Our simple 3-step guide to structured and inclusive interviews

inclusive interviews

Seriously, the odds are stacked against diverse candidates. 

And that’s before they even make it to an interview.

Research by WithYouWithMe and YouGov suggests as little as 11% of UK employers screen applicants via aptitude tests. Instead, the majority simply use CVs, reference checks and cover letters to shortlist candidates. 

“A person’s potential is so much more than their experience or the opportunity they’ve previously been afforded – yet this is the sole focus of the CV-based recruitment model,” says Sally Walker, non-executive director at WithYouWithMe.

It’s also far from ideal when unconscious bias plays such a big part in how we process this type of information; worse still when as little as 13% of job ads include diverse and inclusive language.

Far from ideal. 

So, if diverse candidates do manage to navigate this minefield and into an interview, it’s crucial they get the chance to show themselves in their best light – for their sake and yours. From increased innovation to a boost in profits, we’ve gone into some of the biggest business benefits of DE&I here.

The thing is, though: none of these upsides can occur if candidates aren’t given the chance to shine. 

Undoubtedly, there’s a lot riding on getting it right – but we’ve got you covered. Here are three simple steps to creating the most inclusive interviews. 

1. Commit to a standardised process

First things first, you’ve got to commit to structuring the process. 

Sounds logical, in principle. But what does ‘structured’ mean when it comes to interviews, exactly?

It’s fairly straightforward, really: structured interviews are about asking all candidates a consistent set of questions, before assessing the quality of each answer using clear criteria.

These types of interviews are often used in survey research because they help researchers gather valuable insights from objective data; perhaps why one data-driven tech giant, in particular, swears by the process. Google re:Work recommends committing to the following standardised interview process:

  1. Ask vetted and high-quality questions – make sure they’re relevant to the role (without any ‘brainteasers’).
  2. Record comprehensive feedback of candidate answers – this allows all of the evaluators to effectively review responses.
  3. Score with standardised criteria – a clear framework ensures all reviewers can easily understand what good, mediocre and poor responses look like.
  4. Provide interviewer training – that way all staff can feel confident and consistent in their assessments.

So now you’ve got the process down, let’s get into the specifics. 

2. Ask the right questions

Before you even think about bringing candidates in, make sure you’ve got a standard set of questions to ask. Yeah, it might sound prescriptive – it is. But it’s also the only way to keep things balanced and unbiased.

Not sure where to start? Don’t worry, here’s how to ensure your line of questioning is both fair and inclusive – whatever the role.

  • Keep questions relevant to the specific position requirements – focus on skills, problem-solving abilities, teamwork and other job-related competencies.
  • Use behaviour-based questions – these provide insights into how candidates have dealt with specific situations.
  • Avoid any potential bias with language – consider areas such as gender, age range, race, culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, political affiliation, ability, etc.
  • Try not to make assumptions – a work-sample test is a much better way of assessing a candidate’s problem-solving capabilities than skim-reading a CV. Not only will it give you an instant idea of a candidate’s competency, but it will also stop you from reading between the lines about their past experience or employment gaps.
  • Don’t rely on self-assessments – in particular, try to avoid questions like: “On a scale of 1-10, how proficient are you with…? That’s because research suggests interviewees from minority groups often adjust their answers in order to align with the ‘norms’ of the majority.

Finally, we know it’s tempting to make the process a little less formal in order to put candidates at ease – and that’s great, in theory. But when it comes to asking the most inclusive interview questions, it’s all about sticking to the script. That way, everyone is judged by the quality of their responses – and that alone. 

But it’s not just the questions that are important in keeping your interview inclusive; you need to consider who’s assessing the answers too.

3. Assess independently and horizontally 

Diverse hiring comes from diverse panels, right?

Not necessarily. 

“To state the obvious, if you have four interviewers, four data points from four individual interviews trump one data point from one collective interview,” says Iris Bohnet at Harvard Business Review.

This process should stop any unhelpful ‘groupthink’ from creeping in – which is great. However, in reality, it’s not always practical to conduct multiple individual interviews when you’re time-strapped and low on resources. 

So what’s the answer? 

Well, even a panel interview with each interviewer scoring independently of one another is a step in the right direction. 

So what about the way interviewers assess responses? Bohnet recommends the following:

  • Score each answer immediately after it’s provided – sure, this might feel awkward and will likely break the flow of the interview at times. But we’re most likely to accurately remember the most answers. And this can stop any stereotypes or biases from sneaking into our assessments later on.
  • Compare candidate responses horizontally – if you interview five candidates, compare each of their answers on question one, then each answer on question two, etc.
  • Then hide your assessment of question one – literally obscuring it from your view and you’ll reduce the chance of the answer influencing the scores of subsequent questions,

So far, so good. What should happen next, though?

“Once everyone has evaluated all candidates, the evaluators should submit their assessments before a meeting to discuss an applicant,” recommends Bohnet. This would allow your organisation to aggregate all of the answers to questions that were asked in the exact same order. “Assessments with candidates above a certain threshold should advance for further consideration,” she says.

Thanks again for your time…

By following these three simple steps, you’ll go some way in creating a structured interview process that promotes inclusivity, reduces bias and gives all candidates an opportunity to showcase their skills.

Of course, there’s no one approach that’ll suit every employer. But you can still educate those evaluating applicants on the dangers of unconscious bias – and the importance of an objective hiring process. 

Just remember, standardised and structured doesn’t have to mean set in stone. Instead, try to continuously review your interview process in order to identify any areas that need improvement. At the end of the day, we all like to think we’re good judges of character. But by collecting feedback from both interviewers and candidates and iterating along the way, your interview process will be grounded in much more than assumptions. 

When as much as 76% of today’s talent agree a diverse workforce is important when evaluating job offers, it’s high time underrepresented groups get to play with a fair hand. 

Want to get serious about diversity and inclusion in your team? Then head to our grad recruitment app and check out today’s burgeoning talent.