Interview Insights


Inclusive hiring: 5 best practices for software engineering leaders

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The Karat Team

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Inclusive hiring is the first step you need to take to improve the diversity and inclusion of your software engineering team.

No longer is inclusive hiring the sole responsibility of the talent acquisition team. Software engineering leaders — from the CTO to the Engineering Manager — are taking ownership of equitable hiring processes and decisions.

Karat has studied thousands of recruiting processes and found that the most inclusive hiring processes follow 5 best practices:

  1. Proactively source non-majority candidates
  2. Train interviewers for inclusive hiring
  3. Segment inclusive hiring KPIs using EEOC data
  4. Interview more candidates
  5. Focus on communication accessibility

This article will explore why these inclusive hiring practices matter and how to put them to work.

1. Proactively source non-majority candidates

Bias often creeps into the hiring process before a recruiter even speaks to a candidate. Teams commonly use pedigree bias as a means of identifying the “best” candidates early on. This approach will build a homogeneous team.

How do you identify pedigree bias? When hiring teams only want to interview candidates who went to a top 10 Computer Science school, worked at the same company they did, or have worked at other high profile companies — that’s pedigree bias. In majority white countries, this overwhelmingly disadvantages software engineers who are Black, Hispanic, or from an indigenous population.

The most inclusive hiring programs are finding ways to source Black, Hispanic, and indigenous candidates by meeting them where they are and proactively sourcing them. Work with your talent acquisition team to leverage these best practices:

2. Train interviewers for inclusive hiring

Bias creates noise in the hiring process. It reduces useful hiring signal and eliminates candidates who objectively have the skills to do the job. Even the most seasoned leaders can have biases that have gone unnoticed.

Building an inclusive hiring process for software engineers means identifying and mitigating these opportunities for bias.

  • Use an interview rubric. Inclusive hiring managers ought to identify the technical competencies candidates need to be successful on the job. Map those competencies to an interview rubric.
  • Train interviewers to use the interview rubric. This also means supporting them with consistent and calibrated interview questions that represent the competencies in the interview rubric.
  • Use a live technical assessment. Non-majority candidates may be unfamiliar with the specifics and expectations of a code test. They may need more opportunities to ask clarifying questions and get guidance from the interviewer. That’s okay. An experienced interviewer can do this without giving away the interview.

Note: Interview rubrics can also be used for behavioral interviews by substituting your company’s leadership principles as competencies.

3. Segment inclusive hiring KPIs using EEOC data

Hiring KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) provide real-time measures of the likelihood that a hiring process will reach its target number of new software engineering hires. Segment these KPIs by EEOC data to get a view of success for non-male and non-majority candidates.

This also causes your team to ask “is this process successful for the candidate?” As opposed to “is this process successful for me?” Spoiler alert: if candidates are winning, so are you!

Monitor your inclusive hiring process with these KPIs:

  • Resume screen to technical assessment rate
  • Technical assessment pass rate
  • Onsite-to-offer ratio

You may find at first that one of these metrics is far lower than average, or far higher than another group. If so, seek out the bias in the process. Revisit how your team is sourcing candidates, interview questions, interview rubric, and live technical assessment.

4. Conduct more interviews to get more candidates in the hiring funnel

It seems simple, but putting more candidates into the funnel and assessing more of them with consistent technical interviews is core to inclusive hiring and building diverse teams. There are multiple ways of doing this:

  • Hold interviews with more candidates than your usual shortlist. This gives more people an opportunity to prove their worth and lets you spot candidates that might be better for another role or a future opening.
  • Break your interviews into multiple sessions. No need to hold interviews that span across eight hours. Schedule one-hour calls on different days or separate your interviews from the tech assessment sessions.
  • Slow down the hiring process to positively impact diversity on the engineering team. Take time to build diverse talent pipelines. This is especially needed when hiring senior, specialist, and leadership roles. Avoid filling these roles before you have the chance to interview a diverse array of candidates. Extending the hiring process gives you more time to hold interviews with multiple potential hires and find the right person for your team.

Scheduling more interviews also prevents the risk of resume bias. The more interview availability there is, the more likely your team will be to screen a variety of candidates.

Using Karat gives you access to a large pool of experienced Interview Engineers who can hold interviews at any time, day or night. We increase the access to professional technical interviews to support diversity and speed up hiring without overlooking candidates.

5. Focus on communication accessibility

Prepare for the interview by working on your communication skills. Consider the accessibility of your interviews so everyone can go through a consistent recruitment process. If you don’t normalize the wide array of human experiences as both candidates and employees, you’re not going to be inclusive.

You want candidates to feel comfortable if this is their first interview in this format. Some might have received unhelpful interview advice in the past. Every interview experience is different so they’ll never have an exact idea of what they should expect unless you tell them. To do this, introduce them to the format of the assessment either at the start of the interview or through an email a couple of days before the day.

Also, keep in mind every candidate has different cognitive patterns or communication styles they prefer. They might like upbeat encouragement or utterly quiet thinking time. Ask them what kind of feedback they prefer and how they’d like the interview to go.

You don’t want candidates to have to request accommodation on their own. The best way to take the first step is to use accessible hiring products and put the right policies in place. This way, everyone knows ahead of time how to accommodate candidates with, for example, dyslexia or hearing loss or those who use screen readers.

Final takeaways on inclusive hiring

Countless studies have concluded that diverse teams are more objective and innovative. “Making a business case for diversity” is ancient history. In a recent panel on “How to be anti-racist in tech hiring”, Flatiron Health’s VP Engineering Cat Miller reminded the audience that prioritizing diverse engineering hiring doesn’t need a business case, it is just “the right thing to do.”

Unsure about your organization’s attitudes towards prioritizing inclusive hiring? Consider the following:

  • Survey your software engineering team, candidates (after the interview), and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Use these inputs to determine if your inclusive hiring process is on the right track or needs improvement.
  • Build a community around inclusive hiring. Create interviewing teams who own question development, interview rubrics, and interview training.
  • Be transparent about your inclusive hiring KPIs. Once benchmarked, be transparent about how your team is doing. This will create accountability and allow teams to celebrate when goals are reached.
  • Conduct more interviews at the top of the funnel. You can access Karat’s interviewing services to meet every candidate’s needs, regardless of their time zone or hours they prefer for their interview. 60% of candidates for developer roles opt for interviews at night or during the weekend (source: Karat data). Every person has specific times when they’re more alert or creative and they should be allowed to go through the interviewing and assessment process when it’s best for them.
  • Use accessibility-first communication tools. Everything from your interview questions, test rubrics, exercises, and even the platforms you use to run these should be accessible. The software should be suited for all kinds of disabilities so candidates don’t have to ask for accommodation if they don’t want to. Don’t forget to get at least experienced interviewers involved in the selection process so you’re reducing the risk of unconscious bias or stigma.


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