We all want to build diverse organizations, but DEI statements and good intentions aren’t enough. In today’s competitive talent market, equitable hiring takes time, resources, and expertise.
Most firms don’t have dedicated people operations teams and can’t afford to hire external recruiters. Often, they’re left to cobble together resources and take shortcuts, leaving their teams exhausted and letting their diversity, equity and inclusion goals slip away.
At my nonprofit, we’ve worked with dozens of groups that have managed to build diverse and effective teams, even on limited budgets and tight hiring timelines. Here’s what we’ve learned about how other firms can hire well:
1. Build a coherent, structured screening process before you start hiring.
Instead of trying to eliminate bias from your team, you can build structures that resist it. Start by mapping out a candidate’s journey and the tools you’ll use to evaluate them, and then develop internal documentation to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
By sketching out your process early, you’ll ensure that each applicant has a similar experience and is evaluated according to the same criteria. Once you start hiring, you’ll be able to focus on recruiting and interviewing great candidates instead of having to build the ship while you’re sailing it.
2. Define hiring roles and hold your team accountable to participate in the process.
Pulling your team into the hiring process helps candidates to better understand your culture and allows you to reach a wider network of potential applicants. Break your hiring process down piece-by-piece, like posting on jobs boards, scheduling with candidates, leading interviews, and grading screening exercises — then assign each piece a single owner.
Approach hiring just like any other part of your work: communicate expectations clearly, adjust staff workloads accordingly, and hold your team accountable to create a great candidate experience.
3. Actively compete for great talent.
Don’t wait for applicants to come to you. It’s your job to find candidates and persuade them to join your team. You should hustle to get your job descriptions on everyone’s radar. Post on jobs boards and social media, and then try proactive, direct outreach to potential applicants and folks in your network who can make referrals. After candidates apply, treat the hiring process as mutually evaluative, and sell yourself with enthusiasm and humility.
4. Center your interviews on specific, measurable core competencies.
Build your interview scripts and screening exercises around the 3-5 skills that are most important to the role. Use scripted interviews, standardized grading rubrics, and rigorous documentation to keep your screening laser-focused on those core competencies so that you can focus on the traits that actually matter. Even establishing this one piece at a time lays the groundwork for the long-term growth of your processes and organization.
5. Evaluate impact and results, not effort or intentions.
It’s easy to center conversations about DEI around values and beliefs, but ultimately, results matter more. Use candidate surveys, post-interview debriefs, and applicant tracking data to take action, gauge your hiring strengths and weaknesses, and address blockers.
With some extra planning, you can shift your hiring process from an operational afterthought to something you can be really proud of. Clear strategies transform your systems for the better, allowing you to recruit better, more diverse talent on consistent timelines with defined outcomes and expectations. If nothing else, recognize that incorporating DEI elements in your hiring can be a process of trial and error. Don’t be discouraged, and keep adapting.
Michael Michaelson is the executive director of Progressive Pipeline, which places underrepresented candidates in paid roles at social change groups.