Our previous guide focused on research that aspiring HR professionals can do when trying to gauge whether a prospective employer prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). In this piece, we'll explore the next step—the actual interview process.
As you likely already know, one of the most important (and dreaded) parts of an interview is when it comes time to ask your own questions. Since most interviews are multistep processes, it's a good idea to prepare two lists: questions that you plan to ask the recruiter and questions for the hiring manager.
As a future HR professional, it's a good idea for you to ask specific questions on diversity. This will give you insight into how well employees at the organization can articulate whether DE&I is truly a priority. It also will show a potential employer that this is an area of importance to you.
Questions for Recruiters
The following questions are good ones to ask your first point of contact in the interview process.
- Could you share a brief history of the actions the company has taken to create an inclusive work environment? Are there opportunities for all employees to get involved with DE&I initiatives?
- Can I take a walk around the office to get a better feel of where I would be working and the people I'd be working with?
- How are non-Christian holidays observed?
- Could I meet with a member (or members) of an employee resource group (ERG)?
- When did your organization start its DE&I initiative(s)? Was there a precipitating event?
Applicants should make note of whether the company's DE&I initiatives preceded the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests for social justice. If the answer is no in either case, then it may be an indication that the company is responding to unfortunate events rather than working from a comprehensive, holistic strategy.
"They are just shooting from the hip and paying attention to what's being covered by the media," said Kyra Sutton, Ph.D., a faculty member at the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations in New Brunswick, N.J. "In comparison, companies that do work from a DE&I strategic plan often provide financial resources and drive initiatives representative of their values, employees and customers."
That said, if an organization stepped up its game after summer 2020 and implemented a robust DE&I initiative, then that could be an indication that they acknowledged their efforts were previously lacking. "Ask questions about the types of conversations the company has had, and whether [these conversations have just been with] the leadership team or throughout the whole company," said Ren'ee A. Mangini, SHRM-SCP, HR professor and department chair for HR at Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland, Wash., and a SHRM student chapter advisor.
Questions for Hiring Managers
After you've talked with the recruiter, it's time to delve deeper with the hiring manager and other members of the HR department. The following questions are appropriate for that portion of the interview:
- If you had endless resources, what are some of the actions you'd like to see the organization take to partner with high schools and colleges to attract a diverse pool of talent?
- Where do you believe the company, and HR specifically, has the most opportunity to improve DE&I efforts?
- Do the company's ERGs provide input to senior leadership? If so, can you give examples of how that input is valued and acted upon?
- Does any of the company's racial analysis mention Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, or is it solely addressing Black and/or Latinx statistics?
- How diverse is the HR team? What's the demographic makeup?
- Could I speak with some HR team members to get their thoughts on the company's DE&I efforts?
- Do you conduct stay interviews with all of your staff members to determine why they've remained with the company?
How the hiring manager responds to questions about their own team is critical, as the answers can demonstrate how well the organization has trained managers to discuss and leverage diversity. A hiring manager may acknowledge the lack of diversity on a team, and that's not automatically a bad sign, because it shows they are aware of the problem. But a red flag would be a hiring manager who claims to have a diverse team but fails to describe it in an inclusive way.
Questions for Yourself
As an HR professional, you may have an opportunity to help reform a company's DE&I efforts. You may even want to join an organization whose diversity programs could use an overhaul, because it could be an opportunity to make a real difference. But how can you, as a new, likely entry-level employee, bring attention to groups that haven't been supported?
According to Sutton, there are typically several factors that can influence the extent to which entry-level employees can bring attention to groups with less support. New employees will generally want to get situated and prove their worth before they begin pointing out areas where the company needs to do better. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you built a reputation for consistently delivering results? Consider what you've done to show your value within the organization. If you haven't yet had the opportunity to do so, your ideas will likely get overlooked, as your manager will focus on making sure you are meeting your goals.
- Have you taken time to build internal relationships? We all have ideas. But it takes resources (money, time and people) to implement those ideas. Therefore, you'll need to leverage internal relationships to turn your ideas into an actionable plan. A fast and easy way to build relationships across the organization is to join ERGs.
- What is in the DE&I strategic plan? Take a look at the plan that the organization already has in place and try to determine what it aims to achieve. Then consider how your ideas align with the overall strategy.
Sutton added that she doesn't want to discourage entry-level employees from supporting groups that receive less or no attention, but "to increase the likelihood that their views are heard and implemented in workplaces, it will [first] help if they build relationships and get people on board with their ideas and show an alignment with the organization's DE&I plan," she said.
But if a young, entry-level professional does want to attempt to address an organization's DE&I deficiencies shortly after being hired, Mangini recommends framing it in a positive way. This could potentially be done soon after joining an organization or even in an interview if you get the indication that new ideas are welcome.
For example, you might observe that a company has done very well in its support of people of color but hasn't been as strong on LGBTQ advocacy. During your interview, you might comment that you've identified this area as one where you see an opportunity to help the company improve and it's a task you'd be interested in taking on. "But take a soft approach to it," Mangini said. "Don't come in and say, 'Well, I could change this and this.' Because if you're interviewing with anybody other than an HR person who truly believes this, then you might not get the job."
As an HR professional, you likely value diversity and inclusion. Finding an organization that feels the same way will not only make your job more rewarding, but will give you the opportunity to assist in DE&I initiatives and push them even further. And if your employer is lacking DE&I initiatives, then this may be your opportunity to change the culture.
You are the future of this profession. The chance to create a more diverse and equitable workforce is in your hands.
In case you missed it: How to Assess an Employer’s Commitment to DE&I.