Why recruiters seeking diverse candidates must embrace risk like a Fiddler on the Roof

The search for qualified candidates for career opportunities is challenging. You add diversity into the mix, and the search becomes even more demanding.

This was the topic discussed at the Leaving Your Recruiting Comfort Zone workshop at the Online News Association conference in Denver this summer, where I was one of the guest speakers. As I listened to the many stories of uncertainty caused by the United States moving toward a minority-majority nation, I started to think about one of my favorite musicals, “Fiddler on the Roof,” and the line “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.”

Recruiters are matchmakers arranging “marriages” for hiring managers, the Tevyes of the corporations. And like that fictional protagonist, the company establishment is struggling to maintain antiquated traditions.

A behavioral science study conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that most employers hired who they perceived to be their “mini-mes.” The report also discovered other issues like consistently calling back applicants with white-sounding names.

We all have biases and they’re not all negative. Bias is an evolutionary disposition that gets us out of perceived dangerous situations quickly. But they can also make us act like a bunch of meshuggeners, especially in the workplace.

Here are three best practices discussed with recruiters, which might prove useful to you in changing the corporate bias at your company:

1. Recruit beyond the transaction.

Many recruiters place too much emphasis on the here and now. They value speed in reaching candidates for an open position. A better approach is developing relationships ahead of the need to recruit.

Consider hosting exploratory meetings with potential candidates in a less pressured environment where they are not anxious about getting a job, and you are not anxious in hiring for one. In these informal situations, both parties are free to get to know one another at a personal level.

I had such an encounter that resulted in an invite six months later to interview and eventually get a leadership position. Looking around at the racial makeup of that newsroom, I’m sure I would not have been considered based on the strength of my résumé. The exploratory meeting assisted in debunking upper management’s bias about who I am based on my ethnicity.

2. Be a sponsor and a mentor.

Mentoring is a noble relationship that provides mentees with invaluable insights in making decisions, but this approach is anonymous. A sponsor, on the other hand, is a visible partner who advocates for candidates.

Recruiters too often resist ownership of whom they’re presenting. I recently worked with a recruiter who gave me the résumés of five candidates and instructed me to let her know who I was interested in. Well, that’s kind of lazy.

I knew she pre-interviewed these candidates and possibly more to get to this list of five. I was interested in her opinion based on the conversations she had with them and her understanding of our needs. She reluctantly provided me with her feedback because she didn’t want the responsibility (albeit shared) of possibly choosing the wrong person for the job.

3. Don’t be risk-averse.

At a time when companies are struggling to remain relevant, sticking to the status quo in recruiting isn’t the way to go. Study after study shows that in order to grow businesses, companies need to nurture a diverse workforce. That doesn’t happen if you play it safe.

I’m the senior director of multicultural content at ESPN Digital & Print Media, a position that did not exist until I was hired. My leaders saw an editorial gap and took a chance with me. In two years, an educated risk intended to create awareness is leading and facilitating the sharing and production of content across platforms and networks in English and Spanish.

That type of success doesn’t happen unless recruiters take chances like the daring fiddler on a roof.

This article first ran on Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Tactics.

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