When they ask you about diversity, equity and inclusion during your job interview, what are you going to say? Since one of the biggest trends in recruitment in 2022 is an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, it is no surprise to me when my veteran clients of all races report that they were asked interview questions about their thoughts on diversity. This is particularly common for those interviewing for executive or management roles.
The Hardest Interview Question of 2022
Since numerous studies show that a more diverse workplace is a more productive workplace, you can expect the diversity question to appear in different ways during your interview. An interviewer might ask:
- What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you?
- Tell me about a time you had to work with people from different backgrounds.
- What do you see as a challenge in a diverse workplace?
- How do you promote equity and inclusion on the job?
Even though you can acknowledge that these questions need to be asked, that doesn't make the subject easy to talk about, even among friends. Articulating your ideas in front of strangers who are judging your fit for a job is even harder.
As the transition master coach for Military.com's Veteran Employment Project, I can tell you that you can answer these questions well with some thoughtful preparation.
Keep in mind that the hiring manager is always trying to find out two things about you during an interview: A) Have you done this kind of work with some success? And B) Will you fit in with the team we have? You can demonstrate your fit for the job if you navigate these possible pitfalls of the diversity question.
1. Don't Forget You Are a Diverse Candidate.
As a military member in transition, a veteran or a military spouse, you might be surprised to find the interviewer often sees you as a diverse candidate. According to a 2020 industry report, 34% of companies with a diversity hiring initiative include veterans as diverse hires.
I know you don't want to be thought of as a diverse candidate for any reason. News flash: No one does. In all the coaching sessions I have had with hundreds of military job seekers, I never found one person who was comfortable with that designator. Like everyone else, you want to be hired on your merits -- and you will be.
Understand that the idea of hiring for diversity is a way companies are trying to overcome any biases in the hiring system. You may have already experienced some of them. Veteran hiring programs can help you get over your lack of a local network and get the interview. The rest is up to you.
2. Don't Let the Question Throw You off Your Game.
Diverse candidates can hear questions about diversity and inclusion and wonder whether this is some weird way of being "othered" in the interview; as if by asking the question, the interviewer is pointing out that they do not belong to the dominant group. Or the diverse candidate can feel like they are being asked to speak for an entire group of people.
Non-diverse candidates can feel like they are being told they aren't really welcome. Either way, it can shake your confidence.
Know that if you are being asked the question about diversity, everyone is being asked the question about diversity. If you expect to manage people in America, expect to be asked specific ways how you will manage and include everyone.
3. Don't Avoid the Diversity Question.
Some candidates think when it comes to diversity, discretion is the better part of valor. They offer a vague response like, "I've dealt with that a lot on the job, and I've never had a problem." Or, "I get along with everyone." This is not a neutral response; it is actually an empty response. You can do better. Answer the question with a concise story from your career.
4. Don't Deflect with an Answer About "Thought Diversity."
Let us be clear. When asked about diversity or inclusion, you are answering an interview question about race, gender and LGBTQ. While thought diversity or cognitive diversity -- the idea that different people prefer to think in different ways -- is a relevant topic, it is not the subject of this question.
5. Don't Let the Trust Effect Be Forgotten.
Studies show that the highest-performing teams have something in common: trust. When all members of the group have psychological safety at work, they are more likely to exhibit the types of behavior that lead to breakthroughs.
To use this in an interview, think of a time in your career when you worked with a group that was firing on all cylinders. The work was challenging, but all members were able to think more creatively, try new things, approach problems in a different way and work together. What have you done intentionally to create this kind of trust? What have you done to make sure everyone in the group knew their contribution was valuable? How did you know what diverse members of the team experienced?
6. Don't Forget the Bottom Line.
Even though diversity and inclusion seem like touchy-feely topics, everything always comes down to the bottom line for business. What is a business missing out on when they are not inclusive? What types of benefits have you seen from the diverse teams you work with in the military? Take some time to read the research linking diversity and profitability for business.
7. Don't Think You Can Wing It.
The question of diversity is so uncomfortable for people, the main strategy I see from veterans is that they hope it won't come up. If it does, they have every confidence in themselves that they can wing it. Remember how this is a loaded question in our society? You have to think through your response. You have to practice out loud. You have to prepare.
How Can You Prepare for the Diversity Question?
You can always prepare for the diversity question just by writing out responses to the common interview questions above. And I do mean, write out your responses. You are looking for a paragraph, maybe two, no more. Use the STAR framework you learned about in Transition Assistance Program (TAP) class to talk about the situation, task, action and result.
A better way to prepare is to actually use this opportunity to think through your private thoughts about diversity and inclusion. We all have them. If you live in this country, you have complicated thoughts on diversity. It is one of our central issues.
One framework that may work for you comes from Gen. Charles Q. "CQ" Brown Jr., who is now the Air Force chief of staff and the first Black officer to lead one of the United States' military branches. After the death of George Floyd in 2020, he wrote a piece called "Here's What I'm Thinking About." Most sentences started with the words, "I'm thinking about ..." He wrote about his childhood, his career, the worlds we live in.
You can read his example and then write your own version. You never have to share it with anyone, but it can help you think through your own experiences, what you believed when you were younger, what you experienced in the military, what you are thinking now.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are not topics we think about solely so we are prepared for an interview. This is what we prepare for so that we are ready for all challenges of the workplace to come.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.
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