5 Questions to Ask When Finding and Recruiting Diverse Candidates

“The thing we are failing at is finding and recruiting diverse candidates. We have to hop from one place to another. I’d love for it to all happen in one place,” says a recruiter friend of mine. And she’s right. That’s where we fail: by looking at the recruitment atmosphere from one side of the coin.

Recently, I attended this year’s Lesbians Who Tech (LWT) New York City Summit, one of three that the titular organization holds. I met the founder, Leanne Pittsford, at a reception applauding the launch of the TechHire Initiative in 2015, of which I was the example story used to show that coding bootcamps and alternative hiring practices for low- and mid-income individuals can increase their socioeconomic status and produce contributing individuals.

Lesbians Who Tech founder, Leanne Pittsford (l.), me (m.), and Dom Brassey (r.), VP of Growth, at the Lesbians Who Tech New York Summit in September 2017.

During the conference, I decided to dip into the Cybersecurity, FinTech & Leadership track at the encouragement of Dom Brassey, VP of Growth at LWT. And right there, nestled in the lesson plans, I started to see what was becoming of the movement. I started to see people move and shift towards an understanding of strategic ambition. In short, people were starting to wake up.

No longer are our hiring practices, business meetings, and diversity initiatives just side commentary. I began to see that diversity, inclusion, unpacking racism, and gender equality were looked at as actual goals and objectives of corporations to help improve their quality and initiate a shift towards equality as being a “baked in” aspect and not a “nice to have.” It was important.

This made me think of Elon Musk’s life as written in Elon Musk: Inventing the Future. The most ingenious thing I learned from it was his approach on making a modern electric car. For many years, the cars were retrofitted to their combustion engine cousins… trying to make a square peg fit into the round hole of electricity-powered motors.

Book Cover of “Elon Mush: Inventing the Future” courtesy of GoodReads.com

Elon took a different path. His company started from the ground up, building their car manufacturing plant and design around the guts of an electrical vehicle. Sure, it would have many of the same aspects: seats, wheels, headlights, etc. But the main goal would be to try to build it as efficiently and effortlessly as possible, allowing maintenance to not be a some sort of bastardization of using tools that don’t help get the job done and have to be retrofitted to try to make sense of the fixing of such machines.

So, this diatribe led me to what questions I might come about when thinking on a ground-up level of constructing the interview sphere around the baked-in idea of diversity and inclusion being just as worthy of a “must” as any other critical skill. Here’s where I’d start:

  1. Tell me a time where you couldn’t understand someone that you had to work with. What did you do?
    Now, I don’t expect some sort of awesome allegory, but I would like something along the aspects of one of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, Darmok. This is one of the few times the universal translator failed. Not in function, but in ability to understand the human, or species, condition. This article from The Atlantic does a great job of describing the episode, in detail, as well as the takeaways and lessons learned.
  2. Are you a quiet person, or outgoing? 
    A simple question, but a lot can be learned from it. Everyone isn’t outgoing, just like everyone isn’t quiet. Sometimes people are a little of both, or one way or the other depending on the scenario. The way a person answers this question can tell you a lot about their thinking processes, how the may respond to something, and how their behavior or a reaction may be for something difficult, contemplative, or all out challenging. For quiet folks, there’s an excellent book I’d recommend from Susan Cain, called Quiet. If you’re video prone like I am, check out Susan’s Ted talk, as well.
  3. What charitable organizations are important to you?
    You can tell a lot about a person based on what they do in their free time, and what services they are willing to give without pay. I volunteer at the local science museum, and am always willing to take a stand for people of color and women in the science, technology, engineering, arts, or mathematics (STEAM) fields. Also, I’m prone to watch a NASA conference here or there, or make a beeline to a museum with an aerospace exhibit wherever I visit. That right there is at least fodder to buy me a replica space shuttle or tickets to a movie that takes place in space for employee gifts. Or if you want to go the freebie route, I can always use a day off for things like the recent solar eclipse or upcoming meteor showers.
  4. Tell me about something you created from scratch.
    Something I’ve discovered across the board, no matter what field a person is in or came from, is that at one time, they have built, sculpted, crafted, baked, or in some way developed something based on the resources they had around them. Besides, hearing a story on how someone created something is a lot easier to manage as far as their critical thinking skills are concerned than to ask them to throw out their “best” or “worst” in something. I need to know if the person can think on their feet, if the job requires it, or if they’re a careful planner, or if they’re simply the type to ask someone else to do their deed. I’d even count doodling among these.
  5. Who did you recently have lunch or dinner with?
    People are who they have dinner/lunch/breakfast/any meal with. You only invite people you know to sit down and have dinner with you. Of course, unless it was a conference, meeting, or informal gathering that you happen to be attending. I’m moreso interested in whether or not you open yourself up enough to even talk to anyone. After all, working on a team means that you do have to have some form of communication.

Surprised? None of these questions have to do with race, age, gender, or identity, directly. It cuts right to the chase: Do you know how to work/communicate with people (paid or not), and can you problem solve? In an interview, that’s all we really want to know.

I feel that most interview questions are antiquated, situated in a world where people are looking for workers who can stamp this and shovel that. Although some jobs still require it, what employers are really looking for is someone who can think on their feet, find a solution, and implement it with others and/or alone, as need be. We need to start formulating our questions that way.

What workplace interview questions would you put out there, if given the chance?

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