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Everyone has had the experience of interviewing for a job and being turned down. The answer you got was likely something like this one I received once: “While we were very impressed with your qualifications, we were faced with a difficult decision; we finally selected another candidate who we believe more closely fits the position’s requirements at this time.”

What if, instead of giving interviewees a yes or no answer about the job, companies were more candid about missing skills that might have changed the outcome? What if promising candidates were given the opportunity to try the interview again? And what if employers focused on building relationships with talented candidates before they’re ready to hire?

“It was crazy to us at Karat that candidates just get rejected for jobs and companies never track their aptitude or how they’re progressing,” said Mohit Bhende, cofounder and CEO of Karat, a company that is pioneering the Interviewing Cloud to conduct technical interviews for enterprise-scale hiring of software engineers. “I would say that forward-looking clients, they've stopped rejecting candidates. Instead, they say, ‘Hey, you're not ready.’ They use the term ‘not ready,’ rather than a binary yes or no. And when you lead with that, it changes the equation.”

This simple change has led Karat’s client companies to form relationships with job candidates, grooming larger, more diverse and richer talent pools. It has helped them improve their reputation as an employer and create networks of potential future hires. “That is a total mindset shift on what the interview can be, to not think about the interview as a one-stop shop or one point in time, but to think about it as a way to build a relationship with a candidate,” said Bhende, who I interviewed in a recent From Day One webinar titled “The Inclusive Job Interview: How It's Making Tech Recruiting Effective, Efficient, and Equitable.” We discussed how employers can reimagine the interview process to increase efficiency, improve employee retention, and support goals toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

What Happens When You Rethink the Interview Process

Karat has seen first-hand what happens when the interview process is thoughtfully planned, carefully executed, studiously measured, and constantly improved. “The most immediate benefit,” Bhende said, “will be maximizing your current workforce so that you just get more throughput, happiness, morale, and retention.”

The very idea for Karat was born out of this need. Bhende needed to hire hundreds of engineers for his team at Xbox, where Bhende led global product strategy in 2010-13. “I started one day just counting the sheer number of hours that my engineers were spending interviewing, versus coding. None of our engineers were formally trained in how to be good interviewers, and so the net result was countless hours going into a process that was oftentimes inconsistent.”

In creating Karat, Bhende and his cofounder Jeffrey Spector took it upon themselves to solve the efficiency problem, building a network of engineers, working outside of a given organization, who are trained to interview for consistent and equitable results.

Beyond creating immediate efficiency, the effects of a well-conceived interview structure are long-lasting. It brings in talented people who add value to an organization–Bhende favors the notion of “cultural add” over “cultural fit”–and it helps companies prepare for the future in a consistent manner.

A conversation on job interviews: Mo Bhende, CEO of Karat, and journalist Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza (Image by From Day One)

Hiring practices that invest in candidates beyond a single interview address the growing skill gap. Forty-three percent of executives and managers say their organizations currently have a skill gap, according to a survey by McKinsey & Company, and an additional 44% say that a gap will open in the next five years. The same survey indicated that executives and managers who prioritize skill-building among current employees are more likely to consider themselves prepared to address role disruptions caused by the skill gap than are those preparing for the skill gap through other methods, like hiring contract workers.

Interviews in which the evaluator interacts closely with the person being evaluated are better at testing for aptitude and potential than traditional interviews, Bhende said. “Most interviews today are really focused on ‘Can you do the job today?’ But what you should really be thinking about is, ‘If I give you learning and kind of guidance in the interview, can you learn and demonstrate the ability to learn the job I want you to do?’”

How Interviewing Practices Affect Black Engineers’ Access to Tech Jobs

The role of well-designed interview programs in furthering DEI in the workplace, especially in tech environments like the ones Karat supports, shouldn’t be underestimated. “There is a sheer processing and expansion of opportunity that a well-run tech program will do to drive better and more equitable outcomes,” Bhende said.

