Note: Special thanks to Sue Pomeroy and Ealga ni Aodha for their help and insight in drafting this post. Learn more about SendGrid’s diversity and inclusion progress.

The first time I interviewed a candidate at SendGrid was for a software engineer more than four and a half years ago. Since then, I have interviewed a few candidates a year for various engineering and non-engineering positions.

My constant desire to be valuable in the hiring process has led to many sessions of introspection, especially around the interview process and how I can make an impact in this process to make my workplace more diverse.

The basis of a quality interview process

To perform a job better, it is important to know the purpose of the job at hand, and understand the expectations of the stakeholders. The purpose of an interview is to objectively evaluate if the candidate is suitable for the team and the company, to determine if they can skillfully and efficiently do the required job, if they are a cultural fit, and how they would contribute to our collective growth as people and professionals.

At SendGrid, an interview is generally conducted by a team of interviewers, who collectively assess and provide their feedback to the hiring manager and the recruiting coordinator. It is important to know that you are not expected to provide feedback on everything, but are expected to fairly evaluate the qualities in your focus area.

Over the years, I spent quite a bit of time talking to people I look up to, discussed my interview experience, and sought their feedback on what can I do differently to be better. Here are some of the important things that I realized, and how I have been working on them.

How unconscious bias affects interviews

Unconscious bias is always a strong influence on your decision making, and it is a never-ending process to recognize your unconscious biases. Unconscious bias refers to a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations. Unconsicence biases is influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences.

We all have these biases and research has shown that they heavily influence how we evaluate people in the interview process and more often than not, put minority candidates at a disadvantage. With this in mind, I have found that building some intentional steps into the interview process has helped me guard against these biases.

1. Educate yourself

Consciously combating unconscious bias is an excellent article published in Science Magazine explaining the impact of unconscious bias during the hiring process. In order to combat bias, we first need to understand it. You will see some overlap in this blog and that article.

This quote from the Huffington Post blog Unconscious Bias: It Starts With You and Me is critical:
“Unconscious biases make us think that the way that we think is best…the right way…the only way.”

I grew up in India and moved to the United States when I was 22. I believed that I understood Indians better–especially immigrant Indians. I now realize that this was based on my unconscious biases. I reflected on some of my previous interviews and my feedback for those candidates, and realized that my feedback was far from being objective; it was heavily tainted by my biases. So now, as I read the information on a candidate, I let my thoughts flow free, and work to recognize my biases. When it comes to the time of the interview, and later when providing the feedback, I can evaluate my opinion against my biases before submitting the feedback form.

2. Preparation is the key to an effective interview

The SendGrid teams do an awesome job of providing an interview kit which includes sample questions covering different focus areas across the job itself as well as questions that gauge a candidate’s cultural values. In my early days as an interviewer, I found myself trying to evaluate the candidate on all aspects. As a result, I always ran out of time, and could not effectively and confidently evaluate anything. This resulted in an opinion heavily influenced by my unconscious biases.

I learned to concentrate on my focus area and rely on others to cover theirs. It is extremely critical to understand the job expectations and evaluate the candidate against those. Doing so ensures we are evaluating everyone against the same standards, ensuring a fair process.

3. Be attentive during the interview

It is not just a courteous thing to do. Understand what helps you stay attentive and focused. Personally, I cannot take live notes and be attentive. Neither can I respond to people on chat, check emails at any sort of multi-tasking.

However, if I am focussed, I can remember everything from the interview and document detailed feedback after the interview. I also like to maintain a comfortable eye contact during the conversation; it helps build trust and shows respect.

I feel that trust allows the candidate to see me beyond my external qualities, and help them counter their unconscious biases. You’re more likely to lean on biases if you’re distracted, rushed, or tired. One more thing that I do is to give myself 5-15 minutes of relaxed time before the interview.

Culture is built on values

It is critical to understand your company values, their meaning in general, and more importantly the role they play in the given culture. At SendGrid, we take pride in our culture and talk about our 4H values (Happy, Honest, Humble, Hungry) at any given opportunity.

We love the people we work with and are very protective of our culture. It’s no surprise that we evaluate candidates on our 4Hs, which is a critical part of the interview process. Where we stumbled in our early days was mistaking value alignment with likeness. Many may disagree, but we, especially in engineering, looked for hiring people who were like us.

In order to prevent this, it’s necessary to get clear on the definitions and meaning behind our values. For instance, there are many ways people can be happy; it is not limited to the people we can party or socialize with.

The search for the right candidate should be for people who have a general ability to be happy and bring a positive attitude to their work. This can go into the psychology of happiness, and I will let the readers explore what ‘happy people’ means.

Same thing with hunger: we are looking for people who have the hunger to learn, to become better people, grow their skills, and help people around them grow.

They don’t have to share the hunger for the same topics, per se, but a value but have demonstrated that they value continuous learning and a desire to always improve. We can easily find diverse people who share common values. And hiring for likeness inhibits diversity.

To enable and empower minorities and find ways to give them a fair chance is incredibly important that we continue to hire diverse candidates. Interviews are critical components to achieving this and one which I will continue to do my part so that we are all doing what we can to hire the very best candidates. For more on diversity and inclusion at SendGrid, read our most recent hiring figures and insight.

Suchit Parikh works as a Software Engineer at SendGrid, building email infrastructure to support sending billions of emails a day. He loves traveling, photography, learning more about people, and engaging in philosophical conversations.