What to Do (and Not to Do) in Interviews to Improve Diversity Hiring

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Jul 2, 2021

There are many ways to improve diversity hiring, but with limited time and resources, where’s the best place to start and where will you have the greatest impact?

You might be surprised to hear that it’s actually your interview process.

Interviews are your “main event” in the hiring process. They encompass the most amount of time you will spend with candidates and are when all parties get a meaningful chance to learn what it’s like to work together. They’re also likely the ultimate factor in your decision to hire candidates and their decision to join you. 

But for most organizations, interviews also represent the least structured and most subjective part of the hiring process. 

The problem is that lots of recruiters and hiring managers like to think that their own unique interview style is more effective than most everyone else’s. That often entails improvising during interviews. After all, they’ve been doing it for so long, so the approach obviously works. 

But doing something for a long time doesn’t mean you’re doing it right. Indeed, improvising during interviews usually means not taking the time beforehand to review candidate profiles, not fully determining what to look for in candidates, and not even planning questions in advance. The process often becomes even more biased when interviewers don’t submit their feedback independently ahead of the deliberation process and then cave into groupthink.  

Multiple studies have shown not only that this improvisational style of interviewing elicits little useful information about future work performance; it also increases the likelihood of bias. 

What’s more concerning is that most candidates are noticing this. According to a recent study by Mathison on underrepresented job-seekers, 62% report experiencing bias in the hiring process, 74% observed a lack of diversity in interview panels, and 67% reported completing an interview and never hearing back. 

Companies owe it to candidates and to themselves to have a more consistent and equitable interview process. Here’s how.

1. Institute procedures to communicate the full interview process and follow up with candidates after interviews. Our study showed that only 26% of the time did employers communicate the hiring process to candidates in advance. It’s important to set expectations and make the interview process transparent to candidates from the onset so job-seekers know what to expect. We recommend proactively communicating:

  • Each of the stages of the hiring process
  • Roughly how many interviews they should expect
  • If job-seekers should be expected to prepare anything
  • Where your company is currently in the hiring process

Here’s an example of an email that can be sent following an initial phone screen:

Hi Jane – Just to give you a sense of our hiring process and what you can expect from here, you’ll speak to two different members for our team for 45-minute interviews. If those go well, you’ll advance to an hour-long panel interview with three members of our team where you’ll be expected to present on a small project prompt, for which you’ll have five days to prepare. We are early in the process with a few other candidates and we are expecting to make a decision in the next month. Let me know if you have any questions about our process. 

2. Introduce a basic interview scorecard template in a way that will get adopted by your team. Of course, interview scorecards are not new, but it’s rare for employers to report that they have gotten all of their interviewers to fully adopt them.

A compelling way to drive adoption for interview scorecards on your team is to make the case that using them will actually save people time. Here are four ways to ensure your interview scorecards are simple and equitable to drive adoption:

  • Focus the scorecard for a given role on three to five crucial competencies
  • Proactively mark down behavioral interview questions tied to each competency
  • Be sure to budget time at the beginning for introductions and at the end for questions from the candidate
  • Push for a consistent and objective rating scale that every interviewer for the role will use (e.g., qualitative behaviors you are looking for or a quantitative rating tied to a given competency, like 1 to 5)

3. Get team members to schedule at least 10 minutes of prep time and 10 minutes directly after interviews to complete the scorecard. Use the prep time to finalize the interview script and confirm questions. It’s often hard for interviewers to multitask and ask questions while writing down notes about the candidates. 

Then use 10 minutes directly after an interview to fill in the scorecard and complete the rating. If the team has back-to-back interviews, make sure to space them out to have this needed time. 

Finally, be sure to put all interviews on a calendar. It sounds obvious, but stories abound about people not showing up because interviews weren’t “officially” scheduled.

4. Get team members to write down and submit their interview feedback independently before deliberating with other interviewers. The most structured and consistent interview process can completely fail at the moment interviewers check in with colleagues to get their feedback before personally marking down their own feedback. Help your team avoid groupthink by encouraging everyone to write down their feedback directly after their interview and before discussing with others. Have them submit this individual feedback directly to your applicant tracking system or the recruiter or hiring manager who is coordinating the hiring for the role. This will ensure that collective feedback and scores are captured to inform the conversation. 

5. Set guidelines for building diverse representation on interview panels. The interview process becomes way more equitable when there is actual diversity among interviewers. Many employers struggle to build diverse interview panels when they are pulling from existing homogenous departments. Here are some specific ways to counter that:

  • Give specific guidelines to hiring managers or recruiters coordinating panels that representative panels are a priority and that diversity goes beyond race and gender. 
  • Consider functions or teams that you can engage in interviews outside of the department. For example, Airbnb created values-based interviews that enabled them to engage interviewers across the company.
  • Give your employee resource groups or diversity council members an easy way to engage in interviews.

It’s important to remember that there isn’t a universal approach to equitable interviews for every organization, but the right approach is always rooted in consistency and empathy. As you consider changes to improve your interview process, always ask yourself: 

  1. Is this a step that we can consistently repeat for every candidate? 
  2. If I put myself in the shoes of a candidate, will this feel fair and empowering? 

The answers to these questions should ultimately help you grow diversity in your organization. 

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