Interviewing While Black
Interviewing causes angst for most people, and we find it challenging not to lose all perspective during the interview process. We become obsessed with hoping every potential employer will offer us a job. In fact, we will go to incredible lengths and spend hours on jobs we don’t even want. The sting of rejection is so painful that we avoid it at all costs—and our own peril.
For almost 10 years, I have been supporting women as they look for opportunities to expand their skills and do work that is engaging and rewarding. Before I started Leverage to Lead, I spent over 16 years recruiting, interviewing, and hiring candidates in investment banking and the law. Put simply, I know how to help someone get a job.
The question I ask my clients is, What kind of employer do you want to work for? That is the single most important question in the entire job search process. This is especially important for candidates of color. More than likely you will have to endure a longer interview process and have to confront bias throughout. I get that you want to work for an employer who wants to hire you. But if you don’t put thought into what kind of environment you need to be successful, you may as well stay put.
Diversity and Inclusion Specialist Leniece F. Brissett wrote about her experiences as a diversity hiring consultant in “The Subconscious Advantage of Whiteness in Hiring.” Her advice focuses on the employers she worked with and gives us an insight into the interview process for candidates of color navigating the landmines of prejudice and resulting discrimination.
Brissett reveals that many Americans are comfortable with bias and discrimination. And that means as a woman or person of color, your ability to flourish in your career could be affected by people who are ruled by bias with no understanding of its impact on corporate culture.
Below, I’ve listed 5 strategies to help job candidates of color maneuver the challenges that still plague the interviewing process:
1. Describe your ideal employer, environment, and work.
How big are they? Are they a mature company, or do you want to be in a startup focused on innovation? How does this company view diversity? Do they invest in employee development?
Will this employer (or manager) be an advocate for you? Are they ready to invest in your success?
What do you need to be successful in your job? How much do you want to get paid and how much revenue does the company need to have to be able to afford you?
What do you value? Do your employer’s values align with yours? Are they worthy of you? Do you want to do this work?
If you haven’t answered these questions before you start your job search, you will waste precious energy chasing after jobs you don’t want at organizations you don’t want to be in.
Get clear about what you need to be successful. No matter how miserable you may currently be, take the time to explore these questions. Otherwise, you risk landing in the same job you just left.
2. If you like the company, don’t hesitate to apply.
The refrain, there aren’t enough qualified women or candidates of color, is baseless and false. In fact, this falsehood serves to protect hiring bias. If you learn of a position you want, apply for it. Always give yourself a chance.
Another falsehood is that we must check off every requirement before we apply. This is untrue; you simply need to understand how your skills transfer.
You also need to think about how you apply for a job. Submitting a blind resume online or through a recruiter is rarely successful. The best way to get under serious consideration is to leverage the credibility of someone else. This leads to my next point:
3. Expand your network.
Most people tend to connect with those with whom they feel most comfortable. But, to grow your network, you must reach outside your comfort zone and connect with people who are more senior and who look different from you.
I know so many women who have strong female networks. While this is important, women also need to have a healthy number of men they connect with on a regular basis. Here’s why: when you connect with someone different, you must find common ground. Eventually, you find a way to help them connect with who you are, what you believe in, and how you work.
In order to show others what you bring to the table, you must deeply understand my final point.
4. Know your value and communicate it effectively.
If you don’t know your value or how to get it across to others, you come off as unqualified. This is especially damaging when bias already colors someone’s perception of you.
To talk about your skills and assets comfortably, you must first understand your value and how it impacts the story you tell. This article is a good place to start. Your goal is to tell a story that will be repeated by people you know and people who interview you.
5. Be able to identify and address bias.
Bias affects you every single day. You must understand what it is, how it happens, where it comes from, and what you can begin to do about it. When you understand bias, you can begin to practice responding to it.
I help clients build a language for their value and what they want, then practice stating it clearly and effectively. The same amount of practice is needed to respond to bias and prejudice. It is a tough, uncomfortable topic, and our inclination is to avoid discussing it, even when it’s hurting us. But you have to learn to respond when someone overlooks your skills and ideas because they are biased against you. When you identify and aptly address a bias, you can get back to talking about your qualifications.
For instance, if you think your supervisor might hold a bias against women, proactively tell a story about when you were the only woman in a group of men. Highlight how they misjudged your competency, how you addressed it, and went on to do great work.
Ultimately, it’s a company’s responsibility to build diversity. It is in their best interest to find great candidates who help them spur innovation and expand their markets. Your job is to make the choice easy for them by showing who you really are and why you will be an asset to their team.
Articulating your value and navigating bias are skills you must add to your repertoire because they are essential for you to continue to rise in your career. Educating yourself helps you understand how to bring bias to someone’s attention in a way that will keep the conversation moving forward. It will also help you understand the depth of bias within a company’s culture, and know whether you want to work there.
Jennifer McClanahan-Flint is an Executive Career Strategist and the founder and CEO of Leverage to Lead. She helps women and people of color build careers with audacity and authenticity. If you would like to receive her newsletter directly in your inbox, please subscribe here.