Interview Questions that Support DEI & Retention

by Contact 1 Inc on December 13, 2022 in Candidate Recruitment


diversity and employee retention

You did it – you got an interview scheduled with a candidate you and your team are actually excited about. With today’s talent shortage, this alone feels like a major accomplishment (and it is). At the same time, you also are no stranger to turnover concerns. Both finding and keeping talent are top of mind.

While the issues of the labor shortage are complex, two particular factors emerged in our recent conversation with hiring managers. First, you might be hiring the wrong person. Second, the candidates aren’t aligning with your company culture, especially regarding DEI initiatives.

However, an interview is the perfect place to address both concerns. With a few intentional and thought-provoking questions, you can increase the likelihood of finding a candidate who will be a long-term fit for your company.

Questions Not to Ask

Let’s start with a few questions that should be on your “no-fly” list. While we can’t possibly name them all, there’s one main theme to avoid: broad, abstract questions. Ones like:

  • Why do you want this job?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Why should we hire you?

At first glance, you might think these are great retention questions. However, these common, overused queries often result in over-rehearsed answers. Being more specific about their experience and interests, their communication styles, and their views on DEI will provide a clearer picture of who they are and if they are right for your business.

Warm-Up Questions

Having a few ice-breaker questions, especially in a first interview, can soothe shaky nerves on both sides. And a candidate’s answers can be instrumental in getting a real picture of their authentic self.

How would you describe yourself in five words?

In a recent LinkedIn study, 87% of talent says a positive interview experience can change their mind about a role or company they once doubted. With this as your first question, you can gain a glimpse at how their personality may fit in with your company culture. Maybe pick out one of their words, especially if it aligns with your company culture (again, this assertion can calm nerves from the start).

For example, if the candidate used the word trustworthy, you could park there for a moment. Valuing the character of trust is monumental in communication. When trust is present, relationships grow in a way that no skill or certification can replace.

Why this helps retention: People want to feel like they have a home in their work environment. By creating a sense of belonging, a company builds a strong culture, one where people want to stay (which is the best protection against attrition).

What intrigued you about our company and made you want to apply?

This is another conversational question. The answer can demonstrate how much a candidate has (or hasn’t) researched your company; their response could even spark more discussion. If, for instance, they admire a volunteer initiative your business is pursuing, then you can get an idea of their values and motivation.

Why this supports DEI: Experts stress the importance of focusing on potential rather than straight credentials. In another LinkedIn talent survey, only 47% of employees feel as if their hiring managers are held accountable for considering a diverse slate of candidates.

Skills have their place, but part of creating a more inclusive work environment is learning to bring in candidates from varying backgrounds. And as a recent Deloitte survey uncovered, if employees begin to lose trust in leaders’ DEI commitments, 40% of current workers would consider leaving, and 56% wouldn’t recommend the company as a place to work.

So, if the candidate you are interviewing demonstrates strong potential and can bring a unique voice to team but lacks the five “essential” skills for the job, be cautious of dismissing them too quickly. They may be just the talent your business needs.

Behavioral & Situational Questions

Warm-up questions can get the ball rolling with insightful conversations, but how do you get an idea of how candidates will respond to day-to-day scenarios? By asking a few questions like these.

Tell me about a time you gave a creative solution to a problem.

Especially in a nonprofit role, creative solutions are the bread and butter to success. Unexpected problems arise but can candidates roll with the punches? Or, if they can’t give an answer, create a simple scenario based on a situation your company has experienced to test the waters.

For example, if they construct a viable solution to your fundraising struggles or program implementation, you’ll find you’ve just uncovered one of the candidate’s strengths.

Why this helps retention: Change is a constant in the workforce. Deciphering if candidates can think on their feet and cross-communicate well with teams, they may have the striking ability to hit the curveballs of your industry.

Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult colleague or project.

First, this assesses a candidate’s communication skills and diplomatic responses. Do they pin all the struggles on someone else, or do they see uncomfortable situations as an opportunity to grow?  Second, this could be a natural way for them to insert their input on DEI issues.

For example, perhaps someone made a back-handed comment to a female leader’s presentation by saying “Wow, I am surprised at how well you knocked that presentation out of the park.”  That is not uncommon in today’s workplace. In a recent article by McKinsey, they found “Women leaders are as likely as men at their level to want to be promoted and aspire to senior-level roles. In many companies, however, they experience microaggressions that undermine their authority and signal that it will be harder for them to advance.

How did they respond to observing this microaggression? What were their takeaways from the whole scenario? This story can showcase a great deal about their character.

Why this supports DEI: Asking specific DEI questions is helpful (as you will see below) but providing situations without specifically spelling out diversity-related topics may help you see how naturally they do/don’t think about these issues.

While that last question can aid in an initial understanding of the candidate’s perspective, direct communication provides clear answers. So, if your company wants to uphold DEI initiatives, it’s best to address the topic with articulate transparency.

DEI & Communication Questions

What Does DEI mean to you? Why is it important?

Start from the very beginning. Allow them to answer freely and how they reached their current conclusions.

Why this helps DEI and retention: The candidate may not have the latest stats on the topic, but the manner in which they answer this question shows their posture toward DEI. If they value it and have the heart of a learner, you may have just found your next long-term employee.

Tell me about a time when you advocated for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

This one is more point-blank specific and gives the candidate the opportunity to back up how they just answered the previous question.

Why this helps DEI and retention: If you want to be a company that has more than just a DEI statement, you must hire people who do more than just agree with and live out your values in the same fashion that you and your leadership team are. It’s worth noting that if employees trust their leaders’ commitment to said values, you increase employee engagement by 20% and decrease turnover by 87%.

These questions can spark ideas you can further tailor to your business. Additionally, consider talking with your hiring team and seeing what other ideas they have for uncovering candidates’ alignment with your diversity, equity, and inclusion plans. By asking specific questions, you’ll increase your ability to find the right hires from the start.

Looking for connections with more candidates? Connect with C1 today to hear about our services.


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