevant to the job, but we’re asking the same questions that we were asked. One of the

[00:18:51] Al: other things that Nora saw during this project time and time again was being ghosted after the interview. You need to stop doing this. You’re creating massive damage to your

[00:19:00] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: brand.

[00:19:01] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: If you’re hiring for frontline positions, if you’re hiring for fast food, if you’re hiring for frontline manufacturing in a very manufacturing driven area, geographic area, if you’re in competition for a lot of those frontline work, I’m going to give you 24 to 48 hours to get back to that candidate. Uh, we need to speed that up because right now they’ve got lots of choices and you’re competing with a lot.

[00:19:22] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And if you show that you’re going to communicate with them and communicate with them quickly, that actually is going to give you a cutting edge. But making sure that they know what the expectation is when they submit that resume. And then, oh my gosh, you would think this is low hanging fruit. You would think that everybody’s doing this, but if you have spoken with a candidate, you have called them to get clarification on their resume or application.

[00:19:42] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: You have asked them to come in. You’ve asked them to do a phone interview or a zoom interview. You owe them a damn phone call to get back to them and tell them where they stand. It’s core communication, follow through, making sure that you close that loop. Because those people know other people who would be strong candidates for you, and they’re going to spread the word that you did or did not get back to them.

[00:20:04] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Stop ghosting candidates. I was on a third round interview, third round, and it was down to me and two other candidates, and they all of a sudden just went off the radar. No follow up. No follow through. I’ve given them not only phone time, but I’ve flown to them to do the interview. I had a phone interview and then nothing.

[00:20:26] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And we are doing major damage to our employment brand. When we do that, and we’re costing ourselves future candidates and often future customers, if you’re talking about recruiting for a franchise restaurant, you’ve now not only cost yourself a candidate and future candidates, you’ve cost yourself customers because they’re your frontline employee is also your customer.

[00:20:44] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And so. You’re doing damage on two different sides of your business with one lack of phone call, one missed phone call.

[00:20:50] Leanne: Nora shared a specific example of someone she can’t name for obvious reasons. So

[00:20:56] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: she was a, she was a candidate for a decently, um, high level position in an association and had done an interview on Zoom, had done a video response to some questions, was scheduled for another interview and then received an email two days before that interview that just said, Um, we’ve selected another candidate.

[00:21:13] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Thank you. Good luck. And, and I thought, Ooh, you kind of owed her a phone call. Thank you for the email and not completely ghosting, but you kind of owed her a phone call. But the other thing that happened is this organization hired in haste. They got very excited about a candidate. They canceled all of their other interviews.

[00:21:27] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: There’s always a background check that has to happen or should happen. We could do a whole podcast just on background checks, um, and that candidate might still back out. And now you’ve already alienated your second, third and fourth candidates. I felt so bad for her and she has landed in exactly the right place and that wasn’t the right employer for her because she wanted stronger communication in her employer.

[00:21:47] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: But the reality is she’ll never recommend anybody to that association and that’s a small market. I mean, everybody in associations knows everybody in associations and, uh, and it’s going to do damage to their, their hiring for a very long time.

[00:21:59] Al: Now, regular listeners will know I’m a huge AI nerd. So my first thought is why can’t we get AI to help with all this?

[00:22:06] Leanne: What I

[00:22:07] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: fear will happen is that AI will get way too involved in our hiring protocol and we will become less connected instead of more connected. That’s my fear with where we are currently in 2023 looking into 2024. What I hope happens is that more and more organizations understand that it is an employment relationship, that treating employees as widgets.

[00:22:34] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: As having disregard for their time, their expertise, their brilliance. And, um, that will, will cost us in the long run.

[00:22:45] Leanne: The sad fact is that bias is so, so difficult to eliminate from recruitment, even the most robust recruitment process, because as humans, We are biased. It’s as simple as that. In psychology, biases are often referred to, or a result of cognitive errors.

[00:23:05] Leanne: And there is a whole list of them. I do not have the time to go through them all, but when it comes to recruitment, some are more likely than others to cause bias decision making. For example, confirmation bias. Ally, you know this one.

