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Why Forcing Managers to Interview Minority Candidates Is Good Business

February 9, 2010
Related Topics: Candidate Sourcing, Diversity, Featured Article, HR & Business Administration
If you follow sports, you’re probably aware that Pete Carroll, former head football coach at the University of Southern California, left the school to become the head coach of the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks. On the surface, this is pretty pedestrian stuff, as a head coach with a national title at the college level getting a chance at a big payday in the pros happens frequently.

What you probably don’t know is this: Before the Seahawks and Carroll could sign a contract that had already been agreed to verbally, the Seahawks had to interview at least one minority candidate as part of the process. It’s required in the NFL, and here’s how the rule (known as the Rooney Rule) is positioned, according to lawyer/writer Jack Oceano:

“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 the 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? There’s nothing that gets the blood flowing on all sides like a situational hiring analysis with an affirmative-action feel. Since I’m pro-employer on most issues I tackle, you’ll more than likely be surprised by my take on the Rooney Rule: I think it’s a good business practice.

Before you decide to hate me or unsubscribe to my blogs, allow me to explain.

To effectively think about this scenario and strip the emotion out of the issue, you have to stop talking about affirmative action and start talking about how the world of hiring works. To do that, let’s replace “minority candidate” with “internal candidate” and evaluate the general merits of forcing interviews even if it seems the decision has already been made.

Many companies struggle with forcing managers to interview internal candidates for posted positions, with the struggle usually emerging as follows:

1. The position is posted, and the hiring manager is looking for a purple squirrel. That means the hiring manager has no confidence that any internal candidate can do the job. He needs the best and believes that the necessary talent can be acquired only outside the company.

2. On many occasions, hiring managers have an external candidate in mind they want to plug into the job. When this happens, they’re usually so set on the decision that they think any other interviews are a waste of time. The tough part about this is that your company still has a process, and the hiring manager needs to put forth a little more effort to keep everyone happy.

3. Your hiring manager has an external candidate, but you’ve also got three internal candidates who have applied for the position. 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.

4. You’re faced with the classic Catch-22 in this situation. You either force the process with the internal interviews and risk looking like a complete bureaucrat, or you let the hiring manager do his thing without interviewing the internals, which is decidedly bad for your culture and employee relations.

Recognize this morality play yet? If you’ve been anywhere near the front lines of a hiring process in corporate America, you’ve lived it. With a name like The HR Capitalist, you might think I would allow the hiring manager to skip the internal interviews, right? I don’t, and here’s why:

1. I’ve learned that for every 10 internal interviews you make a hiring manager perform against their will, they are going to get two or three pleasant surprises. They had no clue about the experience Lisa from marketing had in their new target sector. Lisa’s résumé doesn’t capture it either, but because you forced the interview, the resulting dialogue made both parties aware they had a much better match than previously thought.

2. When those internal surprises happen, good things follow. It might mean the hiring manager was impressed enough by the candidate in question they’ll change their mind and offer them the job. Maybe they’ll keep that candidate in mind and hire them for a future role. Perhaps they’ll refer the person to others in the organization.

Regardless of the outcome, your organization wins by forcing internal interviews for candidates who apply. 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, “Hmmm.”

Need proof? Look no further than when Mike Tomlin became the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers at the young age of 34 (and later led the team to an NFL championship). This from an story:

“Mike Tomlin wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity without this rule,” said [Art] 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 and a progressive approach to internal candidates accomplish the same thing: They put the best people in the interview mix. 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 to them.

And that, my friends, should be our main objective in the talent game. Whether you’re in the front office of the NFL, looking for someone to manage the IT shop at your consulting firm or looking for a line manager at your plant, you always win by forcing some interviews. Don’t be intimidated by being called a bureaucrat. You’ve got bigger goals in mind.

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