How To Ensure Your Job Interviews Are Genuinely Inclusive

inclusive interviews

By Inge Woudstra

There are many things we do to make a selection process more gender inclusive (as discussed in my recent blog about empathy and inclusive progression). Many of these actions are aimed at creating a more objective, transparent  interview process.

But how often do we end up hiring someone whom we believe to be the perfect candidate, only to desperately try to ‘move them on’ after a few short months because we misjudged them? How can we make sure we see the real candidate during an interview, rather than someone who is just saying what they think we want to hear?

As we’re focusing on Listening this month – the second of our 8 Inclusive Behaviours℠  and a crucial part of recruitment – I’d like to focus on the interviewer and their ability to see the candidate for their genuine capabilities and fit for the role.

The benefit of genuinely inclusive interviews
An inclusive interview has the distinct benefit of assessing a candidate on their true strengths and potential value to the team.  We can only do this if we are mindful of the various – often unconscious – preconceptions that we hold about people and the role itself.  For instance, we may think that a role requires someone who is a ‘go-getter’, regardless of other skills.  When we focus on our preconceptions, we may miss out on other important attributes that would make another candidate a better fit and performer.

To get the full benefit of an inclusive interview process, interviewers need to apply excellent active listening skills so they can listen out for the meaning behind the words they hear and probe further.  Active listening requires clearing the mind of any preconceptions, applying a curious mindset, paying close attention and probing further.

Not everyone communicates in the same way
A good job interview helps the candidate shine, so they can be seen at their best. That way, the interviewer can learn more about them and their experience, and find out whether they are the right person for the role.

However, because people often have different ways of communicating, it is easy to dismiss those whose communication style emphasises skills and behaviours that – while seemingly important to them – are trivial and less impressive to us.   This is a critical pitfall for interviewers.

For instance, in my book Be Gender Smart – The Key to Career Success for Women, I summarise research that shows that women are more likely to:

  • Talk about failures and learning points, diminishing their success
  • Talk about team achievements
  • Develop people skills
  • Respond well to encouragement
  • Look for a place they will enjoy working

For example, when discussing a project, a female candidate may say:
We had a fantastic team and through joint effort we managed to make most of our deadlines. Of course, there were some issues, so it was hard work to get everyone aligned, but eventually our finance manager saved us.  

Men are more likely to:

  • Talk about achievements and amplify their success
  • Talk about personal achievements
  • Develop technical and financial skills
  • Respond well to a challenge
  • Be strategic about their career

Describing the same project, a male candidate might say:
I had budget oversight for a major project, and we delivered within budget, against targets. I am good at keeping control.

Based solely on communication style preferences, therefore, when an interviewer who is not skilled in active listening compares the male and female candidate, they may conclude that the female candidate had more issues in her project, and needed more help to solve those issues, whereas the male candidate was an excellent leader. This may be true, but it may also be a difference in communication styles. So, to truly find the best candidates it’s important to check these assumptions, using active listening skills.

Three ways to apply active listening in interviews
Here are three suggestions that interviewers can use to hone their active listening skills and ensure candidates are assessed more evenly:

  1. If a candidate uses the word ‘we’ a lot, use follow-up questions that help uncover what the person did themselves, and what others did within or outside the immediate team. This can be quite revealing. In the example above, ask the female candidate what her personal role was in solving those issues, or ask her what her role was in the team. Help her identify details and examples of her individual contribution.
  2. If a candidate is confident in listing their achievements, ask additional questions to explore further detail of the situation. In the example above with the male candidate, ask what issues he came across, how he solved them and what he learned in the process. Then explore what he did to bring in the team.
  3. Find ways to test which approach works best for the candidate to show their best self: encouragement or challenge. For example, as encouragement, you might say ‘That’s a great example, I really enjoyed hearing about that. I bet you know a good way of applying that here too. Can you think of how that might work?’.  Alternatively, to challenge, you might say, ‘That sounds interesting, but we doubt that might work here. What are your thoughts about that?’ .  Observe whether they enjoy the challenge or prefer a more encouraging style. Then use that style throughout the interview to help the candidate show themselves in the best light.

In summary
Given that people have different communication styles, it’s important to employ skills that allow an interviewer to compensate and bring out what might otherwise remain hidden.  Active listening makes it possible to ensure that candidates are given a chance to showcase their very best.  This gives the interviewer an opportunity to assess them on an equal footing and not miss out on the opportunity to hire the best person for the role.

To find out more about training on inclusive listening skills for interviewers, please contact us