[00:23:19] Al: I do. I used it once and I, back at about episode 40 in the end, I was like, who the hell are you at?

[00:23:26] Al: I do listen to you, you see?

[00:23:27] Leanne: You do, you do. So yes, confirmation bias. So that is our brain’s tendency to look for and focus on information that supports what we already believe. So, for example, if I see a candidate that is married, female, early thirties, likely she’ll have children soon. I can’t afford to pay maternity, therefore I won’t hire her.

[00:23:50] Leanne: Another is the halo effect. So this occurs when your first impression of someone skews your perception of them. It’s positive, typically if we’re talking the halo effect, and you’ll likely attribute other positive traits if your first impression is positive. So even if somebody is attractive, for example, you’ll assume that they have other positive traits like being smart or funny.

[00:24:12] Leanne: Pretty privilege is real and a negative impression works the same way. We call this the reverse halo or horns effect. If your first impression about a person is bad, you’ll likely assume the worst of them. First impressions really do count. And as a job interviewer, you also need to be aware of other candidates biases, not just your own.

[00:24:35] Leanne: Dunning Kruger effect. That’s the, yeah, the more you know, then the more you realize you don’t know. But in this scenario, it’s the people that lack that level of self awareness that you need to be careful of. They often overestimate their knowledge or ability. And I’m sure there are many, many people listening who have made a hire and then been hugely disappointed in the resulting capability and performance that has joined the business.

[00:25:00] Leanne: And last, but by no means least, bias creeps into the recruitment process through the sunk. Cost fallacy. Al, I’m guessing you know this one too? Yeah.

[00:25:09] Al: If you’ve spent some money on something, then you think it’s better to keep going down that route rather than just cutting your losses and starting again.

[00:25:16] Leanne: Absolutely. As a leader, you are so aware of the time, effort, cost that has gone into the recruitment process. You have to make a hire from this cohort of candidates, right? Even if it means hiring the best from a bad. And as Al mentioned before, as Nora explained, don’t think AI and applicant tracking systems can get you outta this recent research.

[00:25:36] Leanne: Really, depressingly shows that AI is biased too. So yes, alongside an evidence led, independently developed recruitment process, Nora also offered some great tips to help eliminate bias in the selection process.

[00:25:51] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: One of the things I recommend for hiring managers and organizations is to do heavily redacted resumes and applications.

[00:25:57] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: The person who’s making the decision, I don’t want to have name. I don’t even want to have a name. Make up a name. Bob 1, Bob 2, Anna 1, Anna 2, you know, whatever. Um, on the first pass, on the first pass. I don’t want to know where you went to college. I don’t want to know, I definitely don’t want to know what year you graduated college.

[00:26:14] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: I want anything that could bias me in my selection process to not be part of that first round of reviewing resumes and applications. Because I can tell you, having done some A B testing as the undercover candidate, We’ve got some strong bias by industry of which applications move forward. The traditionally male name, the traditionally female name, you know, the person who puts 25 years of experience versus the person who puts five years of experience, there’s some, there’s some pretty strong bias in that.

[00:26:41] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And if we can remove that, we’re going to have better hiring. And, and of course, we’re going to find out when they’re sitting across from us, we learn a whole lot of information about skin color and gender information and all of that. We don’t need it at the start of the funnel and it will make our hiring processes stronger in the long run.

[00:26:58] Al: I come from a business development background. And so I know that the first 30 days of onboarding a new client is when they’re most excited, but also when the tiniest thing can spark this buyer’s remorse, when they can begin to think they’ve made the wrong decision. Turns out the exact same thing happens with new

[00:27:14] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: hires.

[00:27:14] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Yeah. Onboarding is just bad. It’s just bad. And the thing is we have organizations that are doing a lot of work on designing really solid employee onboarding experiences and here are all the steps and here’s what you need to do. And then we’ve got frontline managers who are skipping those steps because they don’t have enough time to go through them all and get that employee on the register or doing the housekeeping or stocking the shelves or delivering the merchandise.

