Detail-blind hiring method has paid off for Office of Homeland Security in terms of diversity

By Anjalee Khemlani (NJBIA), November 7, 2016 at 6:00 AM

Rosemary Martorana, director of intelligence at the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness

Rosemary Martorana, director of intelligence at the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness

For companies struggling to hire women and minorities, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness has a suggestion: stop reading names, genders, addresses and races of the applicants.

Of the 15 counterterrorism analysts in the NJOHSP, a majority are now women, according to Rosemary Martorana, and all new hires are from very diverse backgrounds after the new hiring method was used.

Martorana, director of intelligence at NJOHSP, said the success story of the bureau spurred other bureaus to ask for the steps and questions used in the hiring process.

The idea came from the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. The book details cognitive biases and how Kahneman, a psychologist, used the method to set up a new interview system for the Israeli Defense Forces in 1955.

While the process to hire does take a couple more weeks, the quality of the talent pool has risen significantly, Martorana said.

“I can’t teach someone to think critically and ask those intuitive questions,” she said.

The way the system works is that all the resumes are stripped of identifiable information. Then, several specific traits identified ahead of time as what an ideal candidate would have are searched for by one group of current analysts. Then, a second group of analysts gets the resumes with the identifiable information restored, and they have the task of narrowing down the pool to less than two dozen.

After that, the final group comes in for interviews and takes questionnaires designed to be more revealing than “What’s your greatest weakness?” Martorana said.

And that is how the NJOHSP ended up with a majority of female analysts.

The new process was part of a recent organizational overhaul within the bureau.

“When we revamped, it was kind of unorthodox, but we have gotten a much better and qualified pool of candidates,” Martorana said.

Luckily, the new director of the bureau supported the idea and its implementation. Martorana said the line of work requires greater adaptability than most other industries.

“We are definitely not your typical state agency,” Martorana said. “We’re more like a mini think tank or a startup. We try a lot of different ideas. Some that work, and some that crash and we learn from them. That’s what we’re going for.”

The bureau has been asked by other regions for their process to mimic and implement around the country.