Interviewing for Awareness

2019-03-09

This started as a Twitter thread but I think it makes sense to have it here in one piece:

When interviewing people for senior/leadership positions, I never directly ask them about what they think about diversity and inclusion efforts. If you ask directly, almost everybody will say “Yes, that’s very important to me.” even if they are mostly clueless. Instead I give opportunities where they can easily bring up the topic if they actually care about it. I ask things like:

  • “How do you make your company more attractive to a wider range of candidates?”
  • “What do you think is important in order to retain talent in the company?”

If that doesn’t do it, I mention for example the under-representation of women in engineering roles and ask why they think that’s the case. At this point a still common answer is “It's a pipeline issue”. Or I ask something more specific like “A lot of women in our industry end up leaving it after only a few years. Why do you think that happens and what could be done to address this problem on a company level?”. That should be enough of a hint to get a discussion going.

At no point do I mention the actual words “diversity” and “inclusion” because they immediately trigger a canned response that sort-of sounds ok but has zero substance. The tech industry has seen enough discussion about diversity that most cansidates have not only heard of it but also know what boxes they have to check in order to pass the test for a basic awareness.

Of course there are also candidates where none of this is necessary and who open up topics like safe reporting mechanisms, pay equality, awareness trainings, recruiting outreach to marginalized groups, etc by themselves.