[00:27:35] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Their, their bandwidth is not there. The, the, the key is that people understand that it’s a relationship. That employment relationship remains a relationship, and that means that first impressions matter, um, but that your, your first point of contact with a candidate, how you treat them in that process, how you onboard them shapes their entire viewpoint of your world of your workplace culture and fixing that once it’s been damaged so much harder than simply doing it right the first time.

[00:28:06] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: So if we can invest in that candidate experience, And make it stronger and less biased and make sure that candidates understand the humanness element is connected. Oh my gosh, we can do so much.

[00:28:18] Leanne: As we mentioned at the top, Nora took her research even further. She actually worked undercover at some of the firms who offered her jobs and what she saw shocked

[00:28:28] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: her.

[00:28:29] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: The undercover employee happened because when I started talking with organizations at conferences and events about undercover candidate, someone would inevitably ask, did you take any of those jobs? I’d say no, because I’m willing to do a lot for workplace culture research, but a felony is not among them.

[00:28:45] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And all of the undercover candidate positions were applied for under fake resumes, fake names, nothing on there is true other than the fact that I am in fact over the age of 18. So those were not positions I could have taken. But then I started to ask myself, like, what would happen if I interviewed under my real name?

[00:28:59] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Because as much as I tell managers, do not Google potential candidates, I know they do, but don’t do that. Do not Google your potential candidates. You can’t unring the bell. You might get the wrong person, all kinds of things there. But well, let’s see what happens. So I went and applied at a Fortune 500 company, uh, for a frontline position, and I was confident I wasn’t going to get it.

[00:29:19] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Because in the middle of the interview, they asked me a question about my schedule, and I just didn’t have a good out. And I said, you know, I have this other job, and they’re like, well, what other job? There’s nothing on, nothing on this resume that suggests you got another job right now. Well, I do some training around, you know.

[00:29:35] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Workplace culture and sexual harassment and building respect in the workplace, right? Like, there’s no way they should have hired me after I said that. It made no sense that I would be applying for a frontline position making minimum wage, uh, for that. And yet, They had already fallen in love with me as a candidate.

[00:29:51] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: I could see the moment when it happened, and it was about five minutes before we got to this point of the discussion, and they just waved it aside, that huge red flag, and offered me the job. So I got home and I called that, that business coach and some HR pros and some ethicists and said, okay, what’s this one going to look like?

[00:30:04] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And we put some rules around what I would and would not do. Uh, my commitment was the fact that I would work at least a year in different roles, that I would work at least three different organizations. All of them would be Fortune 500 companies, so I wouldn’t have as big of an impact in leaving. And that I would never leave.

[00:30:21] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Unless a different member of my orientation class left first. So, I, and I, I would always have the goal of being employee of the month, right? So, I had to work my tukus off, uh, in addition to taking all the notes and, and paying attention to what’s happening from workplace culture inside out. And so, that’s how it all kicked off.

[00:30:36] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: So, I never named the names of the organizations where I worked to disappoint some people. Um, but it’s not about blame or shame. It’s about what are the trends across these organizations? And if, if five different organizations are doing this, who all have the resources to do better, then that’s probably an area for development of a lot of other organizations as well.

[00:30:54] Leanne: The good news for small organizations listening is that even these big companies are getting it wrong, terribly, badly wrong.

[00:31:02] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: We’re very willing to give out. Our employee information to other employees, which was a little disturbing to me, like all employee cell phone numbers and emergency contacts are all listed on a long list in the employee break room, which meant other employees without my permission had my cell phone number, and I got inappropriate text messages coming through to that cell phone number as a result.

[00:31:23] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: Very shocking is the fact that I was sexually harassed at every job.

[00:31:28] Al: As a fellow, I kind of found it shocking that she said that she’d been harassed in every single

[00:31:33] Leanne: job. Yeah, it’s sad making, isn’t it? But I mean, not surprising to be honest, and it’s It’s not going away either. I mean, if you’re listening, don’t attribute this to, it’s just historical claims from older people in the workplace.

[00:31:46] Leanne: Me Too didn’t fix everything, unfortunately. There’s research undertaken in 2023 by the Trades Union Congress, and it found that three in five women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. And that went up to nearly two in three women aged between 18 and 24. Most of these weren’t isolated incidents.

