Interviewing While Black

Aug 24, 2016 | All Blogs, Interviewing, Talent Advisement Resources

Recently on the ferry from Marin to San Francisco, I walked past a group of older women. As I took my seat, I smiled at the woman closest to me. She looked at me, moved her purse off the table, and put it on her lap.

She didn’t see me; she saw what I represented in her mind.

I was judged not by my character but by the color of my skin.

Her bias matters not only because it is wrong, but because this type of judgement of character, qualification, and ability affects women and people of all colors every day in the workplace.

The rise of Donald Trump’s candidacy is enlightening because the support he receives comes from people all across the country, not just the south and midwest.

My recent vacation in Maine coincided with a Trump rally where he stated:

“We have seen many, many crimes getting worse all the time and as Maine knows, a major destination for Somali refugees,” Trump said, while sharing a stage with dozens of state lawmakers, Maine Republican Party officials and Gov. Paul LePage, a fervent Trump supporter.

Though there is no correlation between Somali immigration and increased crime, his loyal supporters, including Maine’s governor, thrived on the divisiveness.

Facts don’t seem to matter to Trump supporters, and polls show the more racist and sexist his comments become, the more the fervor for his message grows.

Outside of the basic safety of women and people of color and dignity of our country, the revelation of the character of his supporters has everyday implications for you, me, our families, and our communities.

What it reveals is that 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 dare to be ruled by bias without understanding its impact in corporate culture.

Diversity and Inclusion Specialist Leniece F. Brissett, wrote about her experiences as a diversity hiring consultant in her article The Subconscious Advantage of Whiteness in Hiring. Her advice, which was given to employers she worked with, can also benefit women of color as they navigate the land mines of prejudice and the resulting discrimination.

Below, I’ve listed 4 strategies to help job candidates of color maneuver the challenges that still exist in the interviewing process:

Don’t hesitate to apply.

The refrain that there aren’t enough qualified women or candidates of color is baseless and false. In fact, this falsehood is a means to protect hiring bias. If you learn of a position that you want, apply for it. Definitely be strategic on how you pursue the position, but go for it. We often think we must check off every requirement before we apply. That is not true; you simply need to understand how your skills transfer. If you don’t apply, you don’t give yourself a chance.

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 be under serious consideration is to leverage the credibility of someone else. This leads to my second point:

Expand your network.

Most people tend to connect with people with whom they feel most comfortable. To grow your network, you must reach outside your comfort zone and connect with people who are more senior than you are and who look different from you.

I know so many women who have strong female networks. While that is important, women also need to have a healthy number of men who they connect with on a regular basis. When you connect with someone who seems different, your job is to find common ground. Find a way to help them connect with who you are, what you believe in, and how you work.

To do that you have to be comfortable knowing what you bring to the table, which leads me to my next point:

Know your value and how to effectively communicate it.

If you don’t know what you bring to the table and/or don’t know how to communicate it, you come off as unqualified. This is especially true if bias colors someone’s perception of you. You have to know how to talk about your skills and assets comfortably. It starts with understanding your value and how it impacts the story you tell.

Be able to identify and address bias.

Bias affects you every day of your life. Every day. You must understand what it means, 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 how to respond to it. I work with clients to build a language to talk about their value and what they want. It takes practice for them to effectively and clearly state what they want and why they want it.

It takes the same amount of practice to learn how 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. 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.

Educating yourself helps you understand how to bring bias to someone’s attention in a way that can keep the conversation moving forward. It will also help you understand the depth of bias in a company culture, and whether it’s a place you want to work.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of companies 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 them who you really are and why you would be an asset to their team.

Articulating your value or navigating bias is a skill you should add to your repertoire because they’re essential for you to continue to rise in your career.


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