Impostor syndrome and hiring power

This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question:

What are some ways in which I can avoid rejecting people who suffer from impostor syndrome when they apply for a job?

I’ve recently been promoted to a position where I’m somewhat responsible for hiring people. I would like to increase the diversity of new hires, and so I’m more likely to put applications from women through to the interview stage.

Following that though I don’t want to lose out on quality applicants as they are modest about their achievements and abilities, due to impostor syndrome or otherwise.

Giving an automatic “+10 kickass” to every female applicant as they may suffer from impostor syndrome seems to be a strategy without much merit. Getting everyone to exhibit their full potential is clearly the better solution.

Can you suggest interview strategies that would create the environment in which women (and indeed anyone) will be better able to convince me of their suitability for the role?

I don’t have so many specific interview strategies, but I’ve got plenty of ideas for hiring strategies in general, I hope you can adopt some of them and perhaps our commenters can talk about the interview.

First, a should be obvious: a +10 kickass bonus may be illegal discrimination in your geographic area. If it is, definitely don’t do that.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about soliciting applications. Now, there’s a couple of things that stop some women at this point. First, there’s a tendency to regard themselves as underqualified for perfectly suitable jobs. Next, there’s concern that they needn’t bother, as a woman’s name will cause you to discount their resume. Some suggestions:

  1. get your signalling right. You want to say “women friendly employer” in your advertisements without discriminatory pro-women statements. This at least gets you past the “I’m not a man” part of impostor syndrome. Here’s some things you should be doing:
    • advertising all relevant open positions on a women’s job list such as, say, LinuxChix’s jobposts for open source jobs. This at least shows that you aren’t actively avoiding women applicants.
    • including on your full ads the “equal opportunity” boilerplate you might be able to find on other local job ads
    • including information on the “Careers” section of your website about your carer leave, your retirement contributions, your shared sick leave pool, your friendliness to part-time employees if any of these hold

    Not only are these things attractive to many women (and yes, some men as well) in and of themselves, they also signal in various ways that when you picture your new hire, the picture isn’t young, white, able-bodied, male, etc etc.

  2. if your employer has recently had a similar (especially perhaps slightly more junior) position available, get the resumes of the people who were considered the better applicants from the hiring manager, HR person or recruiter, and re-consider them for the new position (probably there would need to be some kind of process of tracking and perhaps re-application here, but I’ll handwave that problem to you).
  3. consider internal employees in more junior positions as potential applicants. Depending on the size of the company, other managers might be able to recommend people to you who are overqualified for their position (or possibly not, if they are getting good work from them)
  4. consider whether you really need experience that skews very very male. For example, does someone have to have open source development experience? Are there alternative ways that someone could have learned the skills you need?

And now for considering applications prior to interview:

  1. you may not be able to say you’re doing this, but in order to avoid bias on the basis of gender or other demographic characteristics, for as long as possible in the process keep names off resumes. Have names and addresses scraped from resumes by someone before you see them, and do as much ranking as you can prior to finding out the names and details of the applicants.
  2. avoid judgements about cultural fit at this stage.
  3. there are reasons companies rely on the recommendations of existing employees, but for each open position, try and select some applicants for interview who didn’t come in via the company networks in order to avoid duplicating your company’s present demographic by hiring all their friends

In the interview itself here is a strategy for getting people to talk about their successes when they are susceptible to impostor syndrome (note that any candidate might be part of an oppressed group, so don’t limit these to women candidates): ask about something the candidate did that benefited someone else. How did they save their company money or helped a team member learn what they needed to know? Present them with cooperative scenarios where they need to help you or your employer do something as well as or instead of competitive scenarios where they need to prove they are the single right person for the position. If anyone can flesh this out to specific example questions in the comments, that would be useful.

I strongly recommend reading Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever for good solid information both about women’s negotiation and self-promotion strategies and why they use those strategies, namely, that competitive and aggressive interpersonal strategies are simply not effective for most women because of negative responses to perceived aggression in women.