Find Your Dream Job, Episode 251:
How to Be Your Authentic Self In Your Job Search, with Marcus Carter
Airdate: July 8, 2020
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.
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Most employers say workplace diversity is a top priority.
But how do you find the companies that actually attract and keep a diverse workforce? Our guest today says it starts with candidates being their authentic selves.
Here to talk about this is Marcus Carter. He’s a senior recruiter at Instrument. It’s a creative agency, engineering firm, and consultancy.
Marcus joins us today from Vancouver, Washington.
Marcus, let’s jump right into it. What are the benefits of working for an employer with a diverse workforce, both in your job and your career?
Yeah, I think that one of the essential points in working in a diverse workforce is having a shared sense of experience. Being able to talk to people who identify with certain cultural preferences or people who understand certain systemic inequities that you might be up against. It’s always great when you have a partner who knows that lived experience. And then as it relates to having a boss who identifies with your ethnic or racial group, I think that is almost a load off your shoulders when you feel like you have someone who is a mentor, someone who’s a sponsor, someone you can connect and identify with, without having to pull information out of you, if you will.
I want to talk about how to find these companies but I also want to acknowledge that we’re recording this in the summer of 2020, and after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, we saw so many companies put out statements of the importance of diversity, especially in hiring. How do you think candidates, Marcus, should pay attention to those statements?
Yeah, it’s tough because the market is flooded with statements at this current moment. I think one indicator of whether or not that organization is living up to the ethic and ethos that they promote is how many employees, black employees, brown, indigenous employees are cosigning and reposting and sharing the messages of their employer or employers. I think it speaks volumes if they are silent about those messages, and again, it also speaks volumes if they are amplifying that message.
Maybe to go a layer deeper, I think there are some basics we can all check off the box in terms of, does an organization have affinity groups? Are these affinity groups supported by executive sponsors? Ask an organization during the interview process, how do they define “diversity” throughout their talent acquisition funnel? And then just always having inquiry as it relates to mentorship programs, right? How are organizations being intentional about growth and development of, specifically, their black and brown and indigenous population?
How do you research these things when you’re a candidate? Obviously, you can look at social media channels to see if employees are sharing those company statements but the other point that you bring up, do you learn these things through conversation with people inside the company? Is this information you can find online? What do you recommend, Marcus?
Yeah, I mean, for example, if an organization has affinity groups or employee resource groups, they’ll typically broadcast that on a career site, if you will, so I think there’s an opportunity to dig and identify that information via career sites. The other piece I think that people should invest in is, in tech, there is an abundance of social and digital affinity groups. There’s Out in Tech, there’s Blacks in Tech, so on and so forth, so you’re able to find people who work in these organizations and say, “Hey, how does your organization define diversity? What are they doing with their affinity groups? What kind of influence and what kind of space do they take up within your organization?”
Again, the piece that I want to continue to highlight is, are there specific mentorship programs? How do they go about development at your organization? Would you be willing to highlight the career ladder, and what sort of practical steps could someone take to progress there?
Well, let’s talk about that. Why are mentorship programs so important? What difference can they make in a person’s career? Particularly a person of color.
Yeah, I think we opened this conversation by talking about the impact of working in a diverse workforce and typically, what we’ve seen in the tech industry is, let’s say Marcus is an African-American male and joins a predominately white organization and there’s no explicit call-out on who is the mentor, who is the person that will help sponsor and help you get promoted, that sort of defaults to the status quo. It’s probably going to be a gentleman or a young woman or someone who looks like whoever that influencer might be and unfortunately, that promotes a very homogeneous workforce; promotes a very…an environment that is managing structural and cultural exclusion. And you’re putting a lot on one employee to hopefully break the ceiling if you will. So, I think, again, when I’m talking about the importance of mentorship programs, it’s that organization taking accountability in understanding that different demographics within their workforce have different experiences.
How are we being intentional about developing that talent?
The companies that you see do these mentorship programs and develop this talent well, what are they doing differently, particularly if they’re a small organization that might not have a lot of resources? What makes them stand out, Marcus?
Yeah, I think the main thing that I would just highlight is intentionality. Should I join your workforce, and I have no idea how to progress via the career ladder, or let’s say that there’s an absence of a career ladder, and let’s say I don’t know who is an executive influencer within the organization, and let’s say I’m also not the type of person who does the happy hours each week or what have you; should that be held against me as it relates to promotions? I would say it should not but if you lack a relationship and don’t understand who in the workforce can sponsor and speak to you and about your ability on your behalf, then I think that actually does impact your career trajectory between one company and another, if you will.
Again, I think that most companies, it’s being very intentional and making sure that people don’t fall through the cracks, if you will. It’s not different from the declaration around diversity recruitment. I think that genre grows and has continued to grow because people realize they’ve neglected to actually diversify their funnel.
The companies that do diversify their funnels, why does that happen and how do they do it? Because I’m sure there are many companies that are well-intentioned and they fail, but the ones who succeed, what are they doing differently, Marcus?
Yeah, I would say the ones who might do it well lean on the relationship they can build with the different demographics. Now, when I say relationship, I’m not talking about just showing up for the job fair; I mean actually building holistic relationships that understand, “Hey, candidates have different needs.”
And they demonstrate an ability to center equity in the relationship, and I think that’s very important. For example, in the tech industry, we often like to say, “How can we get underrepresented groups to sit at the table with us? I would say there’s definitely an absence of an equitable lens when you use that perspective.
Another point of view would be to say, “How can tech get a seat at the table with them?” You know, whether that’s underrepresented groups via high school, underrepresented groups via college, and obviously, the current pool of talent that exists out there right now as professionals. Again, what’s a way we can get a seat at the table with them versus feeling like people have to come to you?
We talked at the start of the interview about ways candidates can find these employers that are doing things differently. You mentioned having conversations with current employees, turning to networking groups and relationships, and looking at the company’s actual record, particularly in creating mentorship programs.
Are there other steps that you recommend a candidate take when trying to identify companies that are going to allow them and reward them for being their own authentic selves?
Yeah, I think there’s always the practical step of being able to identify themes and trends via feedback from GlassDoor. That’s always very practical, people are typically fairly honest on that. The other area I would ask people to invest in is Slack channels. A lot of times, I’ve been in probably too many Slack channels at this point, but there is phenomenal networking. Whether that’s job hunting or just resource sharing happening via Slack channels. I feel that, especially as COVID-19 hit, I got a ton of insight through Slack channels that were global as well as national, and understanding how other people are managing their job search or, for example, how recruiters are going about attracting candidates.
It gave me, again, a national and global scope versus just limiting my perspective to here, in Portland.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for a candidate who is trying to identify the employers that do have diverse workforces and keep those employees? What stops candidates from finding those companies?
Yeah, you know, part of it is the language organizations use. The language can flatten experiences by highlighting, “Hey, we’re looking for diverse candidates.” Well, what exactly is a diverse candidate? How is the organization being explicit? Are they thinking about diversity strictly through the lens of race and gender? Are they just thinking of diversity of thought?
Finding organizations who can be very explicit