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Solving the equity vs. humanity paradox in interviews

On the surface, the concept of equity in candidate interviews is straight forward – provide everyone with the same inclusive experience and objectively judge the results. In other words, ask the same inclusive questions in the same way and evaluating the results objectively across all candidates to determine how the candidates compare.

Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to rather awkward candidate experiences.

“here’s your question…”

“What do you mean by…”

“I can’t provide any additional information. Please answer the question.”

“Okay. <answers question>”

“Thank you. Next question…”

Poorly conducted ‘equitable’ interviews sound more like a rudely hosted gameshow or poorly written crime drama than an interview. This is because when taken too literally, asking ‘exactly the same questions’ in ‘exactly the same way’ robs the interactions of the organic banter in human interactions. Candidates can be left feeling interrogated, flustered, and lost without those human interaction anchors. Not only will this impact their confidence and ability to answer the questions, it will also leave them with a sour feeling toward the interviewer and the company.

But abandoning the equity to create the organic experience can easily lead to bias and preferences taking over by inadvertently setting up the candidates with more familiar backgrounds, experiences, personalities, etc. for success.

So how can you balance equity and humanity in interviews?

With preparation and practice.

Step 1: Start with the equity basics – defined questions and defined answers

The core of equitable interviews remains the same. Start with pre-defining all the interview questions. Include the purpose of the question, the exact language you will use, and how you will evaluate the answers.

Good interview questions are clear, measurable, relevant, and insightful. And they are worded in an inclusive way to maximize both the understanding and resonance among all candidates independent of their demographics, backgrounds, and personal experiences.

Good pre-defined interview answers include the scale of measurements (objectively, how well did the candidate answer the question) and a list of attributes that should not impact the evaluation of an answer. Common examples include eye contact, preferences or familiarity with references (such as choosing a sports or Star Wars analogy to make a point), and breadth of vocabulary.

Step 2: Map the parameters of the interactions – what to say and not to say

For an interview, organic banter usually falls into the following categories:

  • Candidates asking for question clarification

  • Interviewers asking for answer clarification

  • Candidates seeking feedback on their answers

Define the parameters of what you will say and not say in each of these categories.

For example, with candidate question clarifications, will you offer examples of what you are asking for if requested, and if so, what examples? Will you reword the question, and if so, how? Or will you offer no clarifications.

Once you set the parameters, map how they will be applied across various scenarios.

For example:

A candidate asks for an example of a scenario you are looking for in your question. You provide the scenario.

A candidate does not ask for an example and gives an answer that is not at all what you are looking for. You provide the scenario example and ask again. You record both the incorrect answer and the corrected answer with the provided scenario.

Bonus tip: avoid providing feedback during the interview: while not impactful to the quality of the answer, candidate feedback requests are impactful to the overall interview performance. Candidates who receive encouraging feedback will gain confidence and will more likely have increased performance throughout the interview. Candidates with negative feedback will lose confidence and their answers will likely deteriorate throughout the interview. For equity, avoid providing feedback until the end of the interview when it will no longer impact the outcome. Establish this expectation upfront and reinforce if requested. Be polite and professional but firm.

Step 3: List the responses and non-responses

Once you have the questions and answers defined, and the parameters of the banter mapped, fill in the details with the responses.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. Equity. Just like with the questions themselves, you want to ensure as much equity in the banter. That means not accidently providing too much or not enough information or giving different information to different candidates.

  2. Inclusion. Words and how they are delivered matter. It’s not just what you intend to say or ask, it’s also how you say or ask it. Word choice can mean the difference between understanding and misunderstanding. It can also mean the difference between candidates feeling engaged and feeling alienated.

For example, consider the phrasing: “Why did you think that choice was a good idea?” vs “Why did you make that choice?”. Both questions are a follow-up to understand more about why a candidate made a decision. However, the first phrasing forces them into a defensive posture; lowering their confidence or increasing their anxiety. The second phrasing is more neutral and allows the candidate to take a positive stance to their answer.

Don’t forget to list the non-responses. What are you going to say when you can’t answer the clarification question or feedback question so that the candidate remains engaged?

Bonus tip: Include follow-up responses for when there is no natural banter. In the scenario where neither you nor the candidate have any clarification questions, you still don’t want to fall into the ‘gameshow’ experience. Consider how you will acknowledge the response, transition to the next question, and keep the conversation comfortable and organic. For example, you can pepper in engaging questions like “do you have any questions for me” or share an experience relevant to the question just answered. Be sure to apply these follow-up responses across all candidates to keep the experience equitable.

Step 4: Practice, practice, practice

This may come as a surprise for some, but intention does not always equal action. Even with the best preparations, in the moment, we can forget or misspeak or end up sounding awkward and robotic as we try to stick to the plan. Luckily the solution for this is simple – practice.

Ask a few people to go through the interview so you can practice how you ask and respond to questions and interject questions and interactions to create a more organic and human experience.

Practice interviews have multiple benefits. They allow you to get comfortable with the material, validate the clarity and insightfulness of the questions, and provide an example set of answers to test your measurement scale to ensure you can objectively evaluate the answers. Once you are done with each practice interview, request feedback from the interviewee on the experience and adjust any tactics accordingly.

Bringing it all together

Equity and inclusion are anchored in consistency across candidates. Unfortunately, this consistency is directly opposing to creating an engaging candidate experience, especially when valuing diversity and its wide breadth of experiences, personalities, and preferences. The key to great interviews is to merge the consistency of equity and the organic flexibility of diverse human engagement. To do this, map out the boundaries of the flexible interactions – what you will ask, answer, and provide. Give yourself enough space to have an organic human interaction while ensuring all candidates have access to the same information in the same way. Then practice so that when you do talk to your future employee, you provide the best experience for both you and them.

You can do it, we can help. Career.Place offers a variety of hiring practice training that combines effectiveness with equity and inclusion so that you and your candidates have the best experiences with the best outcomes. Want to learn more? Contact us. We are looking forward to hearing from you.

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