Dear Bloom: I rejected a candidate for listening to Andrew Tate. Was this the right decision?
Byline: Written by Vinciane de Pape, DEI Advisory Lead at Bloom
I’m a Senior Recruiter and recently interviewed a candidate who shared that they listen to a controversial podcast — one whose host is notorious for making inflammatory and oppressive remarks about folks from historically marginalized communities, specifically women. That disclosure really struck me, and ultimately, I decided not to move the candidate to the next stage of the interview process because I couldn’t envision them aligning with a company that values diversity, equity, and inclusion. Did I make the right move?
—Unsure About My Decision
We know firsthand that hiring is tough! As a recruiter, you’re working hard to bring more diverse representation to your candidate pool, engage exceptional talent, filter out misalignments, assess competencies, and manage competing timelines. It’s a lot. So when a candidate reveals something that feels like a glaring red flag, it’s natural to want to thank them for their time and keep the process moving forward. And while, at first blush, it may seem like you did the right thing, this particular situation is actually quite complex. Let’s break down why.
A litany of podcasters, creators, influencers, and YouTube personalities have built wildly lucrative careers out of misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, and racist rhetoric and commentary. Sometimes it’s positioned as “whataboutisms”; other times, bad-faith Devil’s advocate arguments barely veil their oppressive ideologies.
If you’re screening for culture add in your interviews, it might seem like an obvious misalignment when a candidate shares in conversation that they listen to a podcast that you find perpetuates oppressive behaviours. However, an individual’s interests are not always an accurate predictor of their capacity for demonstrating inclusive behaviours at work and beyond. I’ve personally worked with folks who listen to the Jordan Petersons and Ben Shapiros of the world and, yet, they were some of the most vocal workplace allies and advocates of DEI. (Yes, the cognitive dissonance is astounding, but people contain multitudes.)
Instead of using an unreliable proxy (like the podcasts a candidate enjoys), here are some behaviour-based interview questions that better assess an individual’s commitment to anti-oppressive behaviours and inclusion at work.
- Tell me about what you’ve done to create an inclusive culture in the past.
- Tell me about a time you went out of your way or had to be creative about including others.
- Tell me about a time when you witnessed exclusionary behaviour and how you handled that situation.
- How do you model inclusion in your leadership or management style?
- How do you demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at work?
These are questions that interviewers should ask every candidate and should be part of a structured and standardized interview process. Using a standardized set of interview questions (the same set of questions, asked in the same order to every candidate) is a great way to mitigate biases that can so easily creep into the hiring process.
Part of mitigating bias also means critically examining which questions we ask candidates. I don’t have any context around how it came up in the interview that the candidate listens to a controversial podcast, but there are two likely scenarios.
In the first, the interviewer perhaps asked something like, “What are you reading or listening to right now?” or “What are your interests outside of work?”. While these are seemingly innocuous get-to-know-you questions, they can invite many common hiring biases, like affinity bias, similarity attraction bias, or halo/horn bias. These biases can perpetuate inequities that disproportionately impact candidates from historically marginalized communities, further exacerbating barriers to career advancement and economic opportunity. Additionally, get-to-know-you questions (including “Life Story” questions that require candidates to disclose sometimes deeply personal life experiences) do not provide any tangible insight into the candidate’s on-the-job performance. At Bloom, we strongly recommend only asking questions that will help the interviewer accurately assess core competencies. That way, you can compare candidates’ skills and strengths more accurately against one another and make data-informed decisions.
In the second scenario, the candidate divulged this information unsolicited without prompting from the interviewer. This would have been an opportunity for the interviewer to approach the situation with curiosity and probe deeper. I would have liked to know, “What initially drew you to that podcast? And what do you find interesting about it?”. The candidate’s answer would likely confirm or assuage any cropped-up concerns. If they’re drawn to controversial figures because they espouse the same oppressive beliefs, well then… you’ve got your answer. If, on the other hand, they find the podcast interesting because it’s an exercise in critical thinking to try to parse out potential nuggets of wisdom, or they actively seek out perspectives from the “other side”, then the situation is a little different. I, myself, have gotten sucked down the rabbit hole of consuming content inconsistent with my values out of sheer fascination and curiosity. I can absolutely understand why someone might find it interesting, and I can also recognize that it’s not always indicative of how someone will treat others.
All of that being said, the fact that the candidate felt comfortable sharing that they listen to a controversial podcast in an interview may in and of itself be concerning. This disclosure, especially if unprompted, could indicate both a lack of self-awareness and a lack of critical thinking. It is very risky, and certainly not advisable, to share during an interview a personal interest that could be interpreted as holding or defending oppressive beliefs. A recruiter or hiring manager would understandably view this as a liability.
While I wholeheartedly disagree with the strawman argument that is often positioned as “If we’re evaluating two identical candidates…” (because we know that no two candidates will ever be identical and all candidates come with strengths and weaknesses), the possibility of a candidate wreaking havoc on an organization’s culture is a very real consideration to weigh. It’s cause for concern and worth investigating but should always be done with care and intention.
To answer your question, Unsure, I would encourage you to approach the situation differently next time. The knee-jerk reaction to not hire a candidate when they might hold oppressive beliefs is a natural one. My more nuanced (and perhaps, unpopular) advice is to approach situations like this with less binary thinking and more intention in the future. I recommend you use a standardized set of interview questions, using only questions that assess required competencies and avoiding ones that could invite bias. For an organization that values diversity, equity, and inclusion, I would also make sure to ask interview questions that directly assess a candidate’s capacity for demonstrating inclusive behaviour at work. This is critical when assessing candidates for roles where they will be managing others. Lastly, I encourage you to lean into curiosity when something feels like a red flag and reserve judgment until you fully evaluate the situation. Your initial gut feeling may have been right, but gathering data to support (or refute!) your hypothesis is a more fair, ethical, and equitable way to approach your judgments next time.
If you’re interested in learning more about equitable and inclusive recruiting, interviewing, and hiring practices, we’ve designed a context-specific DEI learning experience for Recruiters and Hiring Managers just like you. Check out our Recruiter Track at Bloom Academy here.