Interview Insights


Building Diverse Engineering Teams with University Recruiting and Inclusive Interviewing

Gordie Hanrahan image

Gordie Hanrahan

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Diversity, engineering, and talent leaders from Karat, Databricks, and Lowe’s share their core University Recruiting and inclusive interviewing tips for building diverse engineering teams

The approach most companies use to hire software engineers is broken. At Karat, we’ve been helping organizations hire the best engineers for their teams for years. But one of the most commonly brought up challenges managers face is creating diverse engineering teams.

For this post, we’ve partnered with some of the best DEI experts in the tech field to bring you this guide to building diverse engineering teams through University Recruiting and inclusive interviewing. Contributors are:

Laying the foundations of a memorable candidate experience

Creating a positive and inclusive candidate experience is the responsibility of both the talent acquisitions team and the greater organization. An effective candidate experience is built intentionally starting with an inclusive interviewing process:

“In my time working on early-in-career and diversity topics, I’ve found that inclusive interviewing and consistency in the interview process are the foundations for a sense of fairness and positive candidate experiences,” said Tricia Lincoln

Consistency throughout the entire process helps build trust between an organization and its candidates. But where does inclusive interviewing start? With informed interviewers who understand how engineering diversity positively impacts an organization and who are searching for more than just the baseline skills of a candidate.

Lincoln pointed out, “consistent and informed interviewers also build candidate trust and comfortability where interviewers can make the most out of the time spent with candidates in evaluating skills, potential, future outcomes, and candidate motivators that help teams to better understand placement and long-term growth.”

Choosing which schools to target

Data is your best friend when it comes to selecting the right schools to go to. Time is limited and you want to be the first to create a relationship with the school and reach out to top talent. On top of this, you’ll be building brand affinity for future graduates looking to pursue a software engineering career.

One of the most common ways of getting the attention of potential candidates is to get the company’s founder or its employees to attend events at their former university. This allows someone from the company to establish a realistic connection with future graduates.

Alexa Friedman observed, “many companies start their campus recruiting programs based on where founders come from and where they have faculty connections. This is a great place to start, and there is a lot of room for growth. By incorporating more open-access events  — especially true in our all-virtual world these days —  you can open up your pipeline and use the data to show how students from a diverse set of backgrounds can be successful.”

Once you have a target school in mind, you need to start building new inroads there. Friedman recommends staying authentic so you won’t make false promises that could increase your turnover rate once a person is with your team:

“I’m always up-front about what we can offer when I’m speaking with students, faculty, and staff. We may not have the same resources as a large company, but that doesn’t mean I can’t connect with partners to find new ways of partnering.”

Databricks is very forward-thinking as they’re competing for high-bar engineering talent with the biggest tech companies on the planet. Going outside the traditional top-10 CS schools gives them a competitive advantage as they can reach out to brilliant talent ahead of others.

Friedman and the team rely on several ways to expand beyond the traditional core school model. In particular, using virtual interviews expands candidate access to their interview process, which increases the pool of candidates the company is able to consider.

Most companies have taken the entirely virtual approach to their recruiting programs. This allows you to open up access to events and programs in ways you couldn’t organize when recruiting was held all in person.

Diversifying your pipeline 

Candidate pipeline diversity is the next step in ensuring you’ll have a diverse engineering team.

Start by creating campaigns and job listings that center around the company and help candidates see themselves in the role. It’s also critical to review posting for gender bias and other biases that may subconsciously influence a candidate’s beliefs about their ability to perform in the role.

Other methods of ensuring diversity in engineering through your pipeline include:

  • Create more training and internship opportunities that can attract new candidates
  • Make sure you’ve created a detailed profile for your ideal hires so you can reach out to them exactly where they spend most of their time
  • Get used to giving and receiving feedback after every interaction with an applicant so you can improve future hiring processes for both ends
  • Strengthen your employer branding and identity efforts by getting your current employees to share their experience with applying and working for your company
  • Get your team’s help by starting a referrals program

Note: Remember to change up your target schools when looking to diversify your talent pool. This doesn’t mean you can end your relationship with the core schools you’ve chosen though. Maintain consistent relationships with any school, community, or educational group to land more hires and provide more value to their students.

A diverse pipeline also implies keeping diverse student profiles in the pipeline. One way of doing this is through live interviews instead of sole coding tests. This takes us to…

Live interviews as a go-to solution for ensuring fair and diverse hiring

One of the pitfalls of virtual recruiting is the risk of losing the personal touch in communication:

Friedman reflected, “it’s important to maintain that personal touch. Would you want to work for a company where you’d never spoken with someone who works there? To find balance, we maintain the importance of holistic review. We look at things like a candidate’s coding score, previous experience, academics, and interests when making decisions.”

Tricia Lincoln has long been a champion of live interviews as being more personal and inclusive compared to over-indexing on code tests:

“Live interviews give candidates a chance to showcase both their communication and problem-solving skills. Many non-traditional candidates may come to conclusions in different ways or they may approach the problem in a way that generates a non-traditional response that contributes to a better team outcome.”

Specifically, there are three core elements that help interviewers establish a better connection during live interviews:

  • The opportunity to clarify questions, misunderstandings, and objectives
  • A chance to show support and encourage candidates who haven’t experienced an interviewing process before
  • Offering hints during tech interviews to prevent blocks and create better interviewer-candidate interaction

The good news is that you’re not in this process alone. At Karat, we prepare Interview Engineers to deliver fair, unbiased interviews that create more high-performance opportunities for underrepresented genders and minorities. This mission drives us forward to help companies increase diversity along with business performance in a world where diverse organizations repeatedly outperform their peers.

When we conduct our own live interviews, we mix structured interviews that mitigate bias, expert Interview Engineer knowledge, and hiring Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data. This way we can help clients measure inclusion in their hiring process — which only 28% companies do.

On the other end, classic code tests tend to create false positives and false negatives at the very top of a company’s hiring funnel. This strongly impacts under-represented minorities and women. Our own data shows that these candidates are more likely to receive an offer when they receive guidance and clarity from an experienced interviewer during a live technical assessment:

women and underrepresented minorities tend to receive more guidance during live assessments

Partnering with your DEI team

Any diverse hiring practice needs to be supported by an inclusive and connected employee community. Talent acquisition managers should work alongside company DEI leaders to promote employer value propositions and postings that support the company’s business objectives.

You can also reach out to referrals to prove your inclusive hiring direction. This extends your network and can lead executive conversations to bring everyone’s voice on board — from managers to new hires.

After all, retention starts with the interviewing process, getting candidates eager to contribute to your projects and join an awesome team environment. Maintain a consistent connection and set the right expectations ahead of time to ensure a positive candidate experience for all applicants.

For more tips on how to create diversity in engineering, check out our webinar with four DEI experts:

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