[00:32:05] Leanne: 50 percent of women said they had experienced three or more incidents of harassment. harassment, 45 percent of women said it had a detrimental impact on their mental health, and 25 percent said they’d avoided certain work situations like meetings, courses, or locations to avoid a predator puts a bit of a darker twist on why women may be reluctant to return to the office, particularly if it’s an office environment that lacks diversity.

[00:32:30] Leanne: So yeah, I guess a final word on this and the aspects of unlawful discrimination we have talked about today. If you are a business owner, don’t think that no complaints or grievances means a lack of incident. And I don’t say this to scare you, I say this to warn you. If the research in psychological safety has proven anything is that workplaces with a high rate of reported incidents are the safest and more inclusive.

[00:32:54] Leanne: Why? Because undesirable behaviors, near misses or repeated mistakes are not tolerated. In this instance, ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s likely putting your people, your business and your reputation at risk.

[00:33:10] Al: Yeah, pretty sad making indeed. There was so much more that Leanne and Nora talked about. Um, so to see the entire interview, head over to YouTube and search for Truth, Lies and Work and click subscribe because the video will be out shortly.

[00:33:23] Al: Whilst you’re online, head over to wherever you get your books, probably Amazon, and pre order Nora’s books. They sound pretty. Amazing.

[00:33:30] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: We’re going to start with the launch of a mini book collection in first quarter, where it’s a collection of three mini books. There’s a company that does this, M I N I B U K, mini book, collection of three mini books from the perspective of the hiring manager, from the C suite and from the candidate’s perspective, same scenario reframed in three different approaches to that scenario and what they need to know about it.

[00:33:50] Nora Burns, Undercover Candidate: And that leads into the book coming out later in the year that will more encapsulate. The experiences of the undercover candidate and the undercover employee. So that

[00:34:00] Leanne: is Norah’s experiences as the undercover candidate and the undercover employee, and a little crash course in recruiting for you. If you want to learn more about some of the things we’ve talked about, such as bullying and harassment in the workplace and how to avoid unlawful discrimination, I’d recommend that you go back and listen to episode 34, how to identify and eliminate.

[00:34:21] Leanne: Toxic Work Coaches, episode 32, why understanding women’s health is vital for male leaders and episode 41, Neurodiversity 101. If it’s recruitment you’re interested in, look back at some of our very first episodes, including right back at the beginning, episode number three, how to win the fight for talent and episode four, how to recruit for culture fit.

[00:34:45] Leanne: Hint, don’t all available on your favorite podcast platform of choice. You can find

[00:34:50] Al: Nora’s details in the show notes. The simplest thing is probably to jump on LinkedIn because she’s very active on there. Just look for a black and white photo with purple glasses, unless she changes

[00:34:59] Leanne: it. I loved getting to know Nora.

[00:35:03] Leanne: I love her approach, her philosophy and her work. Do go and follow her. If you are listening and you’ve got a good story and can construct a cold sales email that doesn’t put me to sleep, get in

[00:35:14] Al: touch. There’s a challenge for you. Now, next week, we’ve got the king of persuasion, Phil Agnew. Phil not only has one of the world’s leading podcasts on, uh, leading and persuading, but he’s also the nicest and most genuine guys in the world.

[00:35:28] Al: So if you thought persuasion was bad, tune in next week and Phil will change your mind, or he’s promised to give you your money back. See you next week. Bye bye.

[00:35:45] Al: Then let’s welcome to another, uh, another episode.

[00:35:52] Leanne: Do that again.

[00:35:55] Al: Regret buying and re Well, that was just unpleasant.

[00:36:03] Leanne: The good news for smaller organizations listening. Oh, sorry. Listening. Listening. Oh, listening. Oh,

[00:36:10] Leanne: listening.

[00:36:13] Leanne: And a bit of a crass. Cra. Crass. Crass. Crass. Your crass.

[00:36:17] Al: It was a crass course. And a crash

[00:36:19] Leanne: course.

[00:36:20] Leanne: That was a crash course. Okay.

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