Talent Management

4 Tips for Recruiting Diverse Candidates From a Small-Business Owner

Published by in Talent Management

Striving to achieve better workplace diversity? Take a few hints from a small business finding success with its diversity recruiting strategy.

Small business owner providing tips on hiring diverse teams

Entrepreneur Sofya Polyakov’s background makes her a passionate advocate for diversity in the workplace. As a woman in the tech industry in 2010, she was well aware of what it felt like to be in the minority. At the time, only 6% of the chief executives of the top 100 tech companies were women.

“It was very important for me to make sure that I had other women on my team who were supported, who felt respected, and who knew that their opinion was crucial to the success of a company.”


Sofya Polyakov

CEO and co-founder of Noun Project

She and her partner, Edward Boatman, prioritized diversity recruiting efforts from the early days of Noun Project, the platform they co-founded where users can download icons and photos from a network of designers. Noun Project’s 24-person team is 43% women (50% at the leadership level), 33% BIPOC, and represents working parents, immigrants, veterans, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and individuals with disabilities.

Polyakov’s priorities are becoming more important for businesses across the country, too. In fact, in a recent Capterra survey, 46% of HR leaders reported feeling more pressure than usual from their workforce to become more diverse and inclusive.

But small-business leaders with limited resources may not know where to start improving their hiring practices.

Below, we pair Polyakov’s four actionable tips from Noun Project with how you can apply them to your own small business.

1. Write inclusive job descriptions that attract diverse candidates

The words you use in a job description are the first impression a job seeker gets of your company. Using gendered terms, including degree or tenure requirements, or slipping in ableist phrases can cause qualified candidates to write off the position (and your business) altogether.

Polyakov and her team found that the degrees people held were completely irrelevant to how they perform on the job, so they don’t even consider them during the screening process. Instead, they consider how much experience a candidate has.

Here are some guidelines for writing inclusive job descriptions:

  • List skill needs instead of degree requirements
  • Use age- and gender-neutral words
  • Avoid culturally exclusive language (such as a clean-shaven requirement)
  • Don’t use ableist phrases (such as “must be able to stand for long periods of time”)
  • State your commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive work environment
Tech tip: Tools like Textio and Gender Decoder scan your job descriptions and suggest alternative language that helps you appeal to inclusion-minded candidates. Many tools in our recruiting software directory offer similarly helpful features designed with minimizing biases in mind.

2. Expand your candidate pool to increase your chances of diverse applicants

Using the same websites over and over to find potential candidates will lead to hiring the same types of people. Think of your candidate pool as the top of your recruiting funnel; in order to increase your odds of a diverse hire, focus on widening that funnel.

Polyakov says that one of the things that worked well for Noun Project has been moving away from posting open positions on the usual, popular sites. Instead, they use Workable, a tool that helps them share their openings on over 200 websites.

Tech tip: Our applicant tracking system (ATS) directory includes many tools like Workable that can help you expand the reach of your job listings. In fact, investing in an ATS can also help streamline your recruitment process and lower your cost-per-hire. Pricing for an ATS typically falls between $19 to $49 per user, per month.

3. Create a diverse hiring team who bring distinct viewpoints to the decision-making process

Polyakov believes that including a mix of individuals on your hiring team is beneficial for two reasons. It builds buy-in from your current team, and it allows you to get multiple points of view (hopefully provided by a diverse recruiting team), so you’re less likely to miss something due to personal bias.

“In many places, and in tech especially, the hiring team is mostly going to be white males. We know that comes with certain biases—people are more likely to connect with people who are like them. So, for us, it’s extremely important that we have a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives represented on the hiring team.”

We recommend assembling a hiring team made up of a diverse group of individuals in terms of age, gender, background, seniority, and position within your company. A varied hiring team is less likely to make decisions based on bias than a single person or a group of like-minded individuals. If you don’t have the representation at your organization that makes this an easy task, Polyakov recommends bringing in someone from outside of your company to help make hiring decisions.

At the very least, you should aim to have every shortlisted application reviewed by at least two people, and every candidate should be interviewed at least two times by different team members.

Tech tip: Recruiting software helps you stay organized throughout the interview process, leaving you free to focus on finding the perfect fit. The tools are built to assist with tasks like scheduling interviews, managing candidate profiles, and collecting feedback from your hiring team.

4. Standardize your interview process so unconscious bias doesn’t interfere with hiring decisions

If you ask different candidates different questions, there will be no common ground to compare one interview to another. To make it easier on yourself and your hiring team, you should standardize your interview process.

Here are our tips for achieving consistency in your interview process:

  • Prepare a standard set of questions to ask during each interview
  • Ask the questions in the same order every time
  • Create a scale to score candidates’ responses
  • When reviewing, compare each candidate’s responses for the first question before moving on to the next (and so on)

These tips will help take the ambiguity out of your decision-making process. Ideally, your hiring team will use the scores to clearly determine which candidates should move forward.

Polyakov’s team takes it a step further by submitting their hiring recommendations individually. Each member of her hiring team emails the hiring manager their recommendation of hire/not hire, along with examples from the interview to support their decision. To avoid influencing others’ opinions, no one on the hiring team is allowed to discuss any candidate until all have been interviewed and all recommendations sent.

Tech tip: Incorporating a skills-based test into your interview process can give you another metric to base decisions on. Pre-employment testing software can help you with this goal by testing everything from job knowledge to personality and situational judgment.

What to do next: Focus on small changes within reach

Rather than scrapping your current recruiting process and starting over, look for opportunities to even the playing field for job seekers.

“It’s more about being thoughtful throughout your entire process. It’s [asking] ‘How can you make this a more fair process for everyone?’ vs. ‘Let’s redo our entire system.’”

Implementing the diversity recruiting strategies in this article is a good place to start, but there’s always more to learn. We’ve got more resources to help you break out of your homogenous bubble:

Interested in taking the software approach to improve your diversity recruiting efforts? In a Capterra survey from last August, 89% of HR leaders expressed that they either already have implemented or plan to implement D&I software tools. Don’t let your business fall behind.

We’ve covered a variety of software options in this article that can help you achieve your diversity recruiting goals. For a full list of what’s out there, browse our HR software directory.

Capterra COVID-19 HR Impact Survey 2020 Methodology

The Capterra COVID-19 HR Impact Survey was conducted in August 2020. We surveyed 123 HR “leaders,” defined as CHROs, HR vice presidents, HR directors, HR managers, or any other role with HR leadership responsibilities at U.S.-based businesses. We worded the questions to ensure that each respondent fully understood the meaning and the topic at hand.

Note: The specific applications referenced in this article are examples to show software features in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.

Looking for Talent Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Talent Management software solutions.

About the Author

Sierra Rogers

Sierra Rogers

Content Writer at Capterra, covering the human resources and learning management industries. BBA, Baylor University. Based in Austin, TX. You can find me either hiking with my dog or collecting vintage designer clothing.


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