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Inclusion Tips for Candidate Interactions

Every interaction throughout the hiring process is watched, scrutinized, and evaluated. How was the first impression, were the answers to questions correct and compelling, is there a good fit? The thing is – it’s not just you and your hiring team evaluating the candidates, the candidates are also evaluating you and your organization.

What are all the interactions between your organization and the candidates saying about the organization? Are they painting an inclusive and welcoming picture that draws candidates in and excites them to join? Or are they sign after sign that the candidate will be excluded, misunderstood, unengaged?

How can you ensure your candidate interactions are inclusive, welcoming, and positive?

Here are a few tips:

If you’re not sure about a name or gender – ask, don’t guess

Names are not always straightforward. For example, candidates may have a different name on their email vs. their driver’s license, or it may be a gender neutral name. Or, perhaps, you may not be familiar with the name so you don’t know the gender (if any) it’s used for, or you simply don’t know how to pronounce it.

If you aren’t sure what name or pronoun to use or how to pronounce the name, ask, don’t guess.

Asking shows you care and want to be right, where guessing risks putting the candidate in an awkward position of correcting you.

Yes, it may feel a little awkward for you to ask. But think how much worse it’d feel to a candidate if you guessed wrong.

Bonus tip: Never use the word “preferred” when asking for someone’s pronoun. “Preferred pronoun” is an out-of-date convention, as it is not a preference, it just is.

Tell the candidate how to address you and ask how they would like to be addressed

There are many ways to address someone: first name, nick name, Mr./Mrs./Ms./ Dr. with last name, Sir / Ma’am, etc. What someone wants to be called can depend on culture, background, and preferences.

Rather than put the candidate in the position of guessing how you’d like to be addressed and risk the embarrassment of being corrected – let them know up front how to address you. The simple “please call me…” will put the candidate at ease and give them a sense of familiarity.

Even better, return the favor and ask them how they’d like to be addressed. This will show respect and interest in them and their preferences. As a bonus, by establishing this up front, neither you or the candidate will run the risk of mispronouncing names, inadvertently coming across as too formal, informal, or disrespectful, or assuming the wrong pronoun.

Avoid mentioning obscure relations to someone of the same demographic

“I know your Father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.”

So, what does that make us?

Absolutely nothing.

We all want to make connections when talking with someone, but if the connection is too stretched or irrelevant, rather than forming a bond, it speaks volumes to how little overlap there is.

When interacting with candidates, don’t mention that your roommate’s best friend was <matching demographic> or the little brother of the kid in your 2nd grade class had <matching disability>.

References like that add no value to the conversation and serve to alienate the person you are talking to because it advertises how little experience you have with someone like them. Instead, find things you truly have in common, or even better, stick to talking about the opportunity at hand as that is a common interest – the role, the team, the hiring organization and its mission.

Avoid assuming genders of significant others in conversations

Candidate interaction often leads to casual banter which could include discussing significant others / partners / spouses. When this topic comes up, avoid assuming the gender of their significant other.

Why? Consider what would happen if you assume the wrong gender.

The candidate would be forced to choose between two potentially uncomfortable options. Either they correct you, thereby forcing them to inform you of their sexual preference even if they did not intend to do so, or they don’t correct you and endure the anxiety of ‘hiding’ their sexual preference.

Don’t put any candidates in this situation. Use gender neutral pronouns and terminology until the candidate informs you of the gender.

Quick side note: this tip applies when the topic naturally comes up. NEVER ask about significant others / partners / spouses as that will open you up to compliance and legal issues.

Avoid “I don’t see color” and similar phrases

Unless you are blind or color blind, the phrase “I don’t see color” is the same as saying “I am going to ignore a part of who you are”.

Consider this – how many people truly don’t see color, or race, or a disability?

To say otherwise is implying that you don’t want to acknowledge those aspects of people. No one wants to be told that a part of who they are is being ignored or considered unimportant, we all want to be accepted and celebrated for our full selves.

This is a simple one – avoid the phrase.

I doubt anyone has felt compelled to say, “I don’t see noses” or “I don’t see feet”, so there is no need to say something as silly as “I don’t see color” either.

Unless it’s required for the job, don’t judge on eye contact

Eye contact is a commonly used social queue when interviewing candidates for a job. Steady eye contact is often seen as a sign of confidence, engagement, and respect. But that perception is flawed. It’s far more difficult for some people than for others to maintain eye contact, and it has nothing to do with their confidence, engagement or respect.

For example, those with autism, anxiety disorders or seeing impairments may have a harder time maintaining eye contact (if they can do it at all). There are also cultures for which eye contact is a sign of disrespect.

Therefore, for jobs that do not require eye contact, rather than using eye contact as a proxy for traits such as confidence, engagement, and respect, focus on evaluating the traits needed to do the job.

Before giving advice make sure it’s relevant and universal

Sometimes interviewers offer friendly advice or tips to help candidates with the current or future interviews. The practice can be fantastic and valuable. But the wrong advice could not only be hurtful or counterproductive, it may also create an uncomfortable, if not hostile interview experience.

There is a simple test: does the advice pertain to something relevant to the job? Under the same circumstances, would it be offered to anyone, independent of demographics?

For example, consider the common advice “smile more”. Is smiling relevant to the performance of the job? If the individual was of a different gender, race, age, etc. would the advice still be offered? If the answer is no – the advice is not only irrelevant, it’s inappropriate, especially from an interviewer or other representative of an interviewing organization.

Here are some other common examples: “wear more flattering clothing”, “take off your earrings”, “tie your hair back”, “soften your language so it is less assertive”.



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