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Ask a Recruiter: How Can I Find Out If I'll ‘Belong’ During an Interview?

What to ask to know if you'll be accepted for who you are

Two very different looking doors
Photo courtesy of Margot Polinder

This article is part of InHerSight's Ask a Recruiter series. We ask recruiters from companies big and small to answer questions about job hunting, company culture, and more.

What’s your elevator pitch?

We are Dana Hundley and Jenna Richardson, the cofounders of Career Cooperative, an Oakland, California–based boutique consulting firm that empowers clients to face career transitions, professional growth, and recruiting with confidence through 1:1 career coaching, resume and toolkit writing, and community programming. We consult with companies to attract diverse talent through impactful recruiting and interview strategies, build internal talent programs, and support employees through career development. We started working together at a recruiting agency, and through our combined 15-plus years in full-cycle recruiting and career development, we’ve worked with hundreds of candidates and companies and learned a lot in the process. When you have a focus, understand your value, master the magic of your story, and build a supportive and diverse community, the realm of possibilities is endless.

Whether employees feel they can bring their ‘whole selves’ to work is something InHerSight measures through our Sense of Belonging metric. Why do you think “belonging” has become so important for job seekers and employers to prioritize?

We’ve long-known that people stay at jobs because of connection—to the people, to the work, to the values of an organization. That sense of connection and belonging is a direct indicator of an organization’s overall health. With 2020 ushering in a new way of working remotely, and surfacing more frequent conversations about human rights, equity, and politics in the workplace, this idea of belonging is more important than ever. We spend so much of our time working, and with opportunities for socializing at an all-time low this year, the connections that we have with our employers and coworkers are even more meaningful. 

When employees feel belonging, they feel supported, seen, and more comfortable to engage and be productive in their work. When companies commit to and invest time and resources to create support systems, practices, programs, etc. to foster continued belonging they are more successful and impactful in attracting and retaining diverse talent. 

What are some good indicators of belonging in a workplace? Which ones are most visible during an interview? Which ones are not?

Shared values, investment in employees, and an appreciation for unique experiences and perspectives are all good indicators of belonging in a workplace. This will show up differently at different organizations, and what you look for will be dependent on your needs. Shared vision and values are good things to focus on in an interview process. You can ask multiple interviewers the same questions to yield a good sample of how aligned people are. You should also ask how things that are important to you show up not only at a strategic level, but in the day-to-day. For example, if a company put out a press release re: Black Lives Matter, what has happened since then to implement these values into your ways of working? Within the company? Within the division where you work?

Belonging happens when an organization recognizes that every employee is an individual with unique experience and perspective, and then develops practices, programs, etc. that create a path for genuine collaboration that supports and celebrates the individual within the whole of shared values. 

Communication during the whole recruiting and interview process can be a good indicator of belonging in a workplace. How do the interviewers communicate with each other, what tools or pathways for communication have been used or discussed. Consider, how and what has been communicated to you during the process. Did the recruiting/organization provide you information about the organization's culture and/or employee policies or programs? What they share with you is a combination of showing you what they care about and what they think you will care about. Making an effort on the upfront to share information, (or access to internal employees through connection portals or less formal conversations to learn more about the organization) can be a good indicator of how they value belonging and that they want you to know that. Also, are they asking you for your preferred name, pronouns, and accessibility needs to create a more inclusive, accessible experience for you during the interview? 

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: What’s the Deal with Ghosting in the Workforce?

Who is on the hiring committee/interview panel can be a limited view of the total organization, and candidates may find themselves interviewing with people who don’t look, identify, or have the same experiences, which contributes to how an individual feels “belonging.” As a candidate, if you find yourself in this situation, you can ask to speak to additional people to get further perspective of employees experience with belonging at the organization based on the way they identify and their experience. 

What questions can interviewees ask to gauge belonging in the workplace?

It’s important for candidates to first understand what they need to feel belonging, which will then inform direct questions. Some of the questions I like to ask: 

  • What is rewarded and how is a job well done recognized? 

  • How important is happiness/mental health in the workplace? 

  • What role does rest play in your culture? 

  • Why do people stay at X company? 

  • What attributes make someone successful in this environment?

You can also directly ask what belonging looks like and feels for the interviewer. This is a good one to ask everyone you interview with.  

What about research beyond the interview—how can job seekers learn more information about a company’s inclusiveness and acceptance of who they are?

Look at what the company has explicitly said about their culture, inclusivity, and supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility practices in public forums. This can look like  statements or information on their website, blogs they’ve crafted, media coverage, and even employees participating in public speaking events or conferences. Paying attention to an organization’s social media can be an interesting gauge of a company’s values. Especially around what they post to the various channels, their tone and language, and how they engage with other content and followers. 

You can also look at who the organization aligns themself with—are their partners, vendors, etc. aligned with their (and your) values? Talk to current employees and ask direct questions about their experience at the organization, how they feel supported and belonging, and what keeps them there. 

Read more: How Do You Know If a Company Truly Embraces Diversity?

On the flip side, how can companies and hiring managers better communicate feelings of belonging to talent? 

Companies can make public statements, create blogs/articles, and engage with the media to share their feelings on belonging and, to the extent it makes sense, their practices that support those feelings that are accessible to candidates who are deciding whether they want to apply or are researching the organization before an interview. 

During an interview, diversify the interview panel/participants so the candidate can learn from the different perspectives what it is like to actually work at the organization. It is also important to be open to making other employees available for additional conversations, should the candidate be interested in additional perspectives that align with their individual experience (of course, within reason). 

Interviewers should explicitly, and authentically, speak to internal commitments, programs, and practices within the organization to create belonging even if not prompted with questions from the candidate. The work and commitment required to create belonging with an organization is always ongoing. Regardless of the type of communication, organizations should speak to this and be transparent about areas of improvement and their future goals.

Read more: How to Write Core Values for the First Time

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