In addition to all the details leading up to and around the onsite and/or virtual interviews, there are plenty of opportunities to create welcoming or alienating environments within the interview. From the location, to the questions, to who’s asking them, the interview experience can make or break the candidate experience.
Is your team showcasing inclusion and understanding with every detail? Are they asking the right questions in the right way without putting anyone in a disadvantage for irrelevant reasons? Are they showing true diversity vs. giving the impression of a disingenuous token effort?
How can you ensure your interviews are inclusive and welcoming to all?
Here are a few tips:
Let the candidate choose where to sit
Not everyone is comfortable in every seat. Specifically, consider those chairs that force their occupants to sit with their back to the door. Candidates with their back to the door are more apt to be accidently startled if someone opens the door or walks into the room.
This is particularly impactful to those who experience anxiety when startled, those with a hearing impairment who cannot hear what is happening behind them, and those who have been trained never to have their back to the door such as military, law enforcement, and first responders. For those who are impacted, forcing them to sit with their back to the door raises their discomfort and anxiety and leaves them fighting the urge to glance behind them during the entire interview. How well would you focus on an interview if your neck tingled with the discomfort of wondering what lurked behind you?
Choose a single, wheelchair-accessible location for the interview
Imagine going to an organization for a job interview. You are probably nervous, maybe running through answers to potential questions in your head. However, as soon as you arrive you are asked to retrieve something you can’t reach. Now, for your first impression, you are forced to ask for help. Now imagine you look around and everything seems to be out of reach… this place is just not designed for you.
For people with physical disabilities, that scenario is not far from the truth.
Avoid triggering the ‘this place is not designed for me’ impression. Choose a single location that is easily accessible, where candidates with physical disabilities don’t need to ask for help or alternative locations. Then send the interviewers to them. This will eliminate the need for candidates to request ‘special accommodations’ and your company gives a clear inclusive message.
Bonus tip: don’t forget to make sure the bathrooms, exits, planned tours, and food accommodations are accessible as well.
Ask the interviewee if they prefer to keep the door open or closed during the interview
Not everyone is comfortable being in an enclosed, private environment (like an office with the door shut) with someone they don’t know. This can be particularly problematic for those with specific religious beliefs and/or practices or those who have experienced certain dramas, abuse, or have been victims of sex trafficking.
For some individuals, being in an enclosed environment with a person of authority (usually a male), can trigger high anxiety and/or discomfort. The simple act of keeping the door open shows them there is nothing to fear and that they can be at ease.
Showcase the authentic diversity of the team and organization
Imagine being introduced and interviewed by a group of people where everyone looks the same and it is not like you. A homogeneous environment doesn’t scream ‘inclusion’.
However, there is something worse…
How would you feel if instead of no one is like you, there is one individual who does look like you, but they are not relevant to the role you are interviewing for? And that one person keeps popping up: on your interview panel, during lunch, during the tour.
Rather than feeling like you belong, this forced display of diversity will likely only show you that you will be treated like the token [fill in demographic], just like the person being paraded in front of you.
Showcasing diversity during interviews is fantastic, but it must be authentic diversity, full of people relevant to the experience.
Bonus tip: showcasing diversity does not mean matching the demographic traits of the candidate. It’s about showing that the organization embraces and celebrates differences. For this, any authentic diversity will have a positive impact: demographics, backgrounds, areas of interests, favorite sports teams…etc.
Don’t touch… hair, clothes, bellies, wheelchairs, prosthetics, etc.
There are some tips that feel like they should go without saying, but unfortunately, there are countless experiences to suggest the contrary. This is one of those tips.
Not only can it be unpleasant, uncomfortable, or worse for the candidate, it also conveys that you don’t respect them and their personal space.
So, when that candidate comes in with that cool hair style you’ve never seen, that baby bump that moves with a baby kick, a prosthetic you never knew existed that looks so real… resist the urge, don’t touch.
The exception: it’s ok if the purpose is for assistance, such as someone in a wheelchair having trouble navigating a space. But always ask for permission first.
Identify and adjust for inadvertent disadvantages if using creative/unique interview techniques
There are some interesting ‘secret sauces” to finding perfect candidates. Techniques such as taking applicants to lunch to see if they salt their food before tasting it, judging a handshake, and handing applicants a marker, pointing to a whiteboard, and saying, “teach me something”.
Before applying these creative techniques, take the time to identify any inadvertent disadvantages to certain applicants and have a plan if these scenarios arise.
For example, what happens if someone’s religious beliefs or dietary restrictions keeps them from being able to eat at that restaurant? Or how will the whiteboard test be modified for a dyslexic, or someone who can’t reach the whiteboard?
Don’t confuse interview experience with experience
The ability to interview is not synonymous with the ability of the interviewee.
Some candidates may be perfect for the job but completely inexperienced with interviewing and therefore give a less ‘polished’ impression. For example, you may be interviewing a recent veteran who has never had to interview for a job before (the military promotes/assigns jobs differently) or a person that is looking to transition from an organization they have worked in for many years.
Before dismissing a candidate because they are clearly uncomfortable, stumbling over their answers, and surprised by even the most basic interview questions, take the time to make sure it is their responses and not how they respond that’s the problem. Use techniques such as opening with small talk to put them at ease and get them talking, describing the interview process, and ensuring them that they can take their time with the responses.