Diversity, equity, and inclusion’s newest frontier is the job interview.
To expand access to job opportunities, employers are increasingly disclosing details about their hiring process, and some are even training candidates to interview before they encounter a hiring manager.
Portia Kibble Smith, executive recruiter and diversity and inclusion lead at Karat, a company that conducts technical interviews with software engineers on behalf of hiring companies, noticed that Black interviewees weren’t succeeding in technical evaluations, and it wasn’t for lack of engineering knowledge.
“We were doing lots of interviews at schools like U.C. Berkeley and Stanford. I took it to an HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] and realized that some of our HBCU candidates were not even familiar with what a technical interview was, or could not actually pass the bar, and that was very concerning to me,” said Kibble Smith. “Since we were the subject matter experts in understanding what a technical interview was, we should be able to pass on that knowledge and allow people to practice and get feedback.”
In 2021, Kibble Smith launched Brilliant Black Minds, a program within Karat that seeks to close this “interview access gap” by training Black software engineers to excel in technical interviews through practice and feedback. “It gives them a peek behind the door, and allows them the opportunity to know, ‘what do I need to do to get ready?’” she said.
Karat’s training program coincides with a larger trend: employers are pulling back the curtain on interview and hiring practices once considered inside-only information in favor of disclosure, advice, and coaching.
Employer-endorsed interview tips aren’t entirely new. In 2019, Google built a YouTube library of videos containing resume-writing tips and interview advice for job seekers, and it’s not uncommon to for applicants to get advance notice on who will be interviewing them and why. But a wider range of companies are becoming more proactive in training applicants to interview, and candidates without previous training are reaping the benefits.
On its careers site, video game streaming platform Twitch provides interview prep questions and advice “to demystify your quest.” Applicants to Microsoft get role-specific advice on the company’s careers site, including this tip for engineers: “You should know the details of at least one n*log(n) sorting algorithm, preferably two (for example, quicksort and merge sort). You’ll need to explain the complexity of your algorithm (big O).”
To prepare its own engineering applicants, job marketplace Indeed.com created a blog post that includes generic advice, like researching the company in advance, and information specific to Indeed, like the way candidates are evaluated.
“There was this idea to demystify the process of how you get the job,” said Al Lundy, senior director of tech recruiting at Indeed.com, about the decision to provide prep materials. “There are a lot of folks that actually have the skill sets, but they’ve never had the experience of going through the interview.”
Maria Healey, who works in marketing, encountered a new kind of interview in 2021 when she applied for a job as a growth marketing manager at podcast platform Wondery Plus. Before the interview, the recruiter sent Healey information on leadership principles, tips on answering behavioral questions, and details about how she would be evaluated. It was the first time she’d been prepped for an interview by the employer.
“It made me feel more positive about the company,” Healey said. “It made me feel more mentally prepared. It made me confident.”
Sharing details of the hiring processes and evaluation criteria increases efficiency. “It can help speed up the process for everyone,” said Erin Hendrick, director of global delivery and talent attraction programs at Indeed.com. When all parties come to the interview with a clear agenda, more gets done. “Being proactive actually cuts down the amount of ad hoc questions and back-and-forth.”
That the trend has gained purchase among tech companies is promising. The industry often leads the way in workplace trends. As Paige McGlauflin wrote for Fortune in November 2022, “Tech companies are tastemakers on the future of work and corporate culture.”
In September, Karat announced five partners in the Brilliant Black Minds program, all of them tech companies. Partners help fund the interview training and career development of participants and commit to hiring a specific number of engineers through the program.
Brittany Mitlo, university recruiting manager at language-learning platform Duolingo, a partner in Brilliant Black Minds, likened the training to test prep in school. “We’re not giving the exact ‘this is what I want you to say, and this is exactly what you’re going to see,’” she said. Interviewees are given topics to review or practice tests. “It’s absorbing it and learning how to break down a problem versus just having the problem in front of you and memorizing it.”
Indeed.com also joined Brilliant Black Minds, and Lundy said the program’s goal of training all Black engineers, not just entry-level talent, is a draw. He believes in the power of “skilling up those folks who are transitioning into a tech or product space that don’t necessarily have the skill sets, that didn’t get the schooling.”
Though its involvement is recent, Mitlo believes Duolingo is already seeing ripples. “To my estimation, we are seeing better representation from underrepresented populations in final stages than we ever have before,” she said. “I do believe that it’s because of the interview prep as well as these very long-term relationships that we’ve continued to build.”