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Forcing Managers to Interview Minority Candidates - Necessary or Pure Bureaucracy?

Capitalist Note - If you follow sports, you may have heard that the Oakland Raiders (soon to be the Las Vegas Raiders) are set to hire Jon Gruden, current ABC/ESPN commentator, past head coach in the NFL and yes, a white guy.  It's said at this writing to be a done deal, but the Raiders have to interview other candidates as required by the NFL's Rooney Rule.  I'm re-running this post to explore the merits of forcing managers to interview minority candidates in searches.

If you follow sports, you're probably aware that Pete Carroll, head football coach at the University of Southern California (USC), is leaving USC to become the head coach of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.  On the surface, this is pretty pedestrian stuff - head coach wins national titles in college, gets a chance at a big payday in the NFL.  Yawn...

What you probably don't know is this: before the Seahawks and Carroll could sign an contract that had already been agreed to verbally, the Seahawks had to interview at least one minority candidate as part of their process.  It's required in the NFL, and here's how the rule (known as the Rooney Rule) is positioned:

"Under the NFL's Rooney Rule, any team in the National Football League offering a head coaching position must interview at least one minority candidate. Named after the Pittsburgh Steelers' owner Dan Rooney, chairman of theMike_tomlin league's diversity committee, the rule was created in the hopes of increasing the number of minority head coaches in the league.  

How do you feel about that?  Here's how I feel about that.  Stop talking about Affirmative Action and start talking about how the world works as you consider this one. On many occasions, hiring managers have a candidate in mind that they think they want to plug into a job.  When this happens, they're usually so set on the decision that they think any other interviews may be a waste of time.  The tough part about that is that your company still has a process, and the hiring manager needs to put forth a little more effort.  So, let's take the focus off of minorities and plug another group of candidates in to discuss the wisdom of forcing your hiring managers to interview candidates they don't think have a chance - internal applicants.

Let's say your hiring manager has an external candidate they think would be great for the job, but you've also got 3 internal candidates for the position who have applied.  Your company has a process that says all internal candidates are, at the very least, going to get a brief conversation/interview with the hiring manager in question.  Your hiring manager doesn't want to do it, and he's bitching about it.  You're faced with the classic catch-22 - you either force the process and risk looking like a bureaucrat, or you let the hiring manager do his thing without interviewing the internals, which is decidedly bad for your culture and employee relations environment.

I'm tagged as a capitalist.  You might think I would allow the hiring manager to skip the internal interviews with a name like that, right?  But I don't, and here's why.  I've learned that for every 10 internal interviews you make a hiring manager do against their will, they are going to get 2-3 pleasant surprises, meaning they're impressed enough by the candidate in question that they'll change their mind and offer them the job, or they'll put the memory on reserve and as a result, hire them for a future role.

My stance on internal interviews is easily carried over to the Rooney Rule. By forcing interviews of minority candidates, you've got a shot to make the hiring managers go HMMMMM....

Need proof? That logic is documented when Mike Tomlin became the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers at the young age of 34 (and later led them to a NFL Championship):

"Mike Tomlin wouldn't have gotten this opportunity without this rule," said Shell, the first modern black NFL head coach. "He never would have sat down with Dan Rooney."

Said Rooney: "To be honest with you, before the interview he was just another guy who was an assistant coach. Once we interviewed him the first time, he just came through and we thought it was great. And we brought him back and talked to him on the phone and went through the process that we do, and he ended up winning the job."

The Rooney Rule is the same thing as your rules regarding how internal candidates are handled. You don't put rules on interviewing minorities or internal candidates in place because it's the right thing to do.  You do it because the exposure gives strong talent an opportunity to surprise hiring managers who wouldn't otherwise be exposed. 

And that, my friends, should be our main objective in the Talent game.


Kim Bailey

Interesting post, Kris! I agree with what you said, but think that the hardest part is often selling this to the hiring manager. Even if upper management agrees with the process and why, if a hiring manager is in a hurry to hire an important position, they don't want me "clogging" up the process. That is when it is really important (and difficult) for me to sell the benefit of it to them. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail, but it's always about giving them the opportunity to see/find something they might otherwise miss. I could certainly never sell it as "doing the right thing".


In my situation it’s not an issue of upper management/executive buy-in with the idea of requiring the hiring manager’s to interview specific candidates, whether they are minority or internal. It’s more of an issue with getting upper management/executives to actually enforce the process.

Everyone knows that many times the hiring manager already has an idea of who they want to hire for the position and believes that being required to interview other candidates is a waste of time. The problem is when the hiring manager goes to upper management and complains about how it’s a waste of time and they already know who they want, instead of upper management enforcing the procedures and process that they’ve already agreed are important they acquiesce to the hiring manager’s complaining and allow them to skip the procedure.

It’s one thing to make a statement on paper about the organization’s beliefs and values; it’s another thing to actually put those beliefs and values into practice by enforcing the procedures and processes that arise from them.

Janna Jones

Of course it is important to keep the integrity and legality of the hiring process first and foremost at all times. Who's to say that the hiring manager has the appropriate training and objectivity to make sound decisions when left to his/her own devices?

The only method for removing systemic bias within an organization is to require all hiring procedures/practices are followed implicitly.

If one or two managers determine they will buck the system and do their own thing(ego?), they had better invest in good legal counsel, because they haven't a leg to stand on should the decision be challenged.

I agree with the former writer, it is more than doing things right, it is doing the right thing.


Kris, interesting post. I am not an HR person, so the legalities are not the area of my focus. But diversity of thought - that matters to me - so much so that I riffed off this post of yours today. thanks for starting the dialogue:

Waiting for that call

As a minority candidate, I have got to tell you, that sometimes it is blatantly obvious when I am being interviewed just to fit a quota. I don't like being used in this way. Particularly when, in this economy, a call for an interview is so very important to my survival. It hurts when it hits home that they never took me seriously. This comes out in the questions that I am asked and in the tone of the interview.

If they are going to interview minority candidates, seriously consider the individual. Don't just use them to make your numbers. We can figure it out when we are being used and it hurts.

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I was called into an interview and I think it was purely for the numbers. They should have let me just enjoy the town without coming in. It costed me a vacation day.


It's a solid business practice. You could also extend it to "at least one person outside of the company". It depends on what you want to accomplish. I get a little squirrely when the government is involved, in non-government decisions, but I don't hyperventilate over it. Breaks my heart to hear experiences like "Waiting for that call" has had.


Great points. I think that anyone being forced to do something isn't going to like it, even if they have positive results. Humans are self-centered and would much rather think it was their idea in the first place. Encouraging a workplace full of diversity and inclusion in the first place would be ideal, but what world do I think we live in? ;) I suppose it's possible. You can use HR tech to reduce some biases and possible end up with a more diverse candidate pool anyway (source: http://recruit.ee/bl-gender-bias-eb-bh).

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