Strategies for Inclusively and Equitably Attracting Diverse TalentPart IIIc: Recruitment Process Changes

This is the fifth of five posts in a series of blog posts that explore Third Sector’s progress in evaluating and redesigning our recruitment practices with a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens.

Alongside gathering Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) baseline data that now informs our understanding of the composition of our candidate pipeline, we recognize the importance of ensuring each step of our interview process is equitable. Each summer, Third Sector hires two “Summer Managers” to join our team for a 10-week internship assisting with client engagements and special initiatives that drive the firm’s growth, that can result in an offer for a full-time position. This year, we leveraged the Summer Manager recruitment process to pilot changes to attract a more diverse applicant pool and to create a more equitable interview process that more fully recognizes and values a broader range of applicant experiences and skillsets. Small teams that spanned over half of Third Sector’s employees, across all levels and offices, worked to revamp the entire interview process. These three blog posts outline the key changes made to the Summer Manager interview process:

    • Rewriting the job description to align with the core competencies required for the Summer Manager role and to outline the recruitment process upfront
    • Re-evaluating the Summer Manager compensation package
    • Restructuring the thirty- and sixty-minute interviews to align with the chosen core competencies

Role-Playing Exercises

The cornerstone of our interview process has been a sixty-minute case interview that aimed to use case scenarios to test and react to the skills of candidates. The intention of the case interviews was to focus on candidates’ skills rather than on candidates’ resumes. In rewriting the case interview, and subsequently the thirty-minute interview that preceded the case interview, we aimed to ensure that the process truly elevated and evaluated our core competencies rather than biasing the process toward those who had former job experience that matched the interviewer's and existing leadership’s backgrounds.

The former case interview exercise was very focused on the details required to launch a Pay for Success deal, like our flagship Massachusetts Juvenile Justice project. This included sending candidates data and asking them to prepare a PowerPoint deck as well as an economic model in Excel ahead of the interview, with a specified  time frame to complete these deliverables varying from cycle to cycle based on internal capacity to send out interview invitations and schedule them. The interview then asked candidates to verbally present their findings and recommendations as outlined in the deck they had created. This case interview had been used for over two years and was being taught as a case study to public policy graduate students at several Boston universities. Thus, candidates who had advanced training in Microsoft Excel or had learned our case study in the past were advantaged in our interview process, when in reality, these skills differed from the core competencies necessary to work to channel public funding to services impacting vulnerable populations.

Third Sector does not believe that creating a PowerPoint is the only valuable representation of written communications skills, nor do we believe modeling in Excel is the best representation of the quantitative and technical skills necessary to thrive at our company. To revamp the interview process, we began by bringing staff together across levels to align on the core skills necessary to work with diverse stakeholders, from governments to funders, and in various capacities, such as facilitating conversations to align on project goals, to understanding data and evaluations, to synthesizing research in order to offer actionable recommendations. We arrived at the following core competencies as critical to success in the Summer Manager role: Critical Thinking, Communication (written and verbal), Reflection and Curiosity, Active Listening, Technical Skills, Adaptability, and Learning Mindset.

After this critical step, we realized it would be necessary to rewrite both the thirty-minute and sixty- minute case interviews in tandem, as rewriting solely the sixty-minute interview would hinder the interview process from evaluating the full range of these core competencies.

Core changes to the interviews included:

  • Reframing the “case interview” as a “role playing exercise:” Candidates who are not familiar with the language often used in the consulting industry may not understand what a “case interview” entails or what the purpose is.
  • Allowing candidates to share their lived experiences beyond their resume if they choose: We recognize and acknowledge that humans are not easily encompassed by a one-page document, and that academic and professional opportunities may be influenced by a candidate’s family, identities, and other personal experiences. We hope to further understand what motivates candidates to work in our field and for Third Sector.
  • Reducing jargon and words that were prescriptive in how candidates could respond: This effort included eliminating words that advantaged those coming solely from the finance or consulting worlds, like “frameworks” or investment language.
  • Providing an opportunity for candidates to experience “an hour in the life” at Third Sector: The interview previously was interviewer-driven, with interviewers intentionally interrupting candidates’ presentations of their PowerPoints to offer what might be a more realistic client-facing experience. Given that our work is completely team-based at Third Sector, our new interview allows candidates to role-play a scenario grounded more deeply in Third Sector team culture.
  • Standardizing the questions that are asked: Interviewers are provided a clear script and are instructed to use the same wording when facilitating each interview in an attempt to control more for consistency and therefore fairness in evaluation.

Our intent is that these changes allow candidates to elevate their unique skills and highlight their diverse backgrounds and experiences, while interviews are delivered in a standardized way to reduce bias. As part of interviewer training, interviewers are provided a brief “equity prime” with reminders to maintain an equitable lens when conducting and evaluating interviews.

After piloting the changes outlined in this series of posts, we adapted the materials to continue testing the new job description and interview process with our next hiring cycle for Associates. As we continue to interview candidates, we plan to learn from both direct candidate and team member feedback, as well as learn from other organizations who are working actively to center diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of their work. We also intend to continue understanding the opportunities to adapt our interview process by using reports from candidate EEOC data collected, which will allow us to understand, in aggregate, how candidate demographics changed from round to round. This information will allow us to see the changes in the composition of the candidate pool, for example, between the thirty-minute interview and the sixty-minute interview, and will let us know whether the demographic makeup of the pool changes significantly from one interview round to another, which may be an indication of a bias in our interview process.

Our next step for this work is to continue expanding and building a more diverse talent pipeline to reach more candidates that learn about and apply to work at Third Sector. We know that process changes can reduce bias in our interview process, but that upfront, active work to reach potential candidates with more diverse and broad-ranging past experience is necessary to complement our efforts to date. To learn more about our journey to integrate DEI into all of our firm's practices, continue following our blog and do not hesitate to reach out to our team to continue the conversation.