Building equitable & sustainable hiring: I'm ready to hire the best. Now what?

Mawulom Nenonene
Head of Talent
May 14 2021

This is the second theme of our Building Equitable & Sustainable Hiring series, in which we will explore the real world application of equitable and sustainable hiring practices. Find the blog post on the first theme here.

Hiring the best

What does it mean to hire “the best?” As talent professionals we are often asked to do just that, even as there’s also an incredible amount of pressure to hire quickly. Recruiting tends to measure quality and cost through the dimension of time. Hiring the best is subjective. Serena Williams did not become the best female tennis player by only playing against the small group of people she had already played against. She proved her skills over time by testing her ability against many other athletes locally, regionally, nationally and then on the global stage. And even after all that, her title as the “best” is subject to interpretation. 

Given this context, does your team have the resources, capacity and time to truly hire the best? 

We seek the candidate who has given our team the signals we require to make a confident hiring decision (e.g. they have the skill set and desire to do the job; they are aligned to our mission and principles). With that as background, we identify the channels and communities where people with the skill sets we seek are, and develop sourcing strategies to reach them and share our opportunities in those communities.  

The Mo-rule™ 

We started with a modified Rooney rule, which requires that we interview at least one under-represented candidate (depicted in red below) for a role. We also required that hiring teams interview at least two women and two underrepresented candidates before we extend an offer. Research reported in HBR shows that minority candidates tend to not be hired when there is only one candidate among many. Among the findings were these striking data points: 

  • “The odds of hiring a woman were 79.14 times greater if there were at least two women in the finalist pool.”

  • “The odds of hiring a minority were 193.72 times greater if there were at least two minority candidates in the finalist pool.” 


What the Rooney Rule looks like: the red figure is the one underrepresented candidate in a sea of well-represented figures.

The empirical gap I’ve observed with implementing the Rooney rule in several startups is that unless that one underrepresented person has a life-changing interview, it’s difficult to compete with the many represented candidates who are also qualified. Recognizing this led to the development of the Mo-rule™. The Rule in practice: 

  1. Identify which underrepresented experiences and backgrounds are missing from the team. 

  2. Dedicate top of funnel pipeline resources to finding people fitting those profiles. 

  3. Manage pipeline to ensure there is a 1-1 ratio of underrepresented to well-represented candidates at the onsite interview stage.  

The Mo-rule ™ is named for Mr. Elalem, a mentor early in my career. In addition to his day job, he devoted time to developing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, manufacturing) programs for students in under-resourced communities.

Implementing the Mo-rule™ requires that we first identify which underrepresented experiences and backgrounds are missing from the team. We then dedicate top of funnel pipeline resources to finding people fitting those profiles. Finally, at the onsite interview stage, we manage the pipeline to ensure there is a 1-1 ratio of underrepresented to well-represented candidates. The distribution of candidates is akin to this one:

Illustration of the Mo-Rule™:  there is an equal distribution of  underrepresented and represented candidates at the in-person interview stage. 

Actionable steps
  • Measure the representation of your hiring pipeline. 

  • Use pipeline data to drive strategic planning for top-of-funnel sourcing.

  • Review representation data after each hire using lessons learned to iterate your strategy. 

Assemble the hiring team

We assemble a team of interviewers for each position we open. These are people with the perspective required to qualify the skill sets we’re looking for. In order to have well-equipped interviewers who understand the importance of hiring and candidate experience, yes, we have a process. It includes:

  • Monthly interviewer and unconscious bias training sessions 

    • All interviewers must be trained prior to conducting an interview.

    • We measure what they’ve retained from the training by reviewing feedback and creating a psychologically safe environment to recalibrate interviewers through 1:1 dialogue or bespoke group training sessions. 

  • We design diverse interview panels. 

  • Paired interviews

    • Two members of our team meet with one candidate — currently this is via video, but ideally it will be an onsite interview. Paired interviews allow us to gain dynamic data from two perspectives aligned to the same task. This provides a stronger signal on required skill sets. 

  • Structured interviewing

Our brains receive 11 million bits of information per second, but we are only capable of processing 40 or 50 bits consciously. Structured interviewing provides a framework for hiring teams to stay focused, be consistent, and increase chances of getting useful data points while reducing bias.

  • We develop and align on interview questions ahead of time. 

  • We develop a range of answers for each question which becomes the rubric we use as success criteria for each question instead of having a nebulous subjective standard for success. We leverage the combined interview questions and rubric to create detailed scorecards in our applicant tracking system that help guide each interviewer. 

One element in a scorecard rubric.

  • We do not seek “culture fit,” in which a candidate is expected to match everyone else in style and belief. Instead we think in terms of “culture-add” — will this person be additive to an inclusive culture by bringing their whole self to the job?  

Actionable steps
  • Create predetermined questions to obtain a signal on the skill sets required for the role.

  • Create a range of answers for each question.

  • Calibrate and test these questions.

About candidate experience

Leveling the playing field

Every interaction with a candidate matters. In our initial calls, we aim to get to know a candidate and give them a chance to learn more about our team and the role. We walk them through the requirements of the position and the surrounding team, along with providing transparency by sharing role specific compensation ranges. We also share a document that outlines our mission, the impact of the role, what to expect from the interview process, and how to prepare. 

Interview process

Our interview process begins with reviewing resumes/profiles of candidates to qualify their skills fit based on the aforementioned. 

Next is an initial conversation/interview between a candidate and a member of our talent team. This is where we learn more about the candidate’s disposition and share more about the role.  If we receive the signals required, this conversation is followed by a skills assessment. 

Depending on the position and the skills that need to be qualified, the assessments can be conducted live collaboratively with a member of our team, through a platform (i.e. codesignal, github), through a take-home assessment, or through submission of existing projects. We are mindful that candidates perform differently in various situations. 

Assuming we receive the signals required from the skills assessment, we move to a series of paired onsite interviews which are currently all conducted via video. 

The hiring team then meets to debrief and walk through our high-level summary of the interview using the detailed scorecards as a reference. We focus on the success criteria and compare candidates to this predefined rubric — not to other candidates.

In the last round, the final candidate has a “set-up for success” call, which gives hiring managers a chance to answer any outstanding questions. Managers discuss the onboarding plan with the candidate, and provide the foundational elements for their success. They also walk through a 30-60-90 day plan and a one-year summary of the position. All of this is designed to provide clarity and set realistic expectations.

Lastly, the candidate connects with our founder. This is an opportunity for both of them to get a good sense of each other. 


Rather than simply seeking endorsements from people who have worked with or know them, we contact references provided by candidates ( i.e. past colleagues) in order to understand how best to support a new team member — how they work best, and what motivates them to succeed. 

If everything has gone well at this point, we look forward to bringing on a new team member who understands the purpose of the role, the team surrounding the position, the organization, and the impact they are poised to have. We’ve used a fully dimensional process to get here and everyone is primed to do their best work. 

To sum all of this up: when you build a hiring system to support equitable and sustainable hiring practices, begin with identifying the current state of your hiring practices as well as the ideal future state. Get ready to regularly evaluate what’s working, what’s not, what can be improved, and take actionable steps in the direction of your ideal future state. This is a long-term journey that requires continuous review and iteration. 

We’ll keep iterating our hiring practices here at LTSE and share what we learn.

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