After the continuing heartache of last week, I had to switch off. I took three full days away from work to drive along the coast and spend time with my family. In a society that glorifies (over)work, it felt rebellious to take a break. I feel lucky to be able to and proud that I did, because I usually don't. Safely, of course.
So, last week I promised I would share the story of my worst job interview ever. I’ve worked on four continents and in quite a few different work environments and I’ve seen and experienced...a lot.
In some small companies I worked for early in my career, job interviews often meant a quick phone call with a busy business owner who was just trying to get the position filled.
Others were more exciting. One company flew me from New York to London to interview for their fellowship program. I didn’t get the job (I bombed trying to describe the intricacies of Credit Default Swaps), but the hiring process was inclusive and well-communicated. For example, I knew how many interviews to expect and timelines for when I would hear back, including the rejection phone call timed to the hour that I was boarding my flight back to JFK.
The worst interview I ever had was a guessing game designed to remind me I did not belong at the company.
A five-hour nonstop interview where every 45ish minutes a different white man would ask me variations of the same question: Why should we hire you? What will you bring to the table? (Ummm, diversity?) We have an “always on” work culture–are you ready for that? Will you be a good culture fit?
It felt like an interrogation room. No breaks. I left the process exhausted, hungry and questioning whether I would find another person who looked like me at that company. (I would not.) I didn’t know when I would hear back or whether I even would.
Let's agree to do away with 5-hour interrogations, umm, interviews
Much of the hiring process today is exclusionary and riddled with biases. At a time when we literally cannot afford to exclude great, underestimated candidates (because the only way we can navigate out of this crisis is when all of us rise together), we need to design our hiring processes to bring people in – not leave them out.
Below, I detail three quick ideas to build a hiring process that’s more inclusive. These work in tandem with addressing our personal biases, which I recommended in last week’s letter.
1. Choose inclusive language in your job description
Most of us have been socialized to conform to a rigid gender schema and many especially women and nonbinary people, often self-select out of roles that *seem* to be a better fit for men.
How jobs are described matters.
Women are less inclined to respond to job listings containing words like “determined” and “assertive,” as these words are connected with male stereotypes, according to research. Similarly, when job ads sought candidates who were “aggressive” and “analytical,” women were less likely to apply.
Women were more likely to apply for roles looking for people who were “dedicated,” “responsible,” “conscientious” and “sociable.” Note: men were not deterred either way.
When I think back to the job ad for my 5-hour interview from hell, it was rife with words like “analytical,” “data nerd” and indicators of a stressful culture: “our smart people work very hard,” and “we have an always-on culture.” I had the nagging feeling that I wouldn’t belong even before I set foot in the building.
2. Advertise with intention
If your job listings are always advertised in the same places (like only your company website), you will attract the same groups you always have. Take time to develop relationships with relevant identity-based industry groups like Black Girls Code or the Asian American Journalists Association. Actively build relationships with these groups by attending their events and conferences and by financially sponsoring their events.
Then, advertise your jobs within those networks. The only reason I applied for THAT job was because I was introduced by a former colleague to someone who knew someone, who was the hiring manager for the role.
But referrals like this are tricky at best to ensure a diverse slate of candidates. Considering three-quarters of white Americans don’t have a single friend of color, it’s no wonder PayScale found white men are disproportionately referred for jobs (and benefit from higher pay as a result).
Oh, and by the way, not all referrals are created equal.
Later, I learned a number of current employees–all white–were hired because they were friends with current employees. They didn’t have to go through the same hiring process or the inter-rogation-view.
3. Create an inclusive and open interview process
I don’t have much more to say besides do the exact opposite of what I went through in my worst job interview. Have a racially and gender diverse (at the very least!) interview pane or loop. Build in breaks, especially right now in the time of video interviews. Zoom fatigue is real and data show it’s worse for women.
Don’t ask people why they’re a culture fit. Instead, assess how they’ll add to the culture. Create a work environment where employees don’t have to brag about working all the time to be considered hireable.
Mention diversity, equity and inclusion in your company narrative: “this place is great for caregivers...here’s why,” or “we offer paid mental health leave,” or “we pay for self-development.”
This is just a start and I’ve spent much of my career researching best practices like these. For example, in this media interview with Bloomberg where I share the next steps for companies that pledged to do better after 2020’s racial justice movement.
I know what it feels like to go through a hiring process that makes your heart sink. I also know what it feels like to go through a process where you feel welcome and valued, so you can bring your best to a new job.
That is the difference you make to someone's career (and life) when you are intentionally inclusive in your hiring.
Want more guidance? I go into a lot more detail in my first book, The Diversity Advantage. It can be purchased here.
(Originally published in the Inclusion is Leadership newsletter on April 20, 2021.)