Before you start reading this blog post, please know that this is for folks who care about diversity and inclusion because it is the right thing to do. If you don’t believe that underrepresented people in tech are intelligent, hardworking, and deserve equal representation in tech, then this post is not for you.
A blog post about a thank you note went viral a few months back. The post said to follow a simple rule when hiring: “If someone doesn’t send a thank-you email, don’t hire them.” I noticed a divide between how it was received on Twitter vs LinkedIn. Folks on Twitter, many who work in tech, criticized it. On the other hand, folks on LinkedIn, many who do the hiring and HR work, praised it. This seems to be the state of tech interviews. There is a disconnect between people looking for jobs and those hiring.
So, I asked what advice people would like to give tech employers on how to fix their interview process. I specifically asked underrepresented people in tech, because if you can make the interview process better for us, then everyone would benefit as well. I expected about ten responses. Instead I got over 300 comments. Folks are tired of the tech interviewing process and they had a lot to say.
I encourage you to read all of the responses. Here, I’m going to summarize the common themes I found. As you read the comments please keep an open mind, believe our experiences, and think about how you can incorporate our feedback into your current interview process.
Start with empathy and respect
The first thing to realize is that you may not be interviewing someone like you. They may not own a car. They may have to take multiple buses to get to your office. If they need to travel a long distance to interview with you, they may not be able to pay for flights and wait for reimbursement. They may have multiple people depending on them and have to arrange care. Taking half a day off to interview is a lot to ask for. They may have a hearing disability and interviewing on the phone may not be ideal. They may have been sexually harassed and being cooped up in a room full of men may be difficult. Keep in mind that your life experiences may not be the same.
Start with empathy and respect. I don’t mean imagine yourself in the candidate’s state and think about ways to improve. I mean listen, believe and respect that candidates have different needs and accommodate them accordingly.
Don’t let people who are not culturally competent and empathic conduct interviews or select hires alone. They don’t understand what that person had to do to get where they are and rarely see character and resilience in candidates that don’t look like their current team.@MilesGDotson
Start an interview with the disclaimer that the goal is to identify their skill level and specialties. It’s okay not to know something, and it is okay to know more than me. Let’s just be respectful and try to teach each other something new in the process.Jen Luker
Be empathetic to those who don’t speak the same language level as you@jahiteth
Every company conducts interviews differently. Some do pair-programming, some do white-board interviews, and some focus on behavioral interviews. This leads to a lot of anxiety. How do you prepare for a test where you don’t know how you are going to be assessed?
One of the most common questions I see in tech communities is “Hey, I have an interview at X. Could you tell me about their interview process?” We shouldn’t have to ask this question. This puts underrepresented folks at a disadvantage. They may not have anyone in their network who knows the answer to this question.
Be upfront about your interview process. Tell us how long it will take, what you are going to test us on and what criteria you are using to evaluate us.
Sharing the whole interview process and topics to touch before each interview can be extremely beneficial. Having a transparent process evens the ground for everyone and not only the ones who had friends who interviewed there before.@rafaelmedian
Better documentation of the interview process (see: medium engineering) and provide timely kind, actionable feedback for rejected applicants. Interviewing should not be a black box with opaque requirements.@jaybobo
Make it very transparent what your process and timeline is. Also share why the candidate is meeting each person or doing the thing, what you’re assessing in each situation@aneesha09
For UX: Be absolutely clear about what you expect to see in a candidate submission for your design test. Goal of the test, expected time-commitment, depth of the accompanying documentation/exposition and which stages of the design process they’d like to be illuminated@keyquixote
Hire junior developers
If you are serious about diversity, you must hire junior developers. I see a lot of companies sponsoring events and communities that focus on teaching underrepresented people how to code. This is great. Keep doing that.
However, what is the point of training if you are not going to hire? If you don’t invest in junior developers now, they will find jobs elsewhere and get experience there. When they become mid-level developers, they will think twice to come work for you because you didn’t invest in them. Worst case, they may even choose to leave tech altogether before even getting started because no one gave them a chance.
I agree there should be more junior roles. I had to do contract work to get experience. There should be more permanent employee junior roles that enable young people or newbies in the field the opportunity to start their career.Loren Robinson
Hiring the most experienced candidate isn’t always the best choice. Hiring junior people and training them has a lot of benefits for retention, budgets, representation, output, and much more.Dan Mall
And please give juniors a chance. They are a big part of the future. They have a lot of potential to learn and be even more incredible. I would not be where I am today without being given opportunities despite being underqualified.@georgiecel
Don’t Hire for Culture Fit
The term “culture fit” is vague. Everyone interprets it differently and uses their gut reaction to decide if they will fit within the company’s existing culture. That means that you will give preference to someone who looks like you, has the same hobbies as you, went to the same college as you, or studied Computer Science like you.
You will decide to not to hire someone because of their skin color, their gender, their age, their disability, or their non-traditional background – characteristics that have little bearing on how they’ll get the job done. This will leave underrepresented people not being considered for jobs that they are qualified for.
To not consider me a fringe case because of the extreme differences in experiences we may have had in trying to do the same thing. We come from a lot of adversity, it’s impossible to be able relate to it all. However it does not mean I won’t fit.Muwuso Mkochi
Cultural fit in a sexist, racist industry is not going to help underrepresented people or the industry. There must be an effort toward cultural “add.”–employees who are different, and that’s a good thing. 1/n@_lightningfield
Stop making your primary hiring channel, asking current employees to make referrals. Can you see how while easy, this approach may only yield a new group of white men who “are a great cultural fit”, but also builds a larger team no more diverse than the group you already have?@julesmgmt
Accommodate people with different needs
From the beginning, assume that you are going to be interviewing people with different needs. Make sure you are able to support them to get through your interview process. If a new mom is going to come in for an interview, do you have a place where she can pump breast milk? If your potential candidate is deaf, make sure you offer an alternative to a phone interview. If someone can’t come to your office to interview, offer to interview over a video call.
Michael Forzano who is a blind Software Engineer passed an interview by using his own laptop with screen-reader software instead of a whiteboard.
Ashlea McKay who is autistic recommends a one on one conversation style interview instead of a multi-person panel style interview.
Offer alternatives and flexibility but don’t hold it against us if we choose a non-traditional option.
Please don’t run away when a candidate asks for accomodations for disabilities/ ask for alternate modes of communication besides the phone. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve been ghosted once they learn I am Deaf. My ears may not work to full capacity but my brain does!@cqwatkin
If you offer overnight travel for interviews you may be impacting those with undisclosed disabilities or caretaking responsibilities. If someone prefers a remote interview, does that impact their chances of selection vs someone who elects to travel?@vickyharp
I’ve walked into countless interviews where the interviewer didn’t read my resume or cover letter beforehand and we spent the whole interview just going over my resume. When candidates spend so much time to apply and prepare for interviews, it’s only fair that you prepare too. Use the interview to get more details about the candidate beyond what’s on their job application.
Ask key questions and carefully review a portfolio ahead of time to gauge the challenge level of a technical interview rather than assuming an applicant doesn’t know something. In fact, we may just know MORE than you about some topics.@AmeliaRuzek
Read my application, and ask me questions based on what you learnt from it. Don’t ask me to repeat what you should already know from my CV. Behave with respect and show interest in the person jumping through hoops for you.@SianAEMurray
Screen your interviewers and gather feedback. Not everyone is a good interviewer, even if they’re an excellent IC. I’ve sat through dozens of interviews where that person is OVER interviewing and clearly burnt out; not a good representation of your company.@TatianaTMac
I’ve seen so many unprepared interviewers – you can tell they were plucked from their desks 10 seconds before the interview started. They don’t have good questions prepared. Fizz Buzz questions are not good indicators of problem solving. It’s lazy interviewing.@tyronem
Preparation needs to be done even before the interview too. You need to figure out the skills you are looking for and ask questions that are relevant to the job.
Get into the habit of giving feedback after an interview. This will not only help the candidates but it will help you figure out if you are actually rejecting someone based on valid or arbitrary reasons. With candidates being used to being ghosted by companies, you will stand out for respecting their time and effort by providing actionable feedback.
The best feedback I got I was told that I needed more experience and improve my presentation skills, but it was given with my strongest skills. I credit @salesforcejobs & @googlejobs for giving me the best actionable feedback. Worst? No email at all (it was a small company 😒)@lipstickandtech
Provide feedback to the candidate, always. Like where the candidate did well, where they didn’t so well, what strengths and weaknesses you were able to identify. And be honest about the decision behind the offer/no offer. I felt immensely valued when a team did this once for me.@hellomayuko
This this this yes! As someone switching careers (from social work), so frustrating to have 5 interviews and then just get a “thanks, no thanks” email. Feedback would really help to know if I’m on the right track or if I was always going to lose out ppl from a tech bkgrnd.@foleynotrose
Give Non-traditional Candidates an Equal Chance
If you hire only Computer Science majors for your technical roles, you will miss out on a lot of great candidates. Every candidate will have some knowledge gaps regardless of their educational background. A good work environment will give the time and resources to fill in the gaps.
I studied Computer Science but I picked most of the necessary skills for my job like web development and database administration on the job. My current co-workers most of whom did not study Computer Science or Information Technology all learned web development on the job and are excellent at their jobs.
One does not need to study Computer Science or a have a formal degree to succeed in tech. Give folks with non-traditional backgrounds a chance and see how they will complement your team.
As a vet, I didn’t go to college before tech. I now work at a company in Ireland thats a top partner with salesforce and heroku. But during my initial job hunt, I couldn’t make it past the filter bc I don’t have a college degree in anything. (I worked on radars in the Marines)@comikeyduece
Yesss!! And embracing alternative education backgrounds. Engineers who “just don’t hire bootcamp grads” are elitist snobs missing out on some of the brightest new minds in tech@lizardbird
Please take into account that there are individuals applying for JR roles that are not necessarily JR to the work force. Career transitioners bring valuable transferable skills along with them, do not devalue their experience.@akiregator
Treat interviewing as a two-way street
As you are getting to know the candidate, keep in mind that they are getting to know you too. Similar to how you are interviewing several candidates, they are also interviewing at several companies. They are trying to figure out your company’s values and if they want to work for you. The impression you give will stay with them and will be shared with their community. Give them an opportunity to get to know you.
Remind employers that there are always two interviews occurring at the same—the employer of the candidate, and, the candidate of the employer. Companies that get this fact engage differently and more ethically.@ODavidJackson
Whenever possible, start by letting the interviewee ask their questions first. This can help the interviewee to feel more relaxed and valued, rather than running out of time and only having a few minutes left for their questions at the end.@oliravi
Give the interviewee references for the hiring mgr! When my boss interviewed me he offered to let me speak to his past employees in case I wanted to know about his management style/expectations/conflict resolution approach etc. This instilled confidence/trust in him!@EmayEnvyi
Set clear expectations for take home exercises and keep them short
Take-home tests are considered unethical by some as you are asking them to do large amounts of work for free. However, some folks prefer them as they can do them at their own convenience. Offer take-home tests as an option but make sure that you keep them short. Ask to implement a feature, not build an entire application from scratch. Give clear directions and be specific on your expectations. Also, make sure that what you are testing for is relevant to the job.
Homework assignments should be relevant and well-scoped. Someone’s ability to spin up a new create react app has very little to do with how they’ll handle a large code base. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and disproportionately affects those who are not young and wealthy.@heyamberwilkie
Stop asking for a “homework” assignment. This is an interview. Not an audition. You’re asking candidates to devote unpaid time then judging them if it’s not the quality you’d expect out of an employee who can devote a full 8+ hours.@beatingaccurate
Respect our time
When interviewing candidates often are looking at multiple companies. It may not seem like a lot of time for you but it adds up on the candidate’s side. Some have to balance family, travel time and other things to make it to your interview. Be upfront about the time it will take to interview with you and make sure that you are not making the process unnecessarily lengthy.
If you’re going to quote timelines for the process (which you should), commit to them without fail. The anxiety of waiting is grand. If you don’t want to interview me, cancel it in advance, don’t waste my time “chatting instead” when you had no clear intent to proceed.@TatianaTMac
Don’t take up half a day or more doing interviews – we’re usually taking a day off to do this, and possibly traveling.
Perform next steps quickly – don’t have people wait weeks for an answer.@tyronem
Be flexible & considerate with time. Current employers gave me a breastfeeding break during interviews and didn’t give me ‘homework’. Google asked me to do 6wks of revision for 1st interview for a part-time engineer job. With little ones & little time it felt like a brick wall.@greenemilymay
Recognize that bias exists despite your best intentions. Organizations need to start addressing the bias itself and the roots of that bias by providing all their employees—even those not involved in hiring—with the necessary training and insight to recognize their own biases and correct them appropriately.
Make sure each interviewer and hiring manager understands that everyone has unconscious biases, and is self-aware and courageous enough to acknowledge that they have them too, and account for their biases.@sandblasta
Employers should do themselves a favor and have their HRPs strip personal info i.e. name location school name etc from the resume or CV so you’re just looking straight at the objective skills & facts- did this with our team and def helps inclusion (if ofc recruitment is diverse)@caltomare6114
Codified scoring rubrics for interviews that are shared across interviewers to avoid hidden biases. The hiring bar should be very consistent across interviewers. Hiring managers should watch out and press interviewers when a candidate gets a no without tying that to the rubric.@preethaa
Be aware of the common bias to hire white men for their “potential”, but making others prove they know how to do every part of the job before letting them have the job.@sharondio
Minorities with non-English native language, speaking English can take a lot of confidence. Do not confuse this with lack of technical expertise.@awalinsopan
Revise your technical interview
White board interviews and puzzles are detested by most developers. However, they continue to be used by companies.
These kinds of interviews effect underrepresented folks disproportionately. Even if they can do the job, they may not have the extra time to study for these kinds of interviews.
Ask questions that are relevant to the job. If developing new algorithms or solving puzzles is part of the job, please ask those questions. If it is not, you are testing for people who have the privilege of time and money and not who can do the job. Don’t make your interviews unnecessarily stressful.
Asking questions to intentionally throw the interviewee off is ruining any trust you may be trying to build with the interviewee.@kvlly
Stop w/ the 3+ steps recruiting processes with technical tests. Think about who you need to hire: values, *actual* necessary skills… Stop hiring people who look confident and/or who are good at technical tests.@EleonoreMayola
The best interviewers have a conversation with you. They don’t just ask a bunch of questions. It should be ok to not know it all, especially when you can just Google on the job. Stop listing job requirements and just use job descriptions. Many people get intimidated by large lists@InfoSecJon
2. For front end dev: don’t test the candidate on jQuery if your company isn’t currently using/maintaining jQuery apps! This eliminates candidates that started after 2012 when other frameworks became more popular than jQuery. Test in the frameworks you use or plain JS@mmlumba
Although experience is required for many applications, it should be evaluated by a real world problem, not extremely hard and time lacking tests or cases. Most times it is not testing nearly partly of your actual competence and maybe something not event required for the job.@GirotoLeonardo
Unless writing an algorithm on a white board in five minutes is part of my daily job description, stop asking me to do it in interviews.@rebellion_mom
Differentiate between what can be learned vs what’s required. Avoid subjective assessment.@rowlandekemezie
Also, the grueling whiteboarding/algorithm solving interview at top tech companies is really discriminatory against so many groups of people… esp those who aren’t the stereotypical white male able-bodied CS grad who think just like they do.@TanjieTheCoder
Let someone research the answers to questions. Being able to use research to successfully accomplish something you don’t know how to do is a more valuable skill than memorizing the solutions to a small set of tricky problems.@notcatra
If one has to study and prepare to “pass” your interview, you’re only evaluating their study skills.@eanx
1) Not all A+ SWEs studied CS. Interview material should reflect day to day work, not algorithms taught in college.
2) Set evaluation criteria beforehand & be consistent. All genders should be hired on the same combo of experience & potential.
3) Ask everyone the same questions!@ArielMitnick
Don’t make diversity and inclusion an afterthought
Finally, please keep in mind that hiring underrepresented people in tech is not charity. You are not doing us a favor. You are improving your company, setting up a process to get the best candidate and fixing a system that is not including us.
Don’t put “diversity” candidates through a separate hiring channel—keep them in the main HR channel from the beginning. Have had two instances where a diversity recruiter found me and the hiring mgr was far along in the process or did the interview more like a “formality.”@ang_porter
Make diversity something “baked into” your HR practice, not a standalone facet of it. It’s a good look/optics to have dedicated diversity staff with titles, but that seems to put the responsibility on them only. If diversity matters to your company, shouldn’t all of HR do it?@ang_porter
Also, as a member of the LGBT community, I’d much appreciate if I could learn about the company culture beforehand – and not just “marketing” saying how inclusive they are, but practical examples on what do they do to actually be.@GirotoLeonardo
personally I’d like interviewers to realize that when they’re asking someone how they’ve responded to someone who disagreed with them that for a lot of underrepresented people in tech the first thing that comes to mind is when another person told them they shouldn’t be there@destroyeroftroy
When I ask things like “are there gender neutral bathrooms?”, don’t laugh.@jessica_schalz
Don’t ask if they have kids, want kids, are planning kids, or are currently pregnant. I was asked that when I interviewed at Shared Services Canada, in 2016. And it’s illegal to ask that in Canada, by the way. :-\@shehackspurple
- Share this blog post with your co-workers, especially those in charge of hiring.
- Take some time to think through your current interview process. Think about the gaps that you can fill and the improvements that you can make to include everyone. Share your notes with your co-workers and managers. Discuss it and make the necessary changes.
- Use #DiversifyTech and let us know on Twitter or on LinkedIn what you come up with.