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Implementing DE&I in the Interview Process: 12 Questions to Ask

In order to ensure that your company is welcoming to diverse perspectives and backgrounds, it's important to integrate DE&I into your interview process. Here are questions to help get you started.

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Jan 17, 2024
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Last updated on Mar 13, 2023

With the discussion around diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace swirling and more organizations making strides toward greater DE&I, I’ve seen countless HR leaders and business owners looking for ways to create a more equitable environment. They’ve done so by embracing pay and job level transparency, and have even addressed and eliminated exclusionary aspects of company culture. But while these continued efforts toward a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace are important (and long overdue,) they often disregard the place where DE&I can have the greatest impact: the interview process. 

Unconscious bias can exist and proliferate anywhere, and the interview stage is no different. And by addressing these biases and placing emphasis on DE&I during the interview process, we can create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for candidates –– which can be the foundation for DE&I for hiring, onboarding, and talent development

Though your organization may have already taken steps toward greater DE&I by avoiding gendered language in job listings or emphasizing diversity in hiring through your recruiting strategy, you may find that the very questions asked during the interview are standing in the way of DE&I. Below are just 12 of the countless DE&I interview questions you and your team can ask to attract and welcome diverse talent, as well as some ways you can continue to work toward being a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive employer. 

Why Is it Worth Asking DE&I Interview Questions?

The direct benefits of DE&I-oriented interview questions are two-fold. On the one hand, they ensure that candidates of all backgrounds are able to showcase their strengths and the valuable knowledge which emerges as a result of lived experience. On the other: DE&I interview questions can help identify candidates who may not not align with the your org’s culture  or may be in direct opposition to your company’s DE&I policy. And while a diversity of opinions and outlooks is valuable to any organization, a candidate which does not share your company’s perspective on DE&I may inhibit the overall inclusiveness of your working environment. 

Now, don’t be so quick to eliminate a candidate for not sharing your same gung-ho attitude with regards to DE&I. Despite tracing its roots back to the 1960s, in many ways this topic is still new to some –– and candidates may simply lack the knowledge of what DE&I actually means. As an HR leader, you’re in a position to educate on the importance of this topic, and there’s no better example than the inclusive environment you’ve helped to cultivate. 

Examples of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Questions to Ask 

Keeping the dual purpose of DE&I interview questions in mind, you’ll want to be sure that your question set is indicative of both your own commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and your desire to cultivate talent which shares this same commitment. Further, be sure to use your judgment to adapt these questions to candidates for various roles and at varying levels of seniority. 

Commitment to Diversity Questions

This question set, while also allowing candidates from a diverse array of backgrounds to showcase their experiences with DE&I, can help you gauge a candidate’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

  • “Can you share what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you?”

  • “What’s the most challenging aspect of working in a diverse environment for you?” 

  • “How do you approach understanding the perspectives of colleagues from different backgrounds than you?” 

  • "Do you believe there are differences in how one should work with diverse cultures within the US and other nations? If so, what strategies should be applied?”

Ensure candidates provide specific stories and examples when they talk about DEI and the work they have done to improve diversity and inclusion in their workplace. While a lot of leaders claim a commitment to DEI, few have taken the necessary actions to create welcoming environments that foster belonging.
Beyond the formal interview questions and your evaluation of candidates' responses, also take note of how candidates communicate and interact with the various members of your team. Are they respectful of all team members? Do they attempt to include everyone in the conversation? What does DEI look like for them beyond the interview?
~ Kyle Elliott, Founder and Career Coach, CaffeinatedKyle.com

Hypothetical Diversity Questions

DE&I does not exist in a vacuum, and including hypothetical diversity, equity, and inclusion questions in your interview process can help assess a candidate’s ability to adhere to a DE&I culture. 

  • “How would you handle a situation where a colleague is being culturally insensitive, sexist, racist, or homophobic?”

