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Towards a more inclusive recruitment process, part 4: interviews

Photo of a road sign reading ‘Answers 1km’ with an arrow pointing right Photo by Hadija on Unsplash

This is the fourth and final post of a series that summarises and reacts to the responses to a post I put up on LinkedIn “looking for ideas on how to set up a recruitment process as inclusive and equitable as possible, from job ad to joining”.

Part 1: Ads
Part 2: Applications
Part 3: Assessment

This post focuses on interviews.

Assess a candidate’s competence, not their interview technique

Competency-based interviewing is basically asking people to provide evidence that demonstrates their experience and aptitude in competencies relevant to the role.

There’s a pre-requisite here that you should know what competencies are relevant to the role you’re recruiting for, ideally with an established competency framework. This goes back to the golden thread I mentioned in part 3: congruence between competency framework, performance assessment, role spec, job ad and candidate assessment.

You choose what competencies you want to ask about and let the candidates know what the competencies are, what they mean and that you’re going to ask questions based on these, maybe even going so far as to tell them the questions in advance (we’ll come to that).

This helps a candidate focus their preparation in the right areas – whatever you can do to level the playing field for people with less time to spend on preparation due to caring responsibilities, etc. is a good thing); it also helps to increase the likelihood of an answer in the actual interview staying on topic and so making the best use of the time you and the candidate are investing in each other.

Rosalyn Vaughan said:

I found [the compentency-based] approach helped me ask better interview questions because I clearly knew what I was trying to find out. In washup all interviewers submit a skill assessment for the candidate and you see if it matches/exceeds expectations for the role.

For fairness, I suggest you ask the same questions of every candidate. No alarms and no surprises, please.1 And when it comes to scoring candidates’ performance, use a standardised scoring system, as mentioned in part 3. Consistency is your friend.

Rob Mansfield’s proposal – “Provide interview questions to all candidates in advance of the interviews” – goes even further than the above and is a great shout. If it’s not a core competency of the role to be able to think on your feet and provide perfect answers to questions you don’t know are coming (there are roles where that is relevant) then I’d rather hear a decent, prepared answer than a rubbish answer from someone who might actually have the experience I need but just isn’t built to give the answer off the cuff and on the spot.

The inclusivity aspect, if not clear, is that if you set up an interview as an improv exercise, you can end up excluding people whose brains are wired to do a great job when in role but not necessarily in an interview situation that in no way reflects the real working environment.

I’ve been pitched a recruitment system that allows candidates to record video responses to questions. This helps with two things: removing the interview pressure element even further, and being able to involve a wider, more diverse set of assessers through being able to distribute the video for asynchronous and separate assessment. This does preclude the ability to ask probing questions in a synchronous way, however. On which point…

Assessment is a competency; practise your interview technique

Interviewing is a skill that can absolutely be taught; beware the chancers who have an unwarranted confidence in their ability to hire great people on ‘gut feel’.

I’ve been doing competency-based interviewing since the turn of the century.2 I was trained in it at a company that was barely 20th century, let alone 21st, in how it treated its staff, yet in retrospect was really ahead of its time in how it interviewed and assessed people.3 I’m always slightly taken aback when I go to companies, especially big, well-established ones, and their interview process is, to my eyes, amateurish, and over-reliant on rapport and managers ‘knowing who they want’.

When you’re a skilled and experienced interviewer, you can tell the difference between someone who is giving a textbook answer and someone talking about actual, hands-on, lived experience. I suspect hiring managers who are nervous about candidates being able to prepare answers are perhaps subconsciously nervous about their own interview skills.

An important detail here is that while you should make sure you choose questions in advance and ask the same ones of each candidate, those questions are starting points and you need to ask probing questions to get more detail. It’s more about helping people do their best. See the first point of this post about setting people up for success; you’re not trying to trip people up with your probing questions, you’re trying to give the candidate a chance to provide detail about something so you have evidence of experience to assess them on.

I find asking the probing questions particularly important for inclusivity because some people – generally women and people of certain ethnic heritages and upbringing – downplay their own contributions to success and need help to shine a light on their own specific contributions. I consider probing questions to be an opportunity for someone to give me information that will be helpful to their cause but, yes, probing questions can help you uncover when someone is overplaying their hand.

Following up

As Aaron Morris said: “Provide feedback and follow-up: Give constructive feedback to non-selected candidates and stay in touch.”

I don’t know that there’s an inclusivity aspect to this – this strikes me as just general decency – but do make sure that you give people constructive feedback or at least offer it to them. For one thing, it keeps you honest: if you’re saying someone didn’t demonstrate the competency to the level you’re looking for you, you’d better be able to justify it.

In terms of when you give the feedback, I totally agree with Martina Dove PhD:

Swift feedback after an interview. Don’t let people hang after final loop especially. If you are still debating or there are delays, make sure this is communicated to the person. As soon as you no longer are considering the person, let them know. Just as any hiring manager would not want a top candidate to be secretive about where they are in a hiring process or offers, candidates want to know where they stand.

Continuous improvement

Rumyana T.:

Use smart KPIs (you shall develop the set together with other ar least 4 people reflecting your company’s culture) to develop the milestones of your inclusion recruitment strategy and then measure execution against this KPIs. Ideally - get this set of KPIs approved by your big bosses team ;)

Thinking about how you can implement the tips in this series on inclusive recruitment is a good step. However, as with a lot of things, if you’re not tracking the difference it makes, how will you know? How will you show the value of doing things differently? Think about the differences you’re looking for, how you’ll measure success, and how you’ll use that information to focus your efforts.

There’s a reason for this series being called ‘Towards a more inclusive recruitment process’ rather than ‘How to build an inclusive recruitment process’: I don’t pretend to have all the answers, just some helpful pointers in the right direction and between us all, we do what we can to keep moving towards inclusivity while never getting so complacent as to think we’ve achieved it.

Keep on keeping on.

Part 1: Ads
Part 2: Applications
Part 3: Assessment

  1. Yeah, I quoted a song that starts with the lyric “A heart that’s full up like a landfill, a job that slowly kills you” in a post about recruitment – this is my personal playground, I do what I want↩︎

  2. Yeah, I chose that phrase deliberately to make me seem really old and Yoda-like.↩︎

  3. I credit some of my interest in working in HR, as it was then, People and Culture, as it is now, to that time.↩︎

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