${ company.text }

Be the first to rate this company   Not rated   ${ company.score } stars     ${ company.industry}     ${ company.headquarters}

Career Resources

${ getArticleTitle(article) }


${ tag.display_name }


${ getCommunityPostText(community_post) }


${ contributor.full_name }

${ contributor.short_bio }

Jobs For Employers

Join InHerSight's growing community of professional women and get matched to great jobs and more!

Sign up now

Already have an account? Log in ›

  1. Blog
  2. Employer Resources
  3. April 3, 2024

How to Fairly Evaluate Nontraditional Candidates During & After an Interview

Plus, self-reflection questions to better assess your interview tactics

abstract painting
Photo courtesy of Steve Johnson

Over the past few years, you’ve probably been exposed to the controversy over the term “culture fit.” Experts argue it’s an outdated interviewing practice that allows discrimination and exclusion to permeate the hiring process. 

Essentially, when you hire people from similar educational backgrounds, career paths, or socioeconomic statuses who “fit in” with the existing majority of your workplace, you end up hiring carbon copies of yourself and your current staff. Hiring people who think, talk, and problem-solve alike is inherently exclusionary. So is only hiring candidates who graduated from prestigious universities or candidates who’ve had linear career paths in one industry. It stifles diversity and leads to groupthink.

“When we hire people who tell us what we want to hear and bring perspectives that are similar to what we already have, are we really pushing ourselves?” says Hana Elliott, a tech industry leader who helps launch careers for entry-level folks from diverse backgrounds.

Baseline: When you hire for culture fit, you overlook nontraditional candidates who would instead be a culture add. Nontraditional candidates might not have an unconventional educational background, employment history, or skill set. Maybe they come from a military background or they’re returning after a long career hiatus or they’re switching career paths entirely. Regardless of how far their background deviates from your existing teams’, they deserve fair consideration, and there are plenty of ways to fairly evaluate nontraditional candidate’s transferable skills and work ethic. 

Read more: How to Shift from Culture Fit Interview Questions to ‘Culture Add’ or ‘Mindset Fit’

How to reach and recruit nontraditional candidates

In order to reach nontraditional candidates, you have to reevaluate your recruiting strategy. You can proactively source and scout candidates through networking events, community organizations, word of mouth, or other online platforms like and Slofile, a database of public Slack groups, is especially helpful for searching for Slack communities dedicated to a specific role or skill. 

Clearly communicate job requirements, expectations, and evaluation criteria to ensure transparency throughout the entire hiring process. “Avoid unnecessary requirements that may exclude candidates from nontraditional backgrounds,” says Jenn Smith, a career and human resources consultant with 15+ years of experience. “For example, use preferred qualifications instead of a specific degree requirement (i.e., ‘a bachelor's degree in computer science or related field or equivalent experience’).” More on writing an inclusive job description here

Be explicit in welcoming people to apply. Add an Equal Employment Opportunity Statement or your own inclusivity message to encourage people to apply, even if they don’t meet 100 percent of the requirements. You could say something like:

“We're not just looking for candidates who tick every box on a checklist. We're seeking individuals with passion, drive, and a willingness to learn and grow. Your unique perspective and experiences could be exactly what we need to propel our team forward.” 

You can also invite applicants to explain their nontraditional background, employment gaps, or career changes in a cover letter. In an effort to remove more bias from the screening process, try employing anonymous hiring, where demographic and identifying information including gender, ethnicity, race, education level, graduation dates, and headshots are removed from job applications for the sake of objectivity.

Where to target marginalized groups with nontraditional backgrounds

When hiring, it’s important to intentionally encourage marginalized employees to apply to your jobs. Applicants from marginalized groups are often overlooked in the hiring process due to a combination of systemic barriers and unconscious bias. These communities already face racist and sexist systemic barriers that limit access to education, employment opportunities, and professional networks, so requiring specific degrees or certifications, for example, may unintentionally favor privileged candidates.

