Our Journey to Build an Equitable Hiring Process

Our five most impactful considerations for a hiring process that’s fair, transparent, and makes candidates feel seen
two people shaking hands

Applying for any job is stressful—building an up-to-date resume, preparing a cover letter, filling out pages of information that go…where, exactly? When applying for a job at a tech company, the process can feel opaque, like you’re just a name on a page that’s filed in a black box. Maybe you hear back about an interview, or a technical task, but often, you don’t. There isn’t much communication, the expectations are unclear, and the whole thing can feel a bit dehumanizing.

Much of our work at Code for America strives to create change—and when we say empathy is at the core of our work, we don’t just mean with our clients and partners. We also want people who interact with Code for America in the hiring process to feel they are being treated with dignity and respect. 

We’re constantly evaluating and changing our processes to gain better alignment with that goal. For almost three years, we’ve been evaluating our hiring process, researching best practices in the field, and making adjustments to ensure that we’re holding ourselves to a high standard and acting in line with our stated intentions to be fair and transparent. We’ve learned a lot in this process, and for the sake of our own growth (and hopefully others,’ too!), we want to share the five most impactful considerations we’ve made on our journey to develop an equitable hiring process that makes candidates feel seen and allows them to show up as their full selves.

Much of our work at Code for America strives to create change—and when we say empathy is at the core of our work, we don’t just mean with our clients and partners.

Being transparent about compensation from the get-go

On a fundamental level, we know that people work to pay for their cost of living. That’s why we believe it’s critical that staff and prospective staff are aware of the compensation range and target for any given role. We share these targets in job descriptions and during our initial calls with candidates so that we’re all on the same page from the beginning. Standardizing salaries prevents unintentional inequities that privilege people with negotiation skills and those with identities that aren’t marginalized in the workplace. Race, gender, and class discrimination present in initial salary negotiations have been shown to disadvantage women and gender non-conforming people, BIPOC candidates, and people without college degrees. We’ve been operating under a more transparent model for years and it’s been well-received by candidates—we have a close success rate over 95% (offers accepted versus offers extended). 

Maintaining consistency

We follow a recruiting practice called ‘structured interviews.’ This means we have a set number of stages that all candidates for a specific role go through to ensure that we assess them all on the same skills and by the same metrics. We try to mitigate bias even more by coupling those stages with questions and rubrics that remain standard for each candidate, giving us a solid shared measurement criteria, rather than an interviewer’s gut feelings. For panel interviews, we ask each staff member to fill out their evaluation within 24 hours of an interview, again to ensure an accurate and unbiased assessment.

Running interviews this way does mean that our roles take a bit longer to fill than those at most other tech companies or nonprofits—and for candidates, the interview process might feel longer than they’re used to. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) hiring often works in tension with speed. Traditional recruitment practices prioritize rapid hiring, but that kind of pressure can allow bias to have more influence in hiring decisions. We’re comfortable with the trade-off of a slower process at the moment. But we’re also working to find the middle ground between the need for speed and the desire to intentionally slow down in order to thoughtfully and equitably evaluate candidates. 

Checking our biases

This consideration is woven so thoroughly into every aspect of our hiring process, but we want to call out a few specific practices that hold us accountable to our goal of acting inclusively. Some of these things are small, basic steps. For example, we run our job descriptions through a gender bias reader to ensure that we use appropriate and appealing language for all candidates. We also run Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports to evaluate each role at each hiring stage on a weekly basis and flag any concerns around representation. Importantly, we note and address if any stage in the hiring process seems to be biased against a particular identity group. Other things we do to mitigate bias require larger undertakings and org-wide buy in. For example, we do our best to ensure that staff from across the organization are built into our interview process through panel or one-on-one interviews with candidates. This way, each candidate gets evaluated by multiple people and gets to hear a diverse range of perspectives on the role.

Making it iterable

The DEI space will always be a work in progress. While we’ve made some great steps towards equity, we also know we have much room to grow. We want our people and our processes to be ready for change when the time comes, so having flexibility in our thinking and ways of doing things is key. We’ve already seen how important this is when we rolled out new compensation philosophies, changed how we structured our interview plans, and shifted to a remote-first workforce. As our organization expands, we also have to consider how to make our equitable practices scalable in tandem with organizational growth. 

At a baseline, we know that iteration should be strongly rooted in data. The considerations we’ve noted here were all informed by internal and/or external data around equitable hiring practices. We aim to study all these aspects long enough to understand their impact and make appropriate changes to bring us closer in line with our goals. 

Centering the candidate experience 

We know that searching for jobs can be a daunting process—and that’s why we believe it’s imperative for our interview process to be as human-centered as possible. While we recognize the inequitable power dynamics present in any hiring experience, we strive to treat all candidates with respect. In practice, this means things like clear job descriptions, prompt communication, and personalized emails sharing updates with candidates at every stage. We’re constantly improving and iterating our hiring practices and our candidate feedback surveys are an important part of how we keep track of our progress. We also welcome and receive direct feedback from candidates about their experience engaging with our interview process.

Equitable hiring can be done, even in spaces where it seems challenging or nontraditional—spaces like the tech world.

Where we’re taking this work next

Because we’re always iterating, we know we still have room to grow in making improvements to shorten time-to-hire, getting everyone in the organization trained on our hiring-specific DEI protocols, working to create internal and external partnerships to expand the impact of our work, and sourcing feedback from hiring managers to understand where the pain points in our process are.

And one of the biggest things we’ve learned in all this? That equitable hiring can be done, even in spaces where it seems challenging or nontraditional—spaces like the tech world. But we have to stay true to our core values, including acting with intention—and in hiring, that means we want our process to be as thoughtful as possible. We want our values to show up in our interactions with all people—our clients, government partners, volunteers, employees, and potential employees. We’re excited to share more about our process in the future, and we hope that by transparently explaining how we’ve built the organization we have, Code for America remains a welcoming place for all people who want to see themselves represented here.

Are you a recruiter or hiring manager in civic tech or government looking to exchange ideas about equitable hiring practices? Get in touch! Are you interested in working at Code for America? Check out our Jobs page.

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