Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in the Prehire Process
Mark Peterson

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in the Prehire Process

Heather D. Burnett, M.A., Red Hat & Jennifer T.L. McGinnis, PhD, SPHR, Red Hat

Due to recent events throughout 2020 and into this calendar year, your organization may be considering new programs for underrepresented communities, like targeted outreach initiatives, development workshops, high-potential diversity programs, or mentoring experiences. Opportunities to integrate more inclusive and less biased practices exist throughout the talent lifecycle, particularly in the hiring process where the day-to-day decisions of hiring managers, interviewers, and HR professionals can have a cumulative positive impact on a company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals. Although the hiring process is one of the easiest ways to quickly make progress against an organization’s DEI goals, it is also a process in which unconscious bias can play a role (Wax, 1999; Staats, 2014). Hiring managers and HR professionals alike often view themselves as excellent judges of character and may “overweigh” the similarity in perspectives and experiences to their own (which can work against creating increased diversity in an organization).

Structured, behavioral-based interviewing is a technique that relies on a series of questions to examine relevant, work-related situations candidates have experienced in the recent past; responses to these questions on past experiences provide insight into how the candidate will approach their work in future situations at your company and promote the use of job-relevant criteria for making hiring decisions. This technique has consistently shown to lead to better hiring decisions (Campion et al., 1997; Schmidt & Hunter, 1998), as it creates consistency and structure that can reduce bias in the interview process. Below, we share six evidence-based recommendations to manage a behavioral-based interview process that promotes inclusion and challenges unconscious biases throughout the hiring process:


  1. Establish, and share, hiring criteria in advance. Before starting the hiring process, identify the required technical expertise and preferred competencies needed for the role. Once identified, document these requirements in a job description (or update the job description if one already exists). Share this job description with your interview panel and meet with the panel in advance to ensure a shared understanding of the key hiring criteria. By completing these steps, you are ensuring each panel member understands your expectations as a hiring manager and also ensure each candidate is evaluated against the same, predetermined standard, reducing bias in the process.
  2. Request a diverse slate of candidates. Once the role is open for applications, ensure you discuss with your recruiting advisor your desire for a diverse candidate pool. This means the “pool” or group candidates you will evaluate has multiple individuals that vary across diversity dimensions (whether that is by age, gender, ethnicity, or LGBTQ+ status). Research indicates if there is only a single underrepresented candidate in the hiring pool, the chance they will be selected as the best candidate is actually less than would happen by random chance (Johnson, et al, 2016); so the broader your search for qualified talent and the more diverse your interview slate, the more likely you’ll be able to make a diverse hire. Don’t have a slate of diverse candidates? Ask your recruiting advisor if there are other sources of qualified talent that can be further evaluated for a more diverse pool - for example, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), or professional networks for women or Black professionals.
  3. Prepare for interviews ahead of time. As an interviewer, you may be tempted to shortchange this part of the process, especially if you have interviewed others many times before. However, proper interview preparation is one of the best opportunities to manage and mitigate bias in the hiring process. When preparing for interviews, revisit the key hiring criteria and job description. Based on the criteria, write down one or two behavioral questions in advance you’ll ask each candidate to evaluate them against these criteria. As an example, if you were looking to assess strategic mindset as a core competency of the role, you might ask questions like, “Can you tell me about a time when you had to articulate a long-term vision for your team, department, or organization?” If you need a place to start, many resources exist online to provide examples of behavioral interview questions (see guidance from indeed.com for examples).
  4. Conduct the interview. During the interview, stick to the behavioral interview questions you wrote in advance, and keep any conversation to the most job-relevant information as possible. Inviting too much personal or informal conversation on non-work-related topics can introduce affinity bias into the conversation—a common bias that all people experience where individuals tend to prefer others who have similar interests, experiences, and backgrounds. This can cause hiring managers to prefer candidates with similarities to themselves, even if those similarities are not job relevant. In addition, remember your candidates are also evaluating their decision to join your company. Create a welcoming and inclusive interview environment by showing up to the interview prepared, introducing yourself and explaining how the interview will progress, and conveying a positive, friendly tone.
  5. Document evidence-based notes throughout the interview. Although you may be inclined to forgo taking notes to keep the interview conversational, effective note taking is essential to capturing candidate responses accurately and documenting evidence-based information for when you are making your final decision. It shows the candidate you take the process seriously but also helps you remember key details of your conversations with each candidate, regardless of the order in which their interview was conducted. All the notes you document should be job relevant (remember those hiring criteria you established at the beginning of the process) and in compliance with relevant hiring laws. These laws differ, depending on your region or country, but some good pointers include:
  • Don't mention the physical or mental attributes of the candidate.
  • Try to be mindful of using evaluations like "has poor communication skills" to describe accents or dialects.
  • Avoid describing a candidate as a "poor culture fit"; without a strong connection to the key hiring criteria.
  • In general, focus your note taking on what the candidate did in previous situations and how they did it.
  1. Evaluate candidates against your original set of criteria. After each interview is complete, review your interview notes and document your evaluation of each candidate as soon as possible. Connect your evaluation to the key hiring criteria, with a focus on answering this key question: Can the candidate perform the job at or above the level of capability or proficiency that’s expected? Once interviews are completed and notes are documented, you may be invited to (or may wish to conduct) an interview debrief meeting to discuss each candidate and your finalized notes on each one; these sessions are one of the best strategies for blocking bias in the hiring process as they provide various viewpoints and diverse perspectives on each candidate for a more holistic evaluation. Participate in debrief meetings by sticking to the facts in your summary, providing evidence to support your conclusions, and avoiding opinions or emotions. Be genuinely curious about others’ assessments of candidates, and remember the goal is not to win the discussion but to find the best candidate for the open role.


As you may have noted in the guidance above, there is no “magic bullet” for progress against DEI goals—systematic challenges will require sustained effort to build an inclusive mindset within an organization and a long-term approach to evaluating processes and practices for bias (think: “this is a marathon, not a sprint”). However, consistently following science-based practices that can remove bias will, over time, help you make progress on DEI goals within your organization. Whether you are a hiring manager who makes hiring decisions or an HR professional who designs recruitment, talent, or compensation programs, you have the opportunity to impact positive change by being aware of your unconscious biases and embedding simple strategies in your hiring and decision-making processes to mitigate them.




Campion, M. A., Palmer, D. K., & Campion, J. E. (1997). A review of structure in the selection interview. Personnel Psychology, 50(3), 655-702.

Johnson, S. K., Hekman, D. R., & Chan, E. T. (2016, April 26). If there’s only one woman in your candidate pool, there’s statistically no chance she’ll be hired. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/04/if-theres-only-one-woman-in-your-candidate-pool-theres-statistically-no-chance-shell-be-hired

Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 262-274.

Staats, C. (2014). State of the science: Implicit bias review 2014. Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.


Thirty behavioral interview questions to prepare for (with example answers). (2020, December 4). https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/interviewing/most-common-behavioral-interview-questions-and-answers

Wax, A. L. (1999). Discrimination as accident. Indiana Law Journal, 74(4), 1129-1231.


More about the authors:


Heather D. Burnett is the senior manager for Assessment & Development Programs at Red Hat. In this role in the Talent Center of Excellence, Heather leads the team responsible for the company's overall associate and manager development strategy, as well as a suite of talent management programs that support these strategies, like associate engagement surveys, performance management and development, talent review, and global onboarding. Prior to joining Red Hat in 2015, Heather worked at Bank of America, holding a number of positions across the leadership development and staffing functional areas, leading processes and projects in talent analytics, organizational development & design, talent planning, succession management, leadership assessment and enterprise staffing measurement. Heather earned her master’s in I-O Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from North Carolina State University. She is a past chair of the North Carolina Industrial/Organizational Psychologists and currently resides in Durham, North Carolina.

Jennifer T. L. McGinnis, PhD, SPHR is the manager of Career & Early Talent Programs at Red Hat. In this role, she partners with People team colleagues around the globe and manages an internationally distributed team of six talent program managers who are responsible for the global strategy, development, and delivery of several associate development programs, including career development and management, internships, and early graduates. Jenn has practiced I-O in a variety of settings, including an external consulting role at ALPS Solutions, largely focused on needs assessment and training effectiveness and evaluation, as well as an internal consulting role at the North Carolina Office of State Human Resources, where she was responsible for the development and implementation of a statewide performance management philosophy, policy, and process, impacting 60,000+ state employees. Jenn has a PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from North Carolina State University.

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