Multiple studies over the past decade have proved that diverse teams perform better—both in terms of creativity and revenue. So, in order to reach a wider net of diverse candidates, consider posting your open opportunities on job boards that focus on targeting underrepresented or marginalized talent. 

“If you only post your roles on the traditional sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, etc, you could be missing out on groups of people that can add a ton of value to your organization,” says Whitney Kahn, a client director at talent acquisition firm Kelaca. “It’s important to go where diverse candidates are to ensure you are increasing the possible candidate pool. Utilizing places such as HBCUs and their alumni groups, minority networking groups, and other places where minority candidates look for information is a great way to be an advocate and ally for those types of candidates.”

Read more: Beyond Surveying: 5 Steps for a Deep Culture Audit in 2024

4 tips for a more fair, unbiased interview process

A fair interview process is imperative for nontraditional candidates. For example, a woman who took a career break to care for her sick parents can elaborate in an interview that although she hasn’t been working in a corporate environment for two years, she’s developed sought-after transferable skills like leadership, advocacy, adaptability, and perseverance.

Tweaking the interview process to allow for this kind of storytelling involves implementing open-minded strategies that minimize bias and focus the spotlight on candidates’ relevant skills and experiences. Here are a few different ways to achieve this.

1. Align on a list of standardized questions

Smith recommends everyone involved in the hiring process collectively develop a consistent interview process that includes predefined questions and evaluation criteria based on required skills and competencies. Sticking to standardized questions helps enforce fairness, rather than allowing hiring managers to come up with questions on the spot and rely on subjective conclusions. 

When formulating questions, Smith advises teams to evaluate candidates’ ability to grasp new concepts quickly, adjust to change, and acquire new skills. “Ask interview questions about their experiences learning new technologies or methodologies, tackling unfamiliar challenges, or adapting to different work environments. This will showcase their ability to adapt and quickly become key contributors,” she says.

Objective questions to ask could include:

  • Describe a time when you had to think on your feet.

  • Can you describe a time when you had to learn a new technology or tool to complete a project? How did you approach the learning process, and what was the outcome?

  • Tell me about a time when you faced unexpected changes or obstacles in a project. How did you react, and what strategies did you use to solve the challenge?

  • Tell me about a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours. How did you ensure effective communication and teamwork?

2. Prioritize assessing their relevant skills over their number of years in the industry

“Review a candidate's achievements and projects instead of job titles or specific industry experiences,” Smith advises. “Ask them to provide examples of times when they took initiative, solved complex problems, or led successful projects, regardless of whether they were directly related to the industry you're interviewing for.”

Ask behavioral and situational interview questions that provide insight into competencies and potential for success. Here are a few examples of desirable soft skills and potential interview questions that suss out that skill. When asking these questions, using neutral language (i.e. “someone” instead of “stakeholder”) allows more leeway in the experiences candidates feel able to draw a response from. 

  • Leadership: “Can you discuss a time when you led a project from inception to completion?” 

  • Communication skills: “Describe a situation where you had to persuade someone to adopt a new idea or solution.”

  • Problem-solving: “Share an experience where you encountered failure or setbacks. How did you handle the situation, and what did you learn from the experience?”

  • Time management: “How do you prioritize tasks and manage your time effectively, especially when faced with multiple deadlines or competing priorities?”

“Nontraditional candidates often bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas,” Smith says. “Look for examples of thinking outside the box, experimentation, and willingness to take calculated risks. Doing things differently often requires overcoming many obstacles and challenges.”

3. Use a hiring panel

Panel interviews allow for input from multiple interviewers, each bringing their own perspective and expertise to the evaluation process. This ensures a more well-rounded assessment of the candidate's qualifications, skills, and fit for the role. With multiple interviewers participating in the process, there's a decreased likelihood of individual biases influencing the evaluation. 

Smith says, “Ensure diverse representation on a hiring panel, which can help bring different perspectives and mitigate individual biases and conduct unconscious bias training for hiring managers.”

