Interviewing to Support Workplace Diversity

In the first article of this series, Workplace Diversity Starts with the Candidate Pool, we looked at how employers can ensure a diverse candidate pool to support increased diversity and gender balance in their organizations. In this article we offer some tactics to help employers interview in ways that preserve candidate diversity throughout the selection process.

Recruiting poster for the WAAAF, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Always be Selling

To revisit the sales analogy used in the previous article, every step in the recruiting process is about selling. Each touch point is an opportunity to showcase your company: to demonstrate your brand and what your company stands for. Creating an awesome candidate experience is your best recruitment lead generation tool. Think of the recruitment process as your opportunity to sell the company.

Of course, always selling doesn’t mean always closing, since not all candidates will be hired. Regardless of whether or not they are successful, candidates who go through an exceptional candidate experience will have a story to tell about your organization. For those you hire, the seeds of loyalty will already have been planted. While candidates who are passed over will wish they’d been hired and will appreciate being treated with respect throughout. In fact, if they’re already sold on the company, candidates who are not ready today will often re-apply after upgrading their skills or when a more appropriate position opens, helping to fill your future funnel.

Removing Obstacles

In pursuit of sales, most companies work hard to keep customers engaged and to avoid alienating them. Online sellers actively monitor shopping cart activity to see if there are obstacles that might cause customers to abandon their shopping cart before paying. Similarly, there are things employers can do during the interview process to preserve diversity in the funnel and prevent candidate drop-off. Of course, it requires examining existing practices, just as that online vendor does, to identify and remove potential obstacles.

Create Candidate Personas

You can start tailoring the candidate experience and removing obstacles by taking another page from the sales and marketing book. Create candidate personas that reflect the demographic characteristics you want to bring into your company. Flesh out those personas by getting inside their heads and identifying what matters to them, what might make them uncomfortable, and what their priorities would be when deciding whether to pursue a position.

Use these personas to help you be more sensitive to the preferences of your candidates during the interview process—you can even give them names and get to know them!

Then take a close look at your interview process through their eyes. If you typically conduct panel interviews with your candidate on a chair facing four developers and their manager – ask yourself whether Jane would be comfortable with that. If you normally do a meet and greet with the team over wings and beer at the local pub, ask yourself whether that might be a problem for Aahil. Use your candidate personas as filters and guides for your entire interview process.

Be a Mirror

Strive to reflect your target candidates when putting together your interview team. This can be a significant challenge early in your initiative, since you’ve already acknowledged an existing imbalance. In that case, you may have to bring in outside resources to help until you have your first hires in the target demographic. Either way, it’s critical that candidates can see themselves reflected in your organization. 

Align Interview Content

Just as your interview team should reflect your target candidates as much as possible, so should your interview content.

  • Scrutinize your interview questions and change them if they reflect the unbalanced status quo. For example, when aiming to hire women with management potential don’t ask: “Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss. What did you do and how did he respond?”
  • Avoid cultural references that are not inclusive of the demographic you are targeting. For example, when hiring new immigrants, don’t reference SAT scores, which they may not be familiar with.
  • Make sure the scenarios you use as examples are consistent with the diversity you want to achieve and reflective of the demographic you are trying to attract. For example, when demonstrating career path opportunities, make sure the story you tell about the person who started as a file clerk and ended up as VP of Operations does not simply reinforce the existing skew. If you don’t yet have examples that reflect the target demographic, speak in general terms about career path potential.

Anything you can reasonably do to make the interview process more comfortable, to remove obstacles and to eliminate practices that might alienate a candidate, is worth doing. Tailoring your interview process to the demographic you are targeting—from conducting interviews in accessible facilities to letting candidates know in advance what you consider appropriate interview attire—helps contribute to an exceptional candidate experience and keeps your diverse candidates engaged in the process.

Watch for part three of this series, which looks at tactics for preparing flexible offers and effective onboarding practices that will help you build a strong, diverse team.  


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