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Recruiting diverse engineering candidates: What tech companies still get wrong

I recently completed a job search during which I interviewed with such reputable high-tech companies as Twitter, Google, and Amazon, among others. All had previously expressed an interest in diversifying their technical workforces, in reaction to annual diversity reports that show dismal numbers of women and minorities represented. As the very type of candidate the companies claim to want to attract, I made observations about what was welcoming and what was off-putting about my interactions with these tech giants.

The short but not-so-sweet realization was that deeper diversity training is needed. Nowadays, I’m sure just about every major tech company requires their employees to receive diversity training. However, extra effort is needed for those who will serve as the face of your company when trying to recruit and interview talent.

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Here are three key areas where your company interacts with candidates, and how things can be perceived in each of these areas:

1. The requisition

Studies show that job requisitions that list an abundance of requirements typically draw a less diverse pool of candidates. Apparently, women and minorities take you at your word and believe that they must be proficient in every skill listed. If they consider themselves a novice or are unfamiliar with any of the requirements, they will be less likely to apply.  My advice is to list only your basic must-haves, add any nice-to-haves to a bonus section, and leave off all of the fluff that’s irrelevant to the job or that can easily be learned once the candidate is hired.

Also, when listing perks, know that you are also describing the culture of your workplace to future candidates. Perks such as beer bashes, sports outings, or Nerf gun wars are not only unattractive to me, but also give the impression of a bro culture.

There were many companies that I didn't bother applying to because of their requisitions.

2. The recruiter

Dealing with internal recruiters was quite a headache for me during my search. This is an area that could benefit from additional diversity training.

After receiving my application, one recruiter suggested that I apply for one of the company's less technical roles instead. When I explained that I had no interest in the alternative roles, the recruiter begrudgingly agreed to submit me for the role for which I initially applied.  Much to her surprise (but certainly not mine), the hiring manager wanted to interview me.

The recruiter called me to prep me for the interview and, still uneasy about my qualifications, continued to question whether I knew how to code and if I had enough automation experience. This despite the fact that, as my résumé states, I am a certified Java programmer with 14 years of automation/coding industry experience, and I teach Java at the collegiate level.

I’m not sure what caused this recruiter to doubt my abilities, but that’s the burden of being a minority in tech. No matter how much you achieve, you feel you have to constantly prove yourself over and over again. It's exhausting, and I chose to withdraw my application before the interview process even began. These were red flags about the culture of the company, and I don't wish to work where my talents are not appreciated.

Another recruiter from a different company did seem to recognize and appreciate that I was top talent before and during the interview stages. Unfortunately, this was not reflected during the offer-negotiation stage. I was made an offer, and like most others in the tech field, I proceeded to negotiate. The recruiter wouldn't budge.

I'm experienced enough to know that companies aren't presenting candidates their very best as the first offer, so I couldn't understand why the recruiter refused to negotiate at all. Maybe it’s because women and minorities typically accept less. Many companies blame this on the fact that women and minorities ask for less and many times accept the initial offer given. It was quite discouraging that when I did attempt to do what my white male counterparts do, I was shut down. And to add insult to injury, the recruiter was condescending and suggested that I downgrade my current lifestyle, use my savings, and share a place with strangers in order to survive on the salary offered.

Not all recruiters are horrible, and I certainly appreciate the good ones. Google’s recruiting staff was the best I’ve ever worked with in my career. They told me more than once that I was wanted and I belonged there. They also sent encouraging messages before each interview and openly talked about diversity at Google, something that is important to me.

3. The interview

Where many interviewers miss the mark is in thinking that an interview is a one-way conversation. It’s very typical for an interviewer to use 95% of the time allotted trying to determine whether the candidate is a good fit for the job, leaving just a few minutes for candidates to determine if the role is a good fit for them. Being able to do the job is, of course, a primary concern of mine, but as a minority, there are many more considerations that affect my decision.

I care about diversity, inclusion, and the overall feel and culture of the company. In several interviews, only about five minutes were left for my questions before the interviewers needed to rush off to other meetings. As a result, I was unable to ask about everything I wanted to know.

What I loved about interviewing with the manager and director at Twitter, the company I accepted an offer from, was that after 10 minutes, they gave me the floor to drive the conversation. They still asked me questions throughout, but it felt more like a mutual discussion, as opposed to a one-sided grilling.

I also take notice of the panel of people selected to interview me. Are there any women? Are there any minorities? This is important to me for a couple of reasons. It gives me a small sampling of the makeup of the workforce, and it tells me whether the women and minorities employed there are respected and represented in senior positions. Of the companies where I have interviewed, Twitter was the only one whose panel of interviewers included women—and more than one! The interviewers also brought up diversity, inclusion, and how important they are for their product. They talked about the efforts they are making to diversify their company, such as recruiting from black tech conferences such as NSBE and hiring from historically black colleges. I can’t begin to express how heavily things like this affected my decision on where to work.

Technical interviews, at least the way they are conducted today, are problematic. Of course, no candidate looks forward to them. On the one hand, I understand that it’s a necessary evil to determine if candidates have the technical chops required for the role. But I believe that some of these interviews have gotten out of hand.

I’m an automation engineer, and yet during my job search I was not asked a single coding question related to automation. The code I was asked to write focused on algorithms, data structures, big O notation, and development architecture. I was able to hold my own for the most part, but these types of technical interviews resemble a subtle form of hazing.

As a member of a black sorority, I am trained to identify actions that might be perceived as hazing, and my radar kept going off during these stressful coding challenges. I even decided to withdraw my candidacy from one company after the interviewers asked me to take a few weeks to study before the next interview. I shouldn't have to study for an interview for a job I already know how to do, just because the interview questions are totally irrelevant to that job.

The retrospective

At the risk of sounding braggadocious, I’m top talent in my field. But as a woman of color, I found that many of the tech giants lost me at hello. Their requisitions were off-putting and painted a picture of a place where I would not belong.

For some companies, it was their internal recruiters who caused them to lose my interest. Doubting a proven leader’s abilities or trying to low-ball them on salary is definitely not the way you attract diverse talent.

All tech companies need to revisit their interviewing practices. Diversify the panel of people who will decide the candidate’s fate with the company; acknowledge that diverse candidates may be concerned with more than just the specifics of the job itself; and ensure that you allocate time for them to have their questions and concerns addressed. Finally, tailor the interview questions to the job for which the candidate is being considered, and steer clear of unjustified coding challenges that only serve to intimidate and stress candidates.

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Topics: Quality