People who work in tech are in the business of solving problems. But it’s proving much more challenging to solve one of our industry’s biggest problems: the lack of diversity. Black people make up 14% of the US population but only 5% of software engineers. While there is broad interest in fixing this problem, unfortunately, there is no app for replacing a system that produces tinequality in our country or tech. The complexity can lead to confusion and despair, but there are strategies that make a difference.
At Karat, we focus on interviews and have been working to help narrow the racial gap in tech employment. Our long-term, industry-wide goal is to double the number of Black engineers overall—100,000 new Black engineers in the next decade.
To get there, we’re focused on the technical interview. Our research revealed that, as a result of systemic factors like high school curricula and internship pipelines, many aspiring Black engineers’ first experience of a technical interview doesn’t come until their first job interview. In a survey of Black computer science students, we found that less than half of computer science graduates were exposed to interviews before entering the job market.
Not surprisingly, this lack of practice undermined students’ confidence in their ability to succeed and sowed the seeds of imposter syndrome. For example, the same survey revealed that only 39% of those with zero interviews under their belt believed they were likely to succeed, but that number went up to 79% for those with three or more practice interviews. And that confidence translates into success. For example, among HBCU students, those who had done three or more practice interviews were six times more likely to land a job in tech.
For many Black computer science graduates, the technical interview has been a barrier to entry into the tech sector when it should be—and can be—a bridge to opportunity.
In 2015, to account for this practice problem, Karat began offering interview redos with all candidates we worked with. If a candidate doesn’t think they did their best, they can choose to interview a second time. As one candidate said, “Having that as an option can be life-changing.” Any company can adopt the redo policy to achieve results similar to ours:
- About 15% of the candidates who interview with us choose to redo their interviews, but Black candidates are about 30% more likely to exercise the option than their white counterparts.
- Just over 50% of candidates do better the second time around, but for Black candidates, that goes up to 60%.
- So far, more than 1,000 candidates have been hired by leading tech companies after going through a redo interview, including 20% of underrepresented hires facilitated by Karat.
Companies increase diverse hires: Companies implementing redos experience an overall hiring yield increase of 17%. Cat Miller, CTO at Flatiron Health, noted that the first person her company hired out of Karat came from a redo interview. She shared that “people have bad days, and [the redo] really helps with false negatives. For candidates who don’t have as much experience—for whom that first interview might be a surprise or something they need to get used to—it lets them acclimate and then try again. It gives more people an opportunity.”
Candidates build confidence: The all-or-nothing technical interview introduces a lot of stress into the hiring experience. But when candidates know they have a little leeway, they feel more at ease. In addition, for many candidates, just learning the option of a redo exists helps them do better on the first interview, even if they never exercise the option to try again. According to one piece of candidate feedback, the redo option “made me feel a lot better. I left my first attempt feeling like I’d absolutely whiffed it, but after my redo, I’m feeling good about how I was able to represent myself.”
Scores improve: Black candidates are 30% more likely to take a redo interview than their white counterparts, and nearly 60% of Black candidates improve their scores on the redo.
1. Tell all your candidates that they will have the option to do a second interview before their first.
2. Give them time to reflect on what they want to do, but not so much that the process loses momentum. We give candidates 24 hours to opt for a redo.
3. Pair them with an interviewer they still need to meet and use questions they have yet to see.
4. Although you’ll have access to both results, push decision-makers to give the higher score more weight in the decision-making process. In our experience, a candidate’s performance post-redo reflects the better of the two scores, as it is hard to do well on an interview without knowing your stuff, but easy to botch one if you’re having a bad day.
When we saw the benefits of the redo for Black engineers—especially how much they were improving their scores in the aggregate the second time around—we decided to double down on our commitment to interview practice.
We created the Brilliant Black Minds program, which initially provided free practice interviews—along with feedback and coaching—to students at HBCUs. These practice interviews serve a similar purpose to the redo, giving candidates more exposure and confidence in hiring. After a year, with help from an investment from Serena Williams, we expanded the program and now offer free practice interviews to any Black software engineer in the United States.
Just recently, we expanded the program even further by announcing that five companies—Prime Video, Citi, Duolingo, Indeed, and Flatiron Health—will start to hire directly from the Brilliant Black Minds program. As a result, any Black engineer who takes a practice interview and meets those companies’ bars will be fast-tracked for job openings. That is what an interview looks like when it’s a bridge instead of a barrier.
Jeffrey Spector is the co-Founder and president of Karat, an interviewing company. In this role, Jeff is responsible for the company’s product innovation and development as it works to transform the technical hiring process. He is also the executive sponsor of Brilliant Black Minds, Karat’s flagship purpose program that is focused on doubling the number of Black software engineers in the US.