Very early in my career, I interviewed for a role at a professional services firm with an all-male interview panel. Although I could see women in the office, they all served in administrative roles. I took the job back then, but if something like this happened today, it would be a red flag. I know enough now to know that an all-male interview panel might be the first sign that diversity wasn’t top-of-mind for that employer.
Despite that early experience, I haven’t always created a perfect process from a diversity standpoint. I distinctly remember one Black male candidate who taught me a difficult lesson. After a scheduling mixup, he ended up interviewing with a group of exclusively white women. He withdrew from consideration after that experience. Although the women he interviewed with were relevant to the role, seeing a homogenous group of people in charge of this hiring decision made him question whether our company was truly invested in diversity.
This past year was rough—but there are some silver linings. One of them is our collective renewed focus on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in our workplaces. Companies everywhere are now saying all the right things and enshrining diversity initiatives as pillars of their cultures. But is all the talk leading to genuine change?
Honest mistakes happen, but as remote working opens up our ability to hire incredible talent located just about anywhere, it’s more important than ever to be thoughtful about how we build our interview processes.
SurveyMonkey, in partnership with Living Corporate, recently released data from a survey of 2,600 U.S. adults that reveals that while 79% of job seekers today say it is important that they work for a place that hires people from diverse backgrounds, a job seeker’s first in-depth impression of a company leaves much to be desired. Only one-third (34%) of people said they meet with a diverse panel of interviewers (every time or most of the time). That needs to change.
Last year, SurveyMonkey set one- and five-year diversity goals to increase our representation of women, technical women, and underrepresented minorities at the company. As we worked toward achieving our goals this year, I’ve come to appreciate that the first conversations employers have with potential employees can say a lot about the company. It’s crucial that diversity and inclusion are incorporated throughout the entire hiring process, and especially during interviews.
Here are some things to keep in mind to make that happen.
Create inclusive job postings
We’ve rolled out a tool called TapRecruit that scans our job descriptions for biased language and offers alternatives to help us attract a wider variety of candidates. As a quick example, using words or phrases that emphasize professionalism or maturity like “poised” can easily be misunderstood. (How do you define that?) Another example is that job seekers have a preference for the word “you” vs. saying “the ideal candidate.”
Train about the dos and don’ts of interviewing and unconscious bias
Ongoing training for interviewers is the best way to make sure you’re driving a fair and inclusive process. Even the most experienced interviewer or hiring manager needs refresher training annually on interviewing fundamentals and bias. Checking your biases at the door means that you will consciously remind yourself that your decision to hire or not to hire is based on things only related to the role. As an example, if you learn during the interview process that you and the candidate share a love for the same basketball team or both like to play the same musical instrument, this should not influence your decision to hire one candidate versus another. Likeability isn’t a requirement for landing the job.
Have a diverse mix of interviewers in your panels
During the pandemic (and even during remote hiring after we’re all back at work), Zoom interviews don’t offer candidates the experience of walking around the office and seeing other people who look like them. Given this, extra effort should be made to show a diverse representation of your employees in a Zoom environment.
Ask good questions of candidates
Make sure interviewers are trained to ask good questions, both hypothetical and behavioral, to elicit responses that allow candidates to showcase their skills. As an example, don’t ask closed or leading questions. Asking a candidate about their prior experience scaling and growing a team is a much better question than asking a candidate if they’ve managed people before. If you are not asking good questions, candidates will feel like they were never given a chance to really showcase their skills and abilities.
Outline a process and stick to it
Once you outline the interview process with a candidate, you need to stick to it. If you deviate, that can make the candidate feel uncomfortable, and it seeds doubt about potential motives behind the changes. For example, one of my teams was hiring for a role outside of North America in which speaking a foreign language was a requirement. We ended up changing the interview process midstream, asking the candidate to take a test. This candidate was a person of color, and because the process wasn’t ironed out ahead of time, and expectations were not set, he was left with the impression that we possibly made the late change because of his race. We hadn’t meant to offend or discriminate but appeared to do so.
Encourage virtual backgrounds
We recently began providing all of our candidates with virtual backgrounds they can use during the interview process to help mitigate any unconscious bias introduced by their surroundings. This was prompted because we had a hiring manager make a comment about a candidate’s surroundings during a candidate debrief. The hiring manager had stated that this person’s bedroom looked messy and questioned the individual’s organizational skills. It became clear that bias had crept in and was influencing this hiring manager’s decision to move forward.
Don’t fixate on time-to-hire
Slow down, do your research, and make sure you are presenting hiring managers with a variety of strong choices. Talent is equally distributed, even if an opportunity is not. There are qualified candidates from underrepresented backgrounds out there. Accept that it may take a little extra time to find them and engage them, especially if they are passive.
Survey all candidates—not just those you hire
If your company truly wants to improve candidate experience, send a post-interview survey that can measure if they felt the interview process was fair and inclusive.
Inclusive recruiting is simply about creating a fair and consistent process that allows the best candidate to rise to the top. Focusing on simple steps and transparent actions will help ensure that candidates feel encouraged throughout the hiring process—and (hopefully) start to understand that your company is a place where they can do great work.
Sasa Ferrari is vice president of Talent Acquisition at SurveyMonkey.