Job hunting is uncanny in its ability to make you feel simultaneously wonderful and awful about yourself.
When you commit to a job search, you mentally run through the value that you could bring to an organization. You tick off all of the skills you’ve acquired and find the right words to express your talents. You work to align your strengths with your passions. Hopefully, you feel thoroughly encouraged by how far you’ve come and what you’ve accomplished.
When the actual application and interview process commences, however, challenges can slowly chip away at your confidence and send you on a journey down insecurity lane. Beyond dealing with rejection — after all, only one person out of many, many applicants is hired for a given position — I’ve found that job hunting feels like a minefield of discrimination. Yes, as an African- American professional in the year 2017, that is still a concern. The workplace has evolved significantly since the days of the assembly line, people spend a significant portion of their lives at work, and the modern workplace requires a more human touch. Unfortunately, this opens up room for subjective and unconscious biases.
Imagine the mindset of a person charged with hiring a new team member. As an employer branding specialist, I have been told time and again that the decision ultimately comes down to whether someone can imagine spending eight-plus hours each day — not to mention the occasional beer run during happy hour — working beside the candidate. Knowing that hiring managers are judging potential hires in this way makes applying and interviewing for jobs all the more intimidating.
Certain moments, like when I type in my foreign sounding name or check the “female” box, make me pause and almost hesitate. I worry about whether my Nigerian accent will come through during a phone screening and kill my chances. I consider taking out my braids for interviews because my hairdo may not be considered “professional.” I wonder whether my interviewer might have a better camaraderie with an Elaine than an Ekene.
Finding a “cultural fit” is important, but, left unexamined, it can create opportunity for bias and prejudice to enter into the hiring process. That’s why I ask that – whether you’re in HR, hiring a team under you, or screening potential new team members – you ask yourself these four questions.
1. When assessing cultural fit, how much emphasis do you place on whether or not you’d like to have a drink outside of work with a candidate?
Making this a determining factor simply leaves too much room for subjective bias. Of course, it’s wonderful when co-workers become friends, but this kind of question doesn’t indicate whether someone would be pleasant to work with. Instead, consider his or her work, management, and communication styles, and how these would factor into your team’s objectives.
2. What kind of questions should you ask in order to decipher cultural fit?
I was once asked what kind of beer I like because the employees at this company drank beer on Fridays, and “you can tell a lot about a person by their choice of spirit.” I, however, don’t like beer and felt as if I had blown my chances because of something unexpected and arbitrary. Questions that dig into applicants’ collaboration style are most effective at determining how they fit into the company’s team dynamic.
3. Have you properly examined your concerns about a candidate?
I once learned someone was concerned about hiring me because “an accent doesn’t exactly lend itself well to a public relations position.” This was said before this person met me — I don’t actually have an accent. It’s fair to have questions, but it’s equally fair to allow the candidate to address these questions before passing judgement.
4. How diverse is the team doing the interviewing?
Early in my career, I went to an interview for an entry-level position, and I met with four people, all of whom were white and about the same age. They outright told me, “You have ample experience. What we’re checking for is cultural fit.” Essentially, they weren’t concerned about what I knew, only about whether or not they liked me. For that reason (and likely others), I didn’t get the job. If the interview team included people of diverse ages, races, and opinions, I believe I would have gotten a more fair shot. Everyone, regardless of his or her position, can contribute to company diversity initiatives and emphasize the importance of a diverse hiring team and workforce.