As a leader in talent sourcing, I am often asked to clarify how to eliminate bias while interviewing and interviewing to cultivate diversity. Are we allowed to screen people out if they don’t fit into our corporate culture, even if they have great skills? Can we hire someone who is not an “A” candidate because we see something else?

There’s a common belief that in order to be diverse in hiring, you have to give up seeking the best of the best. I think that is a wrong idea based on false pretenses. I believe that when we learn to focus on hiring based on what a candidate can bring to an organization from their total life experience and proficiencies — not just as a sum of their skillset plus experience, but as a sum of their total life experience — the result can be an “A” hire every time. 

To foster a diverse and inclusive culture, we have to learn to look at candidates beyond their being a sum of their work and experience and see them as a total person who can contribute their overall life experience, including career proficiencies and skills, to an organization.

This makes us sit back and consider what is truly important in hiring — not just which skills, but which personality attributes, obtained wisdom and insights can be more important than a skill set or even work experience — and hire for that.  Once an organization figures that out for itself, which can often be a challenge, I have constructed a quick reference guide to help reduce bias in hiring and help the company remain true to its path.   

Here are a few simple behaviors to practice which can help eliminate unconscious bias and cultivate a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Don’t Abandon the Phone Screen

We all have gotten into the habit of jumping on a video call for everything. But often we can immediately form bias by the person’s appearance, the state and appearance of their home office, etc. Phone calls take away the bias of appearance and allow us to focus on the content of the conversation. 

Be Mindful of Technology

People everywhere are experiencing glitches, hangups and freezes on their video calls due to demand on bandwidth. This can be even more of a challenge for great talent when they live in more remote areas. Often several second delays between parties cause extended periods of silence or, conversely, callers seemingly interrupting each other. Don’t let this be a determining factor in your interviews. Tech issues can be resolved to hire great talent. If it’s a real issue, revert to the phone for now. Facetime can be postponed or rescheduled.  

Script the Interview

Using the same questions to cover the same topics (skills or human experiences) assures that everyone interviewed is screened the same way and that important key points about the job and how they contribute to the organization are covered. Don’t skip over a question — doing so is in some ways biased, no matter what your reasoning. Asking the same questions to every candidate assures you of measuring all candidates by the same criteria.

Interview With a Diverse Team

When putting together interview teams, be as inclusive as possible. Especially in this new virtual-office world, candidates no longer visit an office full of diverse people working together. Make sure that interview teams reflect the organization’s true diversity.  

Don’t Jump to Conclusions

Sometimes a candidate might say something that takes us back or isn’t what we expected. We are all prone to react, but make sure you notice you may be jumping the gun, then take a step back and dig deeper. Don’t assume anything — clarify and seek to understand a candidate’s response. 

Don’t Ask That!

Remember that even casual chats to fill dead space can cross the line and exhibit bias. Stay away from “Are you married?” or even asking how old the kids are if the candidate brings them up. Keep focused on the interview.

Every Candidate Could be an “A” Candidate

Competition for talent is fierce. Sure, we all want the candidate who can walk on water and needs no help or training. But let’s be real: The rest of the candidate pool is also worth interviewing and hiring. Give every candidate the chance to show how they can shine, even if on paper they don’t look like “A+” material. Every diamond starts out rough. Be open to doing some polishing, and exploring other ways a candidate can contribute, even if their primary skillset is a little shy of ideal. 

Treat All Candidates as Passive Candidates

The idea of only hiring people who really want to be at your company will limit your candidate pool. Just because someone wants to work for you does not guarantee they are the best at what they do. In fact, those who are the best at what they do are usually paid well, have positions they want to be in and are working for companies to whom they are loyal, and very well may be diverse.

Isn’t that the profile of the ideal employee — A+, loyal, highly-skilled, likes their current role and career path and thus has no desire to leave? Don’t pass on someone because they are not super excited, or ask about comp. Like us, they are trying to weigh their options — and candidates these days have many.

Hiring managers, executives, recruiters and panelists alike have to sell every candidate on the opportunities that their company can offer — and why and how joining it would help their career growth and satisfaction. Once they can see this, the candidate will communicate more actively, be more realistic in their comp expectations, and will engage in a more meaningful interview.      

Every Candidate is Diverse in Some Way — Discover Diversity Together

We are all different in some way. We all come from different backgrounds, religions, family traditions and ethnic heritages. All of these affect our worldview. It is easy to confuse personal beliefs and experiences with company culture. Just because we “fit” into an organization does not mean that someone from a completely different experience won’t. 

In a very real way, practicing inclusivity nurtures diverse hiring, which then becomes the company culture. Does this mean every company will have the same culture? Well, yes and no. Many organizations pride themselves in having the “secret sauce” all figured out. They spend a lot of money administering tests, evaluating employees and trying to ascertain what makes a successful hire.

No doubt these can be valuable tools to help us understand ourselves and/or our organizations better. And surely it helps managers understand how to appreciate and maximize the value and contributions by all kinds of people, not just the ones who fit into one neat category which we label as “our cultural fit.” Instead, as the world becomes a smaller place through the use of technology and virtual workplaces, the diversity that we have been practicing locally is going to take on a global scale. But it is really no different.  

One of the things I have learned traveling the world is that we — human beings — are all basically the same. We all want to be safe, give our children better opportunities than we had and feel as though we can contribute in some meaningful way.

By taking the time to use more behavioral-based questions, listen to the stories and experiences of those who also possess skills and backgrounds we need for any particular role, the more we will discover how those experiences, life lessons, skills and experience are valuable in whatever weight and combination we find them. Then the question becomes, who is the best person for the job — not just who is the best qualified for the job? That opens the world to endless diversity in hiring.     

Steven Rawlings

LGBT Inclusion Champion, seeking diverse skilled talent in all fields. Over 25 years of leading in all aspects of Global Talent Acquisition specializing in Sourcing and strategic talent forecasting and recruitment enablement. Please contact Steve at [email protected]


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