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Great Interview Questions for DEI Roles

Updated: Apr 4, 2022

When we talk about hiring for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) roles, we often talk about what type of roles, and how they function together. However, we can't forget that the other component of hiring right for the job is asking the right questions. This is traditionally how employers and hiring managers determine if the candidate can effectively do the job they are applying for. DEI roles are a multi-disciplinary blend of skills and its highly focused on people, process, and policy. Many of these roles have to be comfortable with communication, education, and storytelling to get people on board with a vision.

Aside from the basic questions you can ask to understand if the candidate has a basic understanding of DEI definitions, there are some questions that can help dig a bit deeper in determining if the candidate is right for the challenging work that is DEI.

Question: Please tell us about a time you have inadvertently offended someone at work. What did you do to rectify the situation? What did the incident teach you about yourself?

Rationale: In DEI, it's important we understand what it's like to have stepped on the toes of another while navigating this work and how we lead by example in rectifying the situation. This question helps hiring managers learn about how the candidate manages mistakes, learning from them and earning trust.

Question: Can you please define for us: (1) diversity, (2) equity, (3) inclusion & (4) belonging, and how each relates to each other?

Rationale: This sets the stage to understand if the candidate is knowledgeable of these definitions (which some have been unfortunately reduced to buzzwords in some spaces), see if they are confident in owning that as a subject matter expert and understand how they intersect in their function's role.

Question: Explain what actionable allyship could look like for a manager in terms of gender equity. What are some things the manager could possibly do?

Question: What programs and initiatives have you been a part of that you believe impacted inclusion at an organization? What was your role in these initiatives?

Rationale: This question is to understand the history of the candidate on their project experience in DEI and how they actively played a part in its success.

Question: Change management experience is an important part of any cultural transformation, in your past experience, what tactics have you used to help departments and organizations navigate change?

Rationale: DEI requires change management planning, collaboration and execution and in order to effectively make DEI changes in people, process and policy, you need experience helping the organization shift without causing chaos.

Question: What key data points would you say is important for measuring the progress of an organization's diversity, equity and inclusion climate?

Rationale: Does the candidate have experience measuring the progress of DEI in various areas of the employee lifecycle? Do they know what data points are typical?

Question: How do you keep updated with current theories, practices, and knowledge on anti-racism and DEI competencies?

Rationale: In DEI, there's always something new going on. Language flips on a dime, laws are coming out that impact the functions, and new theories, practices, and thought leaders are coming out with information constantly. Continuing education is a key competency within DEI as we can never stop learning. This question helps hiring managers understand how the candidate keeps abreast of new trends, data and DEI practices so they are not running on outdated information that can damage the mission.

Question: Tell us about a time you've had misaligned key stakeholders on a DEI project. What did you do to get them on the same page? Did you succeed? Why or why not?

Rationale: With any big program or project, there will be stakeholders and decision-makers who are not on board. Does the candidate know tactics to get them on their side or alleviate the stakeholder's concerns? Whether or not they succeed is really not the point here. It's if they've learned what worked to apply for next time (because there will always be a next time.)

Question: Share with us a time that you have uncovered an issue within the company that you believe negatively impacts its inclusion mission. What steps did you take to bring focus to the issue?

Rationale: Are they just waiting for someone to put an issue in front of them to work on, or are they proactive and skilled in prioritizing and raising issues others may not see?

Question: Tell us about a time you partnered with Human Resources to collaborate on a project. What did you learn through the relationship that you feel would be beneficial for both DEI and HR functions in executing DEI initiatives?

Rationale: There is a lot of collaboration between DEI, Legal, and HR functions and it's imperative for all of them to play nice together. This question digs into how the candidate has been exposed to both the mutual and conflicting goals between DEI and HR and if the candidate knows how to work with them.

DEI roles are a multi-disciplinary blend of skills and its highly focused on people, process, and policy. Many of these roles have to be comfortable with communication, education, and storytelling to get people on board with a vision.

Question: Can you give me an example of a time you had to pitch a proposal to a group of your superiors or co-workers? How did you do? Why do you think things went that way?

Rationale: Does the candidate know how to tell an engaging story and pitch to get leaders on board? This takes the skill of cross-functional collaboration, understanding departmental needs (what's in it for me), and how to communicate to appropriate audiences.

Question: What challenges do you think you might expect in this job if you were hired?

Rationale: This is just a very real question that helps hiring managers either bust myths and misconceptions about the role or confirm some of the challenges the candidate foresees with what they know about the job. This dialog is important because everyone needs to know what they are really signing up for here.

Question: Tell me about a time when you were communicating with someone and they did not understand what you were saying. What did you do?

Rationale: Does the candidate have the communication skills to shift styles and include those who are having a difficult time understanding the message?

Question: How would you go about explaining a complex idea/problem to a key stakeholder and/or employee who was already frustrated?

Rationale:This is similar to the previous question, but more focused on the "frustration" part in this one. DEI concepts are complex and they challenge not only the workplace status quo but personal beliefs, as well. This can create frustration for those trying to grasp these concepts to come along for the change. How well does the candidate deal with 'high emotion' topics and communicating to not only align, but de-escalate if possible.

Question: How have you created alliances and shared the DEI vision across multiple teams/departments?

Rationale: Does the candidate have experience in creating alliances, and champions to help get DEI initiatives done? This is definitely a people-first job.

Question: Tell me about a team experience that you found rewarding.

Rationale: This is an opportunity to hear about the time the candidate worked in a team setting that was positive and discover what made it so rewarding. Ideally, this would be aimed at a project or initiative in DEI, but I imagine would depend on the role you're hiring.

Question: What tools centered around DEI are you familiar with or have experience with?

Rationale: This really is a nerdy question I like to ask to see if the candidate is aware that tools are developing for DEI functions in organizations and if they have experience or knowledge in any of them. Components like capturing data, data visualization, feedback capture, and even ERG management can be managed with platforms so the nuanced people-first work is prioritized for the DEI roles. Just like there are applications to help project managers manage projects more efficiently, there are DEI applications that help many diversity, equity and inclusion roles manage data and programs. This also goes back to "how are you staying updated on the DEI space?"


Remember: be sure to ask the same questions to all the candidates for the role so there is consistency in comparing the candidates and their fit in the role!

Download your own copy of the above questions below

Interview Questions for DEI Roles
Download PDF • 66KB


What other interview questions have you heard or asked in the various DEI roles? Please share in the comments below.

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