Interviewing with Diversity Competence

August 6, 2019

When interviewing diverse candidates, searching for similarities, eliciting details, and asking for work samples is crucial.

So far in this blog series, we’ve covered how to:
    •   define diversity and who’s diverse;
    •   agree to conduct a search that addresses the impact of diversity resistance and unconscious bias;
    •   address myths about competence and ability when it comes to hiring for diversity;
    •   review marketing communications and job postings for exclusionary language; and
    •   select and evaluate resumes according to explicitly agreed-upon criteria that allows full consideration of all candidates, whether they present familiar or unfamiliar credentials.

Now the interviews begin!

When interviewing candidates from underrepresented groups or backgrounds very different from your own, your standard approach to interviewing may need a tune-up. What can you do to curb the tendency to unconsciously favor majority-group membership or familiarity? Or to bridge the gap between your experiences and those of an unfamiliar candidate?

Here are few diversity-competent interviewing skills to hone when your candidate’s identity group or background is different than yours:

    •   search for similarities to build rapport;
    •   elicit details about the candidate’s experiences to reveal strengths you may not be aware of; and
    •   incorporate work samples into the interview process.

If difference is making you feel like you can’t connect, deliberately look for things you have in common with your interviewee. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to connect when you focus on similarities.

For example, if your interviewee uses a wheelchair and you’re having a hard time seeing past their physical disability, ask about their interests both in and outside the office. This will direct you to relevant information about the candidate, and away from common misconceptions about disability. You’ll both start to feel more comfortable, increasing the likelihood of having a successful interview.

Once you establish some rapport, focus on what’s unique about the interviewee, and how their unfamiliar credentials and experience will be an asset to your team.

What can you do to curb the tendency to unconsciously favor majority-group membership or familiarity?

While it’s important to initially focus on similarities so both people feel comfortable, it’s also crucial not to ignore differences outright. The interviewee may have valuable skills that you don't think to ask about because you're unfamiliar with their experiences and background. For instance, the candidate in the wheelchair may have razor-sharp problem-solving skills from navigating non-accessible spaces on a daily basis. Make it a point to seek out these details.

Requesting work samples to supplement interviews will invite a more objective assessment of the interviewee and are an especially valuable tool when hiring for inclusion. Asking for a work sample is easy—first, consider the skills required for the position in question, then design a task that tests that skill.

For example, if it’s an editing job, have your candidates edit an article. Or if it’s a more technical position, ask candidates to build a simple tool or suggest solutions to a problem using relevant technical skills.

When evaluating the submitted work samples, use standardized rubrics so all candidates are measured against the same criteria, and assign qualified evaluators to review the candidates’ work. For the editing task, how many errors or omissions will you consider to be acceptable? For the technical task, does the person reviewing the coding sample have sufficient experience with that particular coding language?

The idea is to test for relevant competencies, rather than experiences that may be irrelevant, or to which some candidates never had access.

Supplementing interviews with work samples is a direct way of learning what a candidate can do and can help you avoid over-relying on factors like privileged work experiences or the prestige of the college they attended. When you find yourself leaning toward a candidate because of details to which you can personally relate, you can use the objective test results to curb that inclination. When you interview with diversity competence, you make better hiring decisions.

Want to learn how to communicate inclusively?
Learn about ground rules for hiring with our course, Skills for Searches and Hiring.

This post is part of a series addressed to HR and other hiring managers about integrating diversity competence into each step of the employment lifecycle, from recruitment and hiring, to creating an inclusive workplace, to evaluating and cultivating leaders who will take inclusive excellence at your enterprise to the next level.