Karat has studied this effect. In September, the company released “The Interview Access Gap for Black Engineers,” a report created in partnership with Howard University, which examines how exposure to computer science education, tech industry networks, and interview practice opportunities–or lack thereof–affect the ability of Black engineers to land tech jobs. The survey found that access to these three factors significantly increases candidate confidence, reduces feelings of imposter syndrome, and ultimately influences career trajectory.

Bhende said the companies that achieve and maintain diversity goals will do so because they prioritize candidate-centric interviews. “What do all of the diverse candidates that we brought into the company seek and want? They want learning, they want growth, they want fulfillment, they want compensation. It's such a simple metric flip. If you start with the customer and work back, it'll yield a better outcome than starting with the business objective.”

How to Design an Effective and Equitable Interview Program

Though Karat specializes in conducting technical interviews for companies hiring software engineers, the principles can apply to interviews more broadly. Bhende encouraged employers to think of it as skills-based interviewing. “What Karat is really focused on is demonstration of craft, demonstration of skills, demonstration of expertise. And so the nature of the interviews are inherently technical in that they are evaluating your ability to learn the job or do the job.”

        1.) Name the Who and How: The first step is considering who will conduct the interviews, and how. Bhende was clear that it shouldn’t necessarily be the first person to volunteer. “Just because you raise your hand or you’re a good engineer doesn't necessarily make you a good interviewing engineer,” he said. “I think our data has been very clear that those are actually fundamentally different skills.”

All Karat interview engineers go through training that includes how to use technology to mitigate bias. Bhende said that in their process, the interviewer “never scores the candidate, all the interviewer does is say, ‘Here's what happened in the interview.’ Our tech scores the candidate.” Karat interviewers are also equipped with “battle-tested” questions–the company tests their questions across broad cohorts for bias–and the methodology for asking them. The Karat program even cues the interviewer about the appropriate times to give hints, in order to reduce the effect of subjectivity on the part of the interviewer.

     2.) Align It With Your Identity as an Employer: Identify the goals of the interview and the impression it will leave on the prospective employee. “How is that interview program going to reflect the brand experience and the employee experience that comes downstream? The employee experience starts at the point of hire.” For example, many professionals now work from anywhere, anytime–and yet the interview process to get one of those jobs often follows the old 9-to-5 model. Bhende believes the two should be more closely aligned. “How you get hired and how you work, ideally, are reflective of each other. And so the hiring process itself should be inclusive, it should be flexible, it should be candidate-responsive.”

That means offering interviews at times convenient to candidates–when they perform at their best, on days that work best for them. “I think the future of work is quickly evolving and interviewing is evolving from candidates fitting into a company model to one that is much more flexible and ultimately accommodating.”

Flexibility also includes rethinking how companies relate to candidates. Don’t underestimate the power of a do-over, Bhende said. “It’s ridiculous that people are coming to interviews, not doing well, and they will forever never get the job,” he said. Candidates often perform better on their second tries, he said, with “convincingly high” improvement ratios. “I would just encourage the industry as a whole to adopt [this], because I think it's just a higher-empathy way to lead.”

      3.) Plan for Internal Communications: The program should clearly identify how communication between the interviewer and hiring team will work. “How are the handoffs going to work between the recruiter to the engineer, back to the recruiter? Having a guideline of what that's going to look like is really critical,” Bhende said.

      4.) Keep Improving the Process: “I would encourage any company that is thinking about designing a program to really think hard about where you are going to get signals to improve that interview over time. It's really critical,” he said. “Even our own interviews, they’re constantly adapting and constantly changing for companies as we get more data on what's predictive, what really matters. The interview can evolve and change.”

Bhende said Karat asks interviewees to score as much of the interview process as possible. “They score the company, they score the question, they score everything.” All of this is in the service of treating the candidate like a customer, a practice Bhende repeatedly recommended during our conversation. As corporate America moves toward providing a consumer-grade employee experience, feedback is indispensable.

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner who sponsored this webinar, Karat.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in Richmond, Va.