4. Ensure interviews are accessible for everyone

Smith says to consider a variety of interview formats to accommodate different communication styles and preferences “Traditional face-to-face interviews, video interviews, phone interviews, or asynchronous interview platforms are all options,” she says. “I recently saw a post where the virtual interviewer added the interview questions to the chat so the candidate could read them in addition to hearing them. I thought that was a great idea!” 

Another option? You can send candidates the interview questions you plan to ask beforehand. This not only levels the power dynamic and alleviates a lot of the anxiety that comes with an interview, but it can also lead to more thoughtful answers since they know what you’re looking for. 

Read more: 55 Best Interview Questions to Ask Candidates in 2024

How to fairly evaluate nontraditional candidates post-interview

After the interview rounds, conduct debriefing sessions with everyone who spoke to the candidate to discuss their performance and ensure alignment on evaluation criteria. You can use rating scales or rubrics to score candidates objectively and facilitate comparison.

Once you start the evaluation process, the key is to look at the candidate holistically. They are the sum of their skills, experiences, work ethic, and mindset—they’re not simply defined by where or if they went to school or how long they’ve been in one industry.

Firstly, ask yourself the more logistical performance- and competency-based questions like:

  • Did they communicate clearly and effectively in the interview?

  • Did they demonstrate active listening skills?

  • Did they exhibit enthusiasm and passion for the role?

  • How did they handle challenging questions or situations? Did they exhibit problem-solving and critical thinking skills?

  • Did they leave a positive impression overall?

Next, think about the candidate’s transferable skills. Candidates with nontraditional backgrounds or nonlinear career paths are often continuous learners who are able to adapt quickly, embrace discomfort, and step outside their comfort zone. 

“Focus on their values, learning agility, transferable skills, and relevant experiences,” says Smith. “Transferable skills can be applied across different roles and industries, including communication skills, creative problem-solving, leadership qualities, and teamwork. These skills are valuable in various positions regardless of industry or specific job experience. I used to say that I could teach someone the tech, systems, or product knowledge, but it's a lot harder to teach someone to think outside the box creatively.”

Finally, consider if the candidate has alternative forms of experience that aligns with your mission, values, or requirements. Examples of this type of experience could include:

  • Volunteer work

  • Self-directed learning or research

  • Internships or apprenticeships

  • Freelance projects

  • Creative projects or hobbies

  • Military service or peace corps

  • Travel or cultural immersion

  • Nonprofit or social impact service

  • Parenting, nannying, or caretaking

“Not only does this type of experience make someone interesting, but these experiences also provide valuable opportunities to highlight skill development, practical application, and personal growth,” says Smith. “It also demonstrates initiative, proactivity, and a willingness to take ownership of professional development—which again, is not easy to teach and is highly valuable in the working world. These also demonstrate passion and commitment and provide tangible evidence of a candidate's potential to succeed in a role, even if their background isn't a perfect fit.”

As you navigate the hiring process, strive for continuous improvement. Going forward, honestly ask yourself these questions:

  • Are our job descriptions inclusive and free from biased language?

  • Do we offer flexibility in our application process?

  • Are we assessing candidates based on relevant skills and experiences? 

  • Are we open to alternative career paths and trajectories?

  • Do we offer training and development opportunities to bridge any experience gaps?

  • How do our differences in background and perspective as a team help us grow?

  • Are we living out our defined company values?

  • What are we doing to encourage curiosity about others? Do we celebrate individuality?

Read more: ‘Culture Fit:’ The Diversity Issues with This Hiring Practice & How to Build Culture More Inclusively

About our expert${ getPlural(experts) }

About our author${ getPlural(authors) }

Share this article

Don't Miss Out

Create a free account to get unlimited access to our articles and to join millions of women growing with the InHerSight community

Looks like you already have an account!
Click here to login ›

Invalid email. Please try again!

Sign up with a social account or...

If you already have an account, click here to log in. By signing up, you agree to InHerSight's Terms and Privacy Policy


You now have access to all of our awesome content

Looking for a New Job?

InHerSight matches job seekers and companies based on millions of workplace ratings from women. Find a job at a place that supports the kinds of things you're looking for.