Challenges in Recruiting and Hiring Diverse Employees

by Lila Kelly

To remain competitive in today's market, it is important to make an effort to attract, hire

and retain qualified diverse employees. Unfortunately, organizations sometimes lose qualified job applicants in the process. This can happen because of two reasons. One, the applicant's potential for the job is underestimated, and the applicant is screened out. Perhaps this is due to cultural misunderstandings, prejudice, or just lack of interviewing skills on the part of the interviewer. Or two, the applicant decides the organization is not a good place for them to work, and the applicant screens the employer out.

An Asian-American marketing manager spoke of a challenge organizations have in recruiting people of color, especially into professional level positions. She said, "When you look at more highly educated minorities, those people have a lot of choices - professional choices about where they want to go that makes them feel comfortable." As a consultant, I have worked with hiring managers in organizations where they have had to learn to sell the organization to qualified job applicants. This was new for them, compared to just letting the applicants sell themselves to them, as they had always done in the past. Interviewers need to be skilled both at assessing the applicant's true potential for the job and at selling the job to the applicant.

Diverse applicants have talked about how the interviewers they meet reflect the whole organization. One person said, "In one interview I would answer a question, and the interviewer would correct my thinking. It became an argument as opposed to a conversation. This did not sound like a very team oriented, nurturing or developing environment, and not a place I would like to be.' " Perhaps the applicant misunderstood the interviewer's approach, or perhaps the interviewer lacked an understanding of different cultures and communication styles, which interfered with his ability to assess the applicant's true potential for the job. As society becomes more diverse, interviewers need to learn more about the cultural backgrounds of the people they interview.

In another situation, an African American woman who is an HR employment representative said that the supervisor who interviewed her and the people she met in the HR department were very nice. However, when introduced to the individual who administered the employment tests, it was another story. She stated, "It was like she was sure that I would not understand the test and wouldn't do well. She said, 'I'm going to give you a chance to read these, but when I come back, I will give you a little bit more time than we normally do.' When she came back she felt it was necessary for her to explain what I had just read. It was that kind of thing that really ticked me off and gave me a negative feeling about that organization." Luckily this applicant was not lost. She started working there, discussed the experience with her supervisor, and the organization took action to correct the problem. It is important that all employees who meet job applicants have a respectful and welcoming manner.

Job applicants also notice things in the work environment. When a Middle Eastern man in restaurant management arrived for an interview, he saw pictures in the receptionist area of Employees of the Month. Two pictured were African American and some were female. This made him feel better about the organization. He said, "Psychologically it made me feel more comfortable going into the interview, not as nervous. I didn't think there would be prejudice in the interview." Seeing diversity in an organization is important to some applicants, but not to all. To help applicants get a feel for the environment, include a tour and introductions to other employees. The more the applicant knows about the job and environment before hand, the better the match will be. Practices such as this can also affect the retention of employees in the future.

As the merging of cultures continues into the 21st century, cross-cultural competencies are increasingly important for interviewers, and organizations need to think through and strategically plan their recruiting and selection practices.

Lila Kelly has over 20 years experience in the areas of diversity in employment interviewing, structuring the recruitment and selection process, diversity in the workplace, career-transition skills, recruiting, and HR management. She now works to bridge the gap between employers and an increasingly diverse labor market. Lila Kelly Associates is an independent consulting firm established in 1992.

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Copyright 2003, Lila Kelly Associates.