Can We “Do Good” with Our Approach to Hiring? Open Hiring Policies Highlight a Changing Landscape

Rachel Stewart Johnson

Psychologist | Driven by communications about human behavior in News

With chronically dire turnover statistics pointing to a need for disruption in hiring practices, New York’s Greyston Bakery has for years advocated for an approach it calls “open hiring.” The practice is based on a simple principle: take all applicants capable of the job, selected via a first-come, first-served pipeline. No attention is paid to work history or, notably, life circumstances, which may include lengthy stretches outside the paid workforce, a criminal record, or mental health challenges like substance abuse. Through this radical inclusivity, the belief is that companies will cultivate a loyal, highly motivated workforce.

Two contrasting hiring shakeups: open hiring and “fair chance” employment

Beauty and skincare retailer The Body Shop made waves this month when it announced its adoption of an open hiring policy after reviewing favorable results from a pilot. Other companies, like Ohio-based Hot Chicken Takeover, a 2019 “Breakout Brand” according to National Restaurant News, have met with success utilizing the related “fair chance employment” approach. Again, criminal histories are not noted. Instead, hiring is based on insights into a candidate’s here-and-now values, their motivation and appreciation of the company’s culture and its vision. After hire, managers provide regular feedback to crew members that includes visibility into one’s advancement within the organization. The company benchmark? Develop 75% of its leadership from within.

The data tells the story: Hot Chicken Takeover reports a turnover rate below 40%, far lower than comparable employers. Chain founder and CEO Joe DeLoss has reminded industry watchers that the costs of high turnover are not just direct costs to recruit, hire, and train personnel. There’s also the collateral damage to the patron experience. Particularly in the restaurant industry, customer loyalty is built by being a reliable destination -- and that can include the comfort of seeing the same crew member time and time again. As DeLoss noted, that’s “deep relational capital” that is worth investment.

This all points to an emerging trend in which resumes and background checks are de-emphasized. Whatever comfort level an organization has with welcoming workers with complicated or uncommon histories, the core concept is the same: hire the person, not the paper.

Open hiring: going too far?

Entrepreneur and recruiter Jack Kelly, founder of WeCruitr, voiced his hesitation with open hiring. His advice grew out of concern with bringing an individual onboard without any insights, which raises both liability and practical issues. Moreover, it removes a sense of control from managers, who can exercise no discretion over a hiring decision yet must onboard, direct, and collaborate with everyone brought onto the payroll. Kelly asserted in Forbes that open hiring “does a disservice to both the job seeker and manager.” Job seekers deserve to gain an understanding of the everyday demands of a position, he believes. Managers, meanwhile, need an opportunity to determine if an applicant “can do the job, follow the rules and work well with others.”

Wisdom on the streets of San Francisco

Despite concerns from skeptics like Kelly, the small number of practitioners of open or fair chance hiring believe their data tells a story of clear success. There are even decades-old success stories, such as the Delancey Street Restaurant, serving customers in culinary mecca San Francisco since 1991. The restaurant functions as a skills-building enterprise of its parent foundation, which provides live-in recovery services for “people who have hit bottom.”

Stock photo of taking order at a restaurant

Other outside-the-box hiring practices, like the pre-hire job shadowing utilized by Seattle-area restaurant Cafe Juanita, are designed to cultivate buy-in from all team members. Candidates who have had this opportunity developed a clear-eyed understanding of what a job entails. But that approach is indisputably time-intensive. Feasibility across all hiring environments is a factor.

The value of personal insight

Back to chicken restaurateur Joe DeLoss in Ohio. Although his company welcomes workers traditionally left out of the employment marketplace, hiring personnel remain choosy about who receives a job offer. The interview process seeks accountability and transparency about the candidate’s past while probing for insight concerning the origins of the individual’s decision-making missteps. Moreover, candidates are expected to be motivated by a vision of an alternative future in which they are contributors.

That points to the value of building a culture of self-awareness that begins with the candidate experience. It suggests that high-volume hiring needs to align itself with behavioral science. This works in two major ways:

  • One, restaurant hiring managers can use science-backed personality assessments to gauge a candidate’s fit for a role.
  • Two, a personality assessment can become a starting point in a conversation and a source of personal growth for an individual.

Imagine a job seeker who is fresh off a short stint in a role tainted by a demeaning supervisor. At face value, that abbreviated period of employment is a warning sign for a hiring manager. In the actual lived experience of the candidate, that recent job may have been a source of reduced self-esteem, but also rising resilience. When that individual then applies for a new post that values personality fit, they have a route through which they can mitigate the damage done by employment setbacks of the past. Moreover, when the application process includes an assessment that informs them about their workplace strengths and the settings in which they will thrive on the job, that’s a source of empowerment. The employer takes a holistic view that focuses on the person, promotes a culture of inclusion, and helps new hires start Day One with the right frame of mind.

A new decade brings fundamental shifts

In the restaurant industry and elsewhere, employers are eager for innovation in how they recruit, hire, and onboard their workforce. Savvy hiring managers are now making use of both new technologies and new ways of thinking about the process. People are seen as individuals, even within high-volume environments, and the employment lifecycle is increasingly understood as an inherently two-way process. With that approach, there are mutual benefits to be enjoyed at every step.


Whether you subscribe to an open hiring approach or not, learn how Traitify can provide your hiring managers, employees, and candidates the insight needed for successful hiring, training, and employee retention.


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