How to Make Your Interviews More Inclusive and Less Painful

Graphic: Little Miss Character, yellow head with legs and hands over her smile, pigtail braids with red bows. Words: My Five Year Plan is 4.5 Years Without Other Job Interviews.

Welcome back to guest blogger Carrie. This week Carrie is writing about how to make your job interviews more accessible and inclusive. This is a topic we’ve both batted around for several years, so I’m glad to have a post on the topic maybe you’ll love your interviewers and be beloved by the interviewers.

No blog post next week, since it is a holiday break. As a quick note, if you’re looking for a book to read from the Native American perspective about Thanksgiving, consider reading Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story, by Danielle Greendeer , Anthony Perry, Alexis Bunten, and Garry Meeches (Illustrator).

By Carrie Basas

Confession here: I searched for a new leadership role for about nine months until I received a couple offers and accepted my current position. I withdrew from some searches because I didn’t appreciate what the interview process was signaling. I probably bombed some other interviews because I wasn’t the right fit or the interview didn’t fit my strengths. Let’s also toss in that I was a disabled woman over 40 interviewing with panels who didn’t look like me.

In the slog of career transition, I met a lot of recruiters. One recruiter asked me how she could have made the interview process more accessible. Giving that information while still job-hunting scared me. I didn’t want to be the difficult candidate. Many of us tolerate interview nonsense– including erratic scheduling (organization that wanted to keep ‘’holiday weeks open’’ for Part Z of their fifth round), insistence on in-person interviews during the height of COVID, all-day interviews (best when you’ve traveled across time zones and haven’t slept well), and ‘’helpful unsolicited feedback’’ (me not keeping them entertained at 4:45pm on Zoom).

I can’t give you every strategy for being a better recruiter or interviewer, but here are a few tips:

  1. Tell people who they are meeting with in advance: names, pronouns, titles, etc. If you have links to bios to share with them, please do. Make sure those materials are accessible to disabled folks. Advance notice is not ten minutes before the interview. 
  2. Make sure you disclose the salary range and are prepared to offer information about benefits. We could all use a little health insurance, for example. 
  3. Provide the interview questions in advance, unless you’re running a trivia show. What are you measuring in a gotcha-style interview? You end up recruiting people who are smooth, process quickly, and are not prone to anxiety. I’d prefer a thoughtful colleague. Similarly, make sure your questions match the job requirements. Ban the box about criminal history, whenever possible. 
  4. During the interview, provide those names, pronouns, and titles again, along with a brief visual description of panelists. (Visual descriptions are fun and they provide built-in access for people who are Blind or have vision disabilities. If we ever meet, remind me to tell you the story about a colleague’s visual description of his offscreen ‘’pot plant.’’ The potted plant was not cannabis, but we provided our own context about what was actually a cute succulent.)
  5. Drop those questions in the chat if you’re online or have a printed copy in person. If you’re online, turn on the captions. If your interviewee is new to your platform, provide a quick orientation to the features before they unmute their yowling cat or turn on the avatar feature.
  6. Create a rubric for your questions and the scoring guidelines for answers. Please don’t score a question about what dish they’d bring to a potluck, unless you are hiring a personal chef. Similarly, please don’t include dealbreaker requirements in your initial job descriptions that are not essential to the job or could be accommodated. Common ones are driver’s licenses and the ability to lift 20 pounds
  7. Boss-folks, involve your colleagues, especially those working closely with this future team member. You are welcoming others into a process that could affect them a lot more than you and you are giving the candidate a chance to see how they like the people. Don’t be like one prospective employer who organized interview panels by pay grade.
  8. If you’re going to involve community partners, clients, or other stakeholders in the interviews, make sure it’s not performative. Their input should shape hiring decisions. They should write questions. They should feel free to share the good and the bad about their relationships with your organization. (In one interview, I should have charged a facilitation fee for repairing fractured communication.) Now is not the time to suddenly adopt land acknowledgments if you’d never do it without a tribal member there.
  9. Have someone on the panel check biases in a debrief. (Better yet, have these conversations before you meet candidates.) We hire people who are like us. When an interviewer questions if the person really wants the job, could keep up with the pace, or would fit with the culture, challenge those assumptions. An interviewer asked me as I was leaving a Zoom room if I was an introvert or extrovert. He might as well have asked me for my sign. (It’s Pisces, and yes, I am that emo introvert.)
  10. Measure skills in multiple ways. Is it an intake position? Consider a role play. Are you interviewing someone to be your marketing person? Ask them for their portfolio. Is it a communications person? Maybe you’d like them to review a page of your website and discuss it with them. I like to give people hypos that we face in our work and elicit deeper conversation. Don’t give people impromptu tasks. A dyslexic lawyer friend still shares the story of having to write a timed legal memo on the spot at his interview for a civil rights job.
  11. Allow candidates to ask questions along the way. Maybe they have questions before you begin the interview. Maybe your question prompts a follow-up inquiry from them. Don’t prioritize just your questions, and above all, please don’t combine this approach with any nods to “shared power’’ and “conversation.” There is a huge power imbalance. 
  12. Know your interview process and communicate it. You might detour from a timeline or get stuck between choosing two candidates, but let people know what you think the process will be. Consider interviews to be opportunities for informed consent.
  13. Don’t make your process a gauntlet, unless you are hiring in the 17th century and people should bring their own armor. You should have an exceptional reason for all-day interviews. Give breaks. Don’t put the most difficult tasks (e.g., Board interviews, presentations, and hands-on tasks) at the end of the day. Endless interviews only measure the candidate’s stamina for being trapped in a room and their ability to pretend they were a 7th grade debate champion. 
  14. Consider paying candidates for their time. I haven’t done this, yet, but I’m intrigued. That said, some people might not want to receive taxable income during the process.
  15. Feed your candidates if you’re making them stay. Provide them with some quiet space. There are no ‘’casual meals’ when your future employer is watching you tackle that pile of slippery pasta. 
  16. Ask people for feedback about the process. I struggle with this piece because everything about interviewing, even as the employer, feels like a rollercoaster of wooing and rejection. However, if someone exits the process or even accepts your offer, you might want to know why. 
  17. Welcome and provide accommodations. Ask something as simple as how you might be able to support them with this interview process. Now, that you’ve provided the questions and structure in advance, interviewees will know better what their needs could be. Be mindful of phrasing about disability. One interviewer told me her “access need” was to join the call from her car. Meanwhile, that organization lacked disability awareness. 

But, wait, Carrie, where are the disability tips here? What happens if a disabled person shows up and I have no idea what to do? Congrats, you haven’t scared away anyone. If you make the interview process less focused on being a superhuman, you tackle ableism and communicate that you value the relationship.

I’d love to hear about others’ tips and needs for more inclusive interviews. 

PS: I am hiring!

PPS: I am still working on implementing all my advice consistently.

Why I published this: Job interviews are fraught with odd-power dynamics that often do not favor people of color, people with disabilities, or other marginalized identities. Understanding how hiring managers and teams can adjust processes and behaviors to level these power dynamics is important to have diverse workforces to produce more equitable outcomes.

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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.