Breaking down barriers for inclusive hiring experiences

February 28, 2023

Many of us talk theoretically about creating a diverse workforce or hiring from non-traditional backgrounds to reduce the homogeneity of our teams, but when the rubber meets the road, do we know what to do to move theory to practice? 

We sat down with three industry leaders to discuss how to do just that. How do we remove those barriers and create processes that enable hiring managers to do hiring better?

Competency-focused job descriptions

The hiring process begins with the job description. There’s a common misconception that if we write job descriptions more inclusively, this will naturally lead to diverse teams. While this is certainly part of the equation, the entire hiring process needs to be aligned with the broader mission and vision of the organization.

As you revamp job descriptions, think about what you’re putting in them that might be limiting. Job descriptions should be competency-focused. Competencies should relate to the everyday tasks that new hires need to hit the ground running. There’s always learning that occurs as employees orient themselves and are socialized into “the way things work around here.”

Organizations can consider job descriptions as advertisements. If you write them according to mandatory competencies, then you remove the potential for bias and increase the likelihood of inclusion, advertising to a diverse range of people. Leave out –or de-emphasize– the “nice to haves” like education in a particular program, a subjectively defined number of years of experience, previous job titles, or skills that are not directly tied to the actual daily tasks. Leaving these out will decrease the risk of your job description having a negative impact.

Preparing for the interview

Just as organizations should consider essential competencies in job descriptions, this process should continue to align with interview questions and rubrics

Interview plans should align with career ladders/frameworks for optimum long-term career navigation. Leslie Carr, former Head of Engineering at Pando, shared that a “well-written job ladder or job rubric can really help you. Because if you already know what you're assessing all of your current employees on, then you know what you should be looking for. A lot of times, people don't go back and reference that job ladder, which means that their interview plan and their career growth plan aren't aligned.”

For interviews that assess competencies, think carefully about the essential competencies required for the job. What do candidates have to know and do to perform the job safely and successfully? The interview process should assess necessary skills and knowledge requirements. Behavioral questions, which ask candidates to share a real situation they’ve been in where they had to use specific skills, allow the candidate to share how they would apply their skills, not whether they can.

Whenever possible, ensure your hiring committee members come from different teams and have diverse backgrounds and intersecting identities (e.g., disability, gender, ethnicity). This will ensure you have multiple perspectives at the table. As Erin Wilson, President at pointed out, “Don't hire X team without having them talk to someone on Y team,” and develop an interview guide “that anyone from one team to the other … can have a values-driven discussion.” has an interview plan that is 80% the same across the company, with 20% open to change based on the individual role. They call these fixed and custom variables.

Interviews - a supportive candidate experience

The interview process is an opportunity to learn more about candidates. It’s important to remember that your interpretation of the interview is influenced by bias. Inclusive interviews recognize candidate strengths and transferrable skills.

Think about the candidate experience - the interview process should be a partnership where you’re setting the candidate up for success. Traditional interviewing saw interviewers as gatekeepers trying to weed out the weak, but you should be setting the process up in a way that ensures candidates can represent their true and best selves. Erin Cannon, Director of Training and People Development at Paradigm Strategy, suggests that interviewers should want candidates to succeed and prepare them with the list of skills or interview topics they need to “bring their best to the interview [so] that you’re really working in partnership to get at whether or not they have those skills.”

When you communicate with the candidate, describe the role and share what candidates can expect during the interview, including the length of time, types of questions they will be asked, and whether they will have a chance to ask questions themselves. Be clear if there will be multiple stages. If you hold virtual interviews, let the candidate know how they can connect with you if their computer freezes or they have internet issues. Provide a phone number. Copy complex questions into the chat so the candidate can read them. This will help them know what to expect and bring their best selves.

First-level interviews should be faciliated by people trained in screening, like recruiters, the talent team, or other HR department specialists. Leslie Carr shared that recruiters are trained to conduct "first-level assessments. So find a partner who's an expert at this so that you can outsource some … bandwidth in-house.” Recruiters can develop relationships, prepare candidates on topics, and get trained in best practices like the STAR method (situation, task, action, result). Ashley Conway, Head of Customer Success at Woven says that “Being able to encourage candidates to share stories from personal or professional [experience is] creating that environment where you can get a good competent read on skill set without … creating anxiety or adverse impact.”

A trusted interview partner can also help mitigate biases like similarity bias. We often default to easy and familiar, especially when we’re stressed or falling behind and need a new team member urgently. Familiarity makes you feel like you can be more confident in your decision, and there can seem to be less risk. Ashley shared that, because of work pressures, hiring managers typically “rely on short codes…It's like what are you looking for out of this <Insert title here>, this many years experience, this kind of title... Those are not skills, years of experience is not a skill.” Hiring managers need to be “accountable to the skills that are required and what the candidate will learn on the job.”

Hiring managers and recruiters can adapt their process to develop more inclusive job descriptions and lead interviews that set candidates up as partners in their own success. Leslie Carr shared, "one great piece of advice I got about being an ally myself was, make sure you don't just give advice, make sure you also find opportunities.” One of the ways Pando removes bias from the workplace is by providing companies with clear competencies that employees can use to empower their own career development. These competencies can be aligned with job descriptions and interview rubrics for an inclusive candidate experience.

Learn more about how our platform enables inclusive career paths.