I'm an interviewer at my company and burnt out
February 03, 2021
I am one of a handful of women engineers at my company and I have been interviewing 1-2 candidates per week for the past several months. Since I started interviewing, we have only hired white or Asian men.
Bringing in underrepresented identities to my workplace is important to me, and leadership at my company constantly says they value ‘Diversity and Inclusion’. I’ve offered ideas on how to attract a wider group of candidates, but I don’t feel like I am heard or taken seriously. I’m exhausted being part of the interview team with the results we have. At this point, I only want to interview underrepresented candidates, but that seems inappropriate to ask for.
Am I complicit in a racist, sexist system? How can I push for change and preserve my energy?
Interviewing one or two candidates per week for months sounds absolutely exhausting. It’s no wonder that you’re tired and burnt out—especially if it seems like your company isn’t actually hiring anyone outside their established pattern, despite their avowed dedication to diversity and inclusion.
I have found conducting interviews to be difficult and energy-consuming work, particularly if you are invested in treating candidates equitably and with empathy. It’s not just that the hour-long calendar block in the middle of the day, it’s also:
- preparing for the interview ahead of time, making sure you have all the resources you need and your environment is set up.
- being deeply focused during the interview, paying attention to the smallest of interactions to discern signals (of varying reliability) about a person’s areas of technical expertise and approach to work and collaboration.
- responding to candidates on the fly, figuring out the right balance of giving them a hint when they’re stuck and seeing how they solve a problem themselves, and ensuring they have an excellent experience with your company.
- writing up feedback afterwards and deliberating your evaluation and whether you’ve let unconscious bias influence you and if your feedback is well-calibrated with the rest of the hiring group so that you’re not consistently scoring everyone higher or lower than the average.
- participating in decisions and conversations around interviewing as a whole, and how to make it more equitable and inclusive.
It sounds like you aren’t hiring specifically for roles on your immediate team, but rather part of a group of interviewers who support hiring across the whole company. This structure makes sense for larger organizations who have a steady stream of open roles. If everyone helps out a little bit all the time, then no one team’s productivity is completely sunk when they need to hire.
The downside, of course, is that the hiring never really stops. You don’t get to celebrate by welcoming your new teammate; you just keep interviewing. And interviewing. And interviewing.
At one company, I completed over 100 technical interviews in about two years. I had prided myself on being a very good interviewer, in part because of all the practice. By the end, I was completely miserable and I hated everything about it. I couldn’t convince myself to care about candidates anymore and I was having trouble focusing and giving them my full attention. So, I stopped interviewing. And it was such a relief. It wasn’t even necessarily the time back that I cared about; it was letting go of the immense responsibility of contributing to hiring decisions, but with so little authority to change anything.
Consider a few of these options, and what each one feels like:
- What if you reduced your availability to one interview a week?
- What if you reduced your availability to two interviews a month?
- What if you stopped interviewing for a month?
- What if you stopped interviewing for a quarter?
Did you feel a sense of relief or joy when you imagined those? Which ones feels the most like what you need right now?
You say that you’ve offered ideas about how to improve your hiring practices and that you “don’t feel like I am heard or taken seriously.” I am guessing that you are not a manager, or any other person who makes the final call on hiring decisions. If you were, my advice would be very different1.
But if I’m right, your main job responsibility is probably to write, release, and maintain software—not to build a team or manage their collective effectiveness. A manager must hire at some point if they want to ensure their team has the right balance of expertise and experience. You probably help out managers at your company by giving them quality feedback about the people they are considering hiring; but it’s unlikely that your annual evaluation centers on your participation in the hiring process or the hiring outcomes at your company.
So… take a break. Don’t stop entirely or forever; you are doing the important work of advocating for inclusion and equity, I would hate for you to give that up entirely. But it sounds like what you’re doing now isn’t working the way you had hoped, and you’re too tired to imagine a bigger and bolder approach right now.
I have quipped that my main career goal is to do such outstanding work that I can be a complete and total pain in the ass about the things that truly matter, like accessibility and inclusion and equity. That doesn’t mean that I’m waiting until I’ve “arrived” to advocate for what I know is right and to put my privilege to use. It means that I don’t waste my battles on inconsequential things and I try to make myself valuable enough that I’m harder to push out when I do dig in my heels.
But in order to spend social capital, you have to build it up first—and for you, that might mean giving up interviewing for a bit, focusing on your main job responsibility and building relationships with your coworkers, then coming back with a fresh perspective, renewed energy, and a group of like-minded peers with a common goal of improving the hiring process.
Assuming that you don’t have the authority to make a hire/no-hire decision or to revamp your recruiting process, you’re a bit limited in what you can do on your own. But there is strength in numbers, and it’s harder to ignore a group. See if you can find or organize a few people who also care about diversity and inclusion in recruiting and hiring. It doesn’t have to be anything formal2, it can just be three people who all +1 each other’s ideas and bring up the same important questions again and again.
You also asked: “Am I complicit in a racist, sexist system?” I’m not sure that I can answer that one for you. You know your situation much better than I do; if that’s a concern that keeps coming up for you, sit with it. It may be that there’s something you need to do that you haven’t yet.
I think you would definitely be complicit if you stopped raising concerns about inclusion entirely; if you ignored or minimized the concerns raised by other marginalized people because it makes you feel uncomfortable about your own choices or privilege; or if you had the authority to make a change for the better and you didn’t use it.
If you do come to the conclusion that you have not been living up to your values and have instead prioritized your comfort or advancement over the equity of all—welcome to the club. We mess up a lot, and we learn with empathy and gratitude for the people who corrected us. That’s another benefit to finding some peers who can advocate alongside you—you’ll each have areas of insight the others won’t and you can teach each other.
I hope that you’re able to take a break from interviewing. I hope that when you’re ready to resume, it’s because you’re genuinely excited to have some influence over hiring at your company and you feel equipped to push for practices that you know are worthwhile3. I hope you find support from other engineers who care about inclusion. I hope your company figures out a way to stop using whatever metrics they love that so consistently undervalue Black and Indigenous people, Hispanic/Latinx people, women and people with other minoritized genders, disabled people, LGTBQ+ people, and those who span more than one of those communities.
In short: I hope you get good rest, and that rest fuels you for another round. There is much work to be done. Let’s do it together. 💖
With so much warmth,
For any managers reading this: you do actually have the power in this situation about who you hire, and who you interview, and where you source your candidates. So you should wield that for good.↩
Although if you want to go the formal route, I hear unions are cool.↩
If you’re looking for inspiration, some of the hiring processes I personally care about are:
- Considering scheduling constraints for people with dependents or other demands on their time who can’t necessarily work on something on nights and weekends.
- Making sure all feedback has clear guidelines on what a successful candidate looks like (especially for more qualitative attributes, like “collaboration” or “communication style”).
- Having regular unconscious bias training and making a practice of refreshing that knowledge before interviews (e.g. look at a list, or take a minute to acknowledge right before you start).
- Ruthlessly paring down job descriptions to what actually matters to succeed in the role, not just attributes that match existing people in this role. (Do you really need a degree? Do you actually have to have 3-5 years of experience?)