DE&…I don’t think you mean it: What your interview process says about your firm’…

Most company's recruitment processes are at odds with their proclamations about DE&I, argues Donald Knight:

Article main image
May 3, 2023
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

When company leaders conceptualize their employer brand, they quite rightly tend to focus on crafting an external image of it that’s a fun place to work – whether it’s free lunches, cool swag, funky furniture or and a new, cool office. They invest money creating a sleek website which promises great company culture, flexible work environments, and – of course – DE&I commitments.

However, prospective employees know that the best places to work are those that back up self-promotion with authentic action. 

Nowhere can this disconnect between image and reality be seen than in many firms’ interview process.

It’s all ‘what can you do for me?’ still

For years, companies have approached interviews with a “what-can-the-candidate-do-for-me” mindset. The trouble is, many still do this today.

But in the new world of work, interviewing is a lot more like dating. Candidates are interested in what your company can do for them, too.

Just as no one wants a dinner partner who claims to be a good listener but only talks about themselves, candidates no longer want employers that talk about their DE&I commitments but fail to pack up those words with meaningful action.

Don’t just take my word for it. A recent survey of 1,500 employees across the US revealed that candidates think companies are ‘catfishing’ them during the interview process.

Forty-five per cent have rejected a job offer after a negative interview experience.

And more fundamentally that this, more than 68% of those surveyed believe a diverse interview panel is fundamental for better hiring outcomes.

This shows – quite categorically – that employees are evaluating a company’s commitment to diversity before they accept a job.

DEI is not showing through

Employees increasingly understand the power of a diverse workforce. They take DE&I commitments seriously and expect the companies they work for to do the same.

When a company makes a meaningful commitment to DE&I, it signals to employees that leaders care about making an effort and doing the right thing.

All this means, however, that from the moment a jobseeker walks through the door for an interview, these prospective employees are looking for red flags – signs that your DE&I values may be nothing more than an exaggerated aspect of your dating profile (read: company website). If that facade crumbles during the first date, companies can’t recover.

Previous research has already revealed that a shocking 43% of candidates have had their names mispronounced in a job interview.

Equally shocking is the fact that almost one-third of candidates say they have faced discriminatory questioning about their race, about their race, gender, age, sexuality, religion, marital status, childcare arrangements, parental and/or pregnancy status. Black interviewees are 25% more likely to experience a discriminatory question during the interview process.

Not only are these questions illegal, but they also send a strong message about company culture in practice.

The interview ‘is’ their experience

Even in an era where companies have begun to focus on diversifying their top-of-funnel pipeline, they’re still not considering the influence the interview process and overall candidate experience has on whether prospective employees from underrepresented groups want to spend their future days in that environment.

A person’s socioeconomic standing or family structure has no impact on the candidate’s abilities, and prospective employees know that this information may be weighed – consciously or subconsciously – against them when a hiring decision is made.

An environment in which candidates feel obligated to divulge these details is at odds with a company culture in which everyone feels welcomed, comfortable, and valued.

Even seemingly friendly questions, such as those asked before and after the ‘formal’ part of the interview (for example, where their kids go to school or where someone worships), can have unintended effects on the candidate.

Companies must create an interview environment where if a question is not inclusionary in nature, and it’s not designed to drive meaningful benefit, then it isn’t asked.

They need to shift their attention to asking questions that uncover how prospective employees can make a positive contribution to the organization.

Don’t be tick-box

Companies can no longer treat diversity as a box-checking exercise and expect to get away with it.

They can design DE&I initiatives and create sleek campaigns about their core values, but candidates are no longer so easily fooled.

When the hiring process isn’t inclusive, prospective employees sense that the work environment isn’t a place where people from all backgrounds can thrive.

Prospective employees shape their impression of an employer during the interview process, and companies hurt themselves by failing to deliver a respectful, inclusive, and worthwhile candidate experience.

Candidates no longer hesitate to discuss an interview experience, especially if it doesn’t align with a company’s carefully crafted employer brand, and review websites give them a public platform for disclosing that experience.

Of course, candidates can also use these platforms to share positive experiences, thereby enhancing the brand of employers that get it right.

Unfortunately, many employers have been slow to realize that, from the first point of engagement, candidates are judging whether a company’s actions mirror the words that its brand promotes.

By failing to realize how much the interview process reveals about their values and culture, companies are driving away prospective employees and pushing talent into the arms of their competitors.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!