Recruiting for lived experience: Four key lessons

29 June 2021
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Standard Content
A sign saying

In this article, James Gadsby Peet, Owner and Director of Digital & Strategy at William Joseph, looks at the process they used to recruit their Product Manager, and the lessons they learned about recruiting for lived experience.

In July 2020, William Joseph worked with Collaborative Futures in order to hire a new product manager to our team. The role would help us design products, services and brands for organisations working for positive change. One of our biggest problems at William Joseph, and the tech and design sector as a whole, is the lack of diversity of the people that join this industry. People come from quite similar backgrounds and have similar experiences which means they ultimately come to similar decisions.

“It’s critical to our success that we find a more diverse set of people to join the team.”

The broader the perspectives we can have within our team the better decisions we will make for the charities, universities and social enterprises we work with. So it’s critical to our success that we find a more diverse set of people to join the team.

In the past, we have paid to place our job ads in specialist communities that target certain demographics – but had minimal success. This is likely due to the people seeing our company and thinking they wouldn’t fit.

We knew that by working with an organisation such as Collaborative Futures, we could reach people that we wouldn’t normally be able to. However finding these people was just the first step. We wanted someone that could grow into the role – even if they didn’t have directly comparable experience. That meant we needed a radically different assessment process.

The four top lessons we learned during the process that shortlisted five candidates:

1. Share interview questions beforehand

We wanted to get the best version of someone in their interview. For us, it’s not a memory test or an exploration of how quickly you think on your feet. Those just aren’t important factors in the success of this role.

We had great conversations with all our candidates, where they really understood us and we really understood them.

In fact almost everyone we spoke to could fulfil a role at William Joseph. But we know we made the decision based on the person that’s right for this particular role and who could add a valuable new perspective to the team.

2. Pay people for their time

We asked our candidates to complete a task that was similar to something they’d find themselves doing on day one in the job.

Tasks get past the charisma bias that’s inherent in many hiring processes – just because someone can tell a good story about a situation, doesn’t mean they’re the best at tackling it. However they take time and can be hard work for all involved.

It should go without saying that by paying people to complete this task, you open up the groups who can afford to take the time to apply for your roles. Whilst not always possible for charities, this compensation definitely allowed us to reach people we wouldn’t have done otherwise. The unexpected benefit for us, was that we could dig into the quality of the work because it makes it more realistic. By setting a fixed budget, we could identify the underlying capabilities that we were looking for such as initiative, timekeeping and prioritisation.

3. Have a call before an interview to introduce yourself and the process

Prioritising this call increased the likelihood of us seeing what we needed to really understand the candidate.

 For example, our process focussed on a number of emotional questions as well as technical approaches. We asked people to complete a personality test called High Five –

To give someone this task without any context or explanation can at the very least seem weird and at the worst intrusive.

In this instance we wanted to understand how the line manager of this role would complement someone who had a different personality type to her. It was also a great exercise to understand the candidates’ own emotional awareness. We wanted to explain this to them in detail which would never be possible in the interview itself.

This is standard procedure for a recruitment agency. Applying it to your internal process deepens your engagement with candidates without paying for the middle-person.

4. Don’t talk to fellow interviewers about your reflections and scores

It feels great to immediately discuss your reactions to a candidate’s interview. It’s only natural – you care about the process and have just had a really interesting input to it. However you amplify the existing biases within the panel through this approach.

It can also allow the most dominant voice in the room to persuade other colleagues before they’ve had a chance to make up their own minds.

We waited until all of our interviews and tasks were complete and then had a session facilitated by an external person, to finalise our scoring, reflections and feedback.

We rapidly got down to the genuine differences between peoples’ capabilities and could more accurately evaluate which were right for the role.

Even with all of this, it’s still really hard

I have never been more convinced in a hiring process that we found the right person for the job. But that doesn’t mean the process wasn’t still difficult. Our decision came down to two candidates who would both make great additions to our team. However by genuinely understanding their strengths, we could make a better decision about who the role would suit.

For a small business such as ours, hiring new people is the riskiest thing we do. So it was well worth the extra effort, time and money this process took to get right. It’s easy to make the argument that this isn’t scalable. However fundamentally, if the people in our organisation are the difference between success and failure, then it’s well worth finding the right ones to join.

James Gadsby Peet
James Gadsby Peet
Owner and Director of Digital & Strategy at William Joseph
Members Only Content