  • “If a colleague asked you about diversity, equity, and inclusion and mentioned they didn’t understand its value, what would you say?” 

  • "If you were a hiring manager for (related role), how would you ensure bias was eliminated from your hiring process?”

  • “How would you reach, recruit, and hire from diverse or underrepresented communities?” 

Previous Diversity Experience Questions

While a lack of DE&I experience may not be an immediate disqualifier, past experience with diversity, equity, and inclusion can be a valuable asset for HR leaders looking for talent which aligns with organizational values.

  • “Highlight a time when you advocated for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.” 

  • “Based on your previous experience, how have you made your direct reports feel a sense of inclusion, belonging, and equity on a daily basis?” 

  • “How have your understanding and opinion on diversity, equity, and inclusion changed over time?" 

  • “Outside of work, what have you done to personally further your experience and knowledge of diversity?”

Continuing to Ideate and Iterate Diversity Interview Questions

These are just some of the DE&I interview questions which HR leaders can implement, and you should be constantly looking for ways to refine this question set as your DE&I policy evolves. Engaging with other leaders in a community like Troop can help you shape this interview strategy, as can looking inward –– via company-wide surveys, town hall forums, and other channels for organizational feedback to be harnessed and implemented. 

As an HR leader, much of your diverse team has likely been on the other side of the table, and has experienced firsthand the ways diversity, equity, and inclusion has been addressed (or neglected) throughout the interview process. These insights are invaluable, and can help you continue to hone your DE&I interview question set. 

"Inclusive recruiting is not just about having the right kind of policies and guardrails in place. It requires a lot of deliberate coaching and repeated practices both as teams and as individuals. Despite good intentions, we are prone to gravitate towards candidates who share similarities with our own backgrounds. This kind of 'like me' bias can show up in subtle ways, and it can be difficult for us to recognize it ourselves and in the moment. How we talk about candidates both in and out of official interviews matters not only to the candidates but also to the rest of the teams. Using a term like "diverse/diversity candidate" when referring to an interviewee can cause harm as it can unfairly take the focus away from their capabilities and qualifications. Trying to find a good "culture fit" is loaded with biases because the term is not as well defined or uniform as people think. Standardizing interviewing questions and processes helps but it will pay dividends to invest in coaching and training in these early parts of an employee's life cycle."
~Minsun Byun Kevers, Co-Founder & CEO at DiVerity PBC

When an Interviewee’s Answers Don’t Match Your DE&I Policy

I mentioned above that candidates whose opinions on DE&I do not match your organization’s should not be immediately excluded from the running, however there are wrong answers –– and right ways to address them. In the event that responses are entirely off-base, it can be easy to let emotions flare and frustrations bubble to the surface. But for HR leaders, these wrong answers are opportune for teachable moments, and a candidate’s response to this coaching may even reveal a better culture fit than you had initially anticipated. 

Further, they provide an opportunity for you to codify your organization’s DE&I policy when communicating it to a candidate –– making it especially important that hiring managers and other interviewers are able to speak to both your DE&I policy and why it matters to your organization.  

One of the ways to course correct a candidate's ability to see themselves as a reflection of the organization is to ask, "What will make you a culture add to our organization?"  The reason for this question is simple.  When you add to an equation, you are making the pot or pool bigger.  The goal with hiring is to expand thinking, innovation, experiences, and connections to the workforce, workplace, and marketplace you serve.  Culture add is very different from culture fit.  How are you assessing whether a candidate will be a culture add versus a culture fit?
~Josh Saterman, CEO/Co-Founder, Saterman Connect

Shape the Next Generation of DE&I Policy with Other HR Leaders

If you’re having questions about how to further your DE&I initiatives and make every aspect of your employee (or candidate) experience inclusive, other HR leaders are, too. As a Troop member, you can join the ongoing DE&I discussion, get real-world insights from colleagues in the people profession, and even attend events and expert-led workshops. To keep this conversation going, and shape the next generation of DE&I policy, join our community

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