Part III: Screening and Interviewing
Staffing for Diversity Part III: Screening and Interviewing
Staffing & Supervision

Welcome to the third piece in this series. (Our August article explored values and motivations, and in September we discussed position descriptions and publicity.) This month we turn our attention to actual applicants. Whether you have one or two applicants or dozens, you need a fair and consistent process for screening applications. This review of materials is your first impression. If you already know one or more applicants, think about how you will look at their applications with fresh eyes. (Involving at least one person in the process who doesn't know them is a sound practice.)

In striving to diversify your staff, it's important to be aware of your assumptions and biases. Differences in learning styles, life experiences, cultural norms, and more will introduce variety that you aren't expecting; it's all too easy to misinterpret. What might get in the way of objectively determining who can do the job? Vu Le, author of a popular blog about nonprofit work (see reading list below), gives an example of bias that no doubt has kept many fine job applicants from proceeding to an interview:

A colleague once told me, "I go through people's resumes. If I see a single typo, it goes straight into the no pile." And I thought, "Yeah, those no-good lazy bums who don't bother to proofread!" But let's think about all the great candidates whose first language is not English; their perspective and ability to speak a second or third language should more than make up for the occasional mistake in English.

You can find many resources online about interview strategies, including guidance for steering clear of illegal questions. With the goal of staffing for diversity in mind, here are some pointers:

  • Group Interviews: Even when the hiring decision is ultimately up to one person, it is important to have at least one or two other participants in the interview. You're likely to find that multiple impressions emerge and help paint a more complete and objective picture, especially if you are intentional about preparing interviewers to be alert to biases and assumptions—their own and those of others.
  • Preparation: One way to help your interview team prepare is to ponder a few questions together. Some ideas:
    • What if a candidate has blue hair? First impressions? How might that influence you? Does it make a difference in their ability to do the job? (Substitute other human differences for "blue hair.")
    • What assumptions have you made about a candidate's identity, based on their application materials (e.g., age, gender, race, ethnicity)?
    • What expectations do you have about how candidates dress for their interview?
    • What aspects of your own identity and experience might feel relevant to you as we move through our interview process? 
  • Format: Based on cultural and other factors, some people shine in a traditional interview setting and others don't, just like some people are better test-takers than others. Can you complement a question-and-answer session with other ways of gauging candidate abilities and contributions? For a Director of Religious Education interview, for instance, you could ask each candidate to come prepared to tell a story for all ages.
  • Scrutinize Each Step: Cultural norms and differences affect our feelings and opinions about others in all kinds of ways, often subconsciously. From reviewing application materials to meeting with candidates to sharing perspectives post-interview, continually ask yourself what you might be missing—how your own norms, biases, and assumptions may be shaping or skewing the process.

Recommended Reading

 The first two resources listed are Canada-based, but very applicable to the U.S.

From Vu Le's Nonprofit And Friends blog

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