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Use Behavioral Interviews to Build Team Diversity

Use Behavioral Interviews to Build Team Diversity

By: Elaine Pofeldt 

It’s hard to imagine the Green Bay Packers trying to recruit a team where every player was just like quarterback Aaron Rodgers or linebacker Clay Matthews, great as these players are. Pro-football coaches know that winning is about having a diverse team, where members each contribute something unique.

The same holds true in the workplace. Many managers understand this and try to use behavioral interviews to select the applicants with the best qualifications for each individual job. 

In behavioral interviews, candidates are asked how they handled past situations, giving you a sense of how they will think and perform in the future.

However, the recent trend toward hiring employees for “culture fit” — how well they fit into the existing office vibe — can sometimes work against achieving the team diversity companies want, even when firms rely heavily on behavioral interviews to select their team, experts say. 

The Diversity Advantage
In asking high-performing employees to tap their professional networks for new recruits like themselves, firms sometimes end up with a group that is lacking in the fresh perspectives and diverse experiences that foster innovation.

“The challenge, especially for small businesses, is we have a propensity to hire people like ourselves,” says Domniki Demetriadou, director, process management, assessments and recruitment services at The WorkPlace Group, a provider of outsourced and strategic recruiting solutions in the New York City area. 

That can cause firms to fall behind more diverse competitors. McKinsey & Co. found in a 2015 report that companies that are in the top quarter for ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to achieve financial results better than the national median for their industry than less diverse peers. Firms in the top 25% for gender diversity are 15% more likely to beat the median financial performance for their industry.

The good news is that by using best practices for conducting a behavioral interview, it is possible to identify candidates who are good culture fit while also building team diversity. These tips will help get you started. 

Know what values matter to your firm. Getting clear on the core values that define your company culture and putting them in writing will help you craft behavioral interview questions that reveal whether candidates are in sync. 

“In general, when you are looking at someone to see if they are going to be a good culture fit, you want to see if they have a similar value system to the owner or, if it’s more of a midsize company, the executive committee,” says business psychologist Dave Popple, president of Psynet Group, a management consulting firm in New York City that helps companies select talent. 

“Once you see they have the same values and purpose, you start to look for diversity. You’re looking for people to be very similar when it comes to value choices and very different when it comes thinking style, personality, and so forth.”

Map your interviews in advance. When you are hiring for culture fit, the best behavioral interview questions will give candidates a chance to share stories about how they have demonstrated the values your company prizes – or not, experts says. 

Include these questions in a written interview guide for your team to use for each candidate, along with a scoring system that rates certain types of answers on a scale of one to five. 

“The value of an interview guide is everyone who is interviewing is on the same page,” says Baltimore-based leadership consultant Karin Hurt, CEO of the consulting firm Let’s Grow Leaders, and a former Verizon Wireless executive with experience in human resources.

Let’s say one core value at your firm is keeping customers happy, no matter what it takes.

A good behavioral interview question might be, “Tell me about a time you had to deal with a customer service problem but couldn’t resolve it within current company guidelines.” 

In the interview guide, you might award the highest points to candidates who found smart workarounds to company rules, within the bounds of what the firm deems acceptable. 

“You have a context to compare the candidate’s response to what works within your company or is valued,” Demetriadou says.

Ask right-size questions. The right behavioral interview questions can also help you select employees who will fit into your size company. For instance, if you run a startup and want to make sure candidates have the roll-up-your-sleeves attitude to get things done, you might say, “Tell me about a time you had to build something from scratch. What was the process? How did it go?” says Hurt. 

Someone who can’t come up with such examples or offers very superficial ones might not be a good fit for your firm. 

Build checks and balances into the system. Companies tend to miss out on hiring diverse candidates in the behavioral interview process when interviewers default to hiring people who “just click” personally, say experts. Such snap decisions can leave other qualified candidates, including those who might bring welcome diversity, on the sidelines. 

To avoid that trap, arrange a panel interview before making any final hires and spending five or 10 minutes afterward with colleagues to discuss how the candidate performed. 

Hurt realized the strength of this approach when she was leaning toward hiring a candidate with rich experience in a specific technical area, and her team, during the panel interview, voiced strong support for a different candidate. 

“They felt this person had a diversity in background that would really complement the team,” she says. “They felt he was really passionate about leadership and creating cultural change, which was something we were really trying to do at the time.”

Ultimately, Hurt didn’t go with her gut instinct but with the candidate her team picked – and never regretted the choice. After all, she explains, “he was going to be their peer.”