Diversity & Inclusion
DEI / Hiring

6 ways to make your hiring process more inclusive

Creating a diverse team and strong company culture isn’t just about who you hire — it’s about how you hire. Here's some advice on process changes you can make to improve how you recruit, evaluate, and interview future team members.

NET/WORK 2017 at The Fillmore. (Photo by Justin Durner)

When your future employees arrive at your careers page, they’ve come because they’re excited about your product, or they’ve heard about how great your team is. Or maybe they’ve just stumbled upon it because the name sounded cool and you have a great logo.

Whatever the case is, your relationship with them starts right then and there.

During her own job search last summer, SmartLogic Director of Marketing Rose Burt of Baltimore saw many different signals for diversity and inclusion, and they all started at that first visit to the company’s About Us page.

“Are there women on the team? Are they in leadership roles? Likewise, are there people of color on the team? Does everyone ‘look’ the same?” she said. “I’m not that comfortable in your typical office crowd, and I would literally just pull up the team page for companies I was thinking about applying to, and there were a few where I just said, ’Nope.’ The team didn’t look like a group of people I’d be comfortable working with.” In a loose sense, Burt described the approach as “like the Bechdel Test but for teams.”

If you want to recruit a diverse pool of talented applicants, it’s critical that you present them with an inclusive experience from the team page all the way through to their first day at the office.

That doesn’t mean just having a diversity statement on your website and in your job postings.

“Inclusivity means hiring for skill, attitude, and potential, and making job listings visible to all communities, not just those in your inner network,” said Kara Redman, CEO of Baltimore-based Backroom. “Even LinkedIn and Facebook create ‘bubbles’ where your message isn’t going to go beyond the third layer of your friends-of-friends.” You have to create a hiring process that’s going to welcome and engage applicants of all kinds.

The biggest hurdle is often finding the right starting point that works for the stage you and your team are at.

Here are six ways you can begin making your hiring process more inclusive through process changes:

1. Diversify your entry point.

If you’re only posting your cool startup positions on places like AngelList and your own website, it’s almost guaranteed that the only candidates who will see these postings are people who are already like you. They’re hip to the startup life and live in a world where they know to go look in those places. Most people searching for new roles are working off of broad searches on LinkedIn, Indeed and Google. That means it is up to you to cast a wide net and go the extra mile to get the word out.

Posting on community and college job boards, leveraging alumni networks, sharing on your company LinkedIn page, asking your team to share on their personal LinkedIn pages, social channels, and interest-based communities, reaching out to meetup groups, coworking spaces, incubators and other professional or industry-specific job boards and networks are all ways that you can break outside of your own network and reach potential team members in new communities.

2. Reevaluate your criteria.

Be honest. When you go to write a job description, the first thing you do is look up one you wrote before or search Google for job descriptions that other companies have written for the same role. While it can be a place to start, it can also be a way to compound bias.

That means it is on you to reevaluate your criteria. Does the role require a degree? Or do two extra years of experience, a great portfolio, great references and a commitment to self-study meet the needs of the role? Does the role depend on that certification or is that something they can knock out in the first couple months as part of their onboarding?

Try it: You might find that leaving out some of the “checkbox” requirements opens doors for different applicants and changes how your team values experience.

3. No “rockstars.”

In your job descriptions themselves, avoid things like “rockstar” or “expert” and aggressive phrases like “you’ve been killing it at …” These kinds of phrases reduce the number of women who will apply and don’t have anything to do with the work output the job requires. Stick to descriptive, straightforward, gender-neutral language focused on the job title, the responsibilities of the role, and the outcomes you’re looking for.

4. Provide an explicit timeline.

While it’s exciting to take a peek at applications as they come in, resist the urge! Rather than having a rolling evaluation process, indicate how long you will leave the application window open in the job description and be explicit about when the review process will begin.

This will allow different types of people — from your Type A, apply-right-this-minute people to your super-competent-for-the-role, personal-life procrastinators — an equal opportunity to submit a successful application prior to you or your hiring team making up their mind on an early applicant.

5. Create a less biased review process for cover letters and resumes.

Once you’ve given adequate time for applications to come in and have a good pool of resumes to look at (think 10 to 20 rather than five to seven), take these applications and remove any elements that can lead to bias in your review process.

These include things like:

  • Eliminating indicators of gender, race and ethnicity by removing first and last names, uses of he or she, and fraternity or sorority affiliations
  • Eliminating elements of prestige and emotional favor by removing the name of colleges, schools and former employers
  • Eliminating visual bias by reformatting the resumes and cover letters to a uniform style

While this will take some time and diligence on the part of the editor, doing so levels the playing field and makes it possible for your review team to evaluate applicants through a more equitable lens.

Keep in mind that changing to this type of review for the first round of application review is just a first step. There are many other ways you can remove bias from the hiring process.

6. Use a competency-based approach for interviews.

Also known as behavioral interviewing, a competency-based approach to applicant evaluation focuses on the skills required for the job and value alignment to the company. Think of competencies as what you need to know, what you need to be able to do, and how you need to interact with others in order to be successful in the role.

While there are many examples of competency-based interview questions out there, in order to make this a successful part of your hiring process, you must prepare your interview team in a few key ways:

  • You’ll want to make sure interviewers focus on skills rather than finding commonalities that could cause bias. There’s no room for personal preference here: The result of the interview should never be “I like them.” It should be about what the interviewee said and how their experience demonstrates what they will bring into the role and into the team.
  • You’ll need to prepare them to be intentional with how they use their interview time. Rather than spending 10 minutes on getting to know you introductions, restrict the interviews to only 30 to 45 minutes and encourage your interviewers to jump right into their set of competency-based questions. If they are the right candidate, there will be plenty of time to get to know them.
  • You’ll want to put together a review team that is a diverse representation of the company — meaning not only people of different backgrounds but people in different roles and at different levels, related and unrelated to the open position. Because competency-based interviews are very structured, it provides an opportunity for everyone from junior developers to executive managers to play a role in the hiring process, creating connection to new employees before they even get to their desk.
  • You’ll need to emphasize that this isn’t about “culture fit.” This is about “values fit.” If you have a strong culture, that will come through in how interviewers identify that a candidate demonstrates how they match with your values and with what they will bring to the role and to the team.

All this being said, things aren’t going to change overnight. Be consistent with everyone throughout the process. Ask the same questions to each candidate, give them an opportunity to ask you questions and provide the same responses. Preschedule time to debrief as an interview team after each round of candidate interviews, and remember to make time when it’s all said and done to debrief how the whole process went from your side as the hiring team.

Document these experiences, take the learnings with you and keep iterating. It’s going to make you a stronger company and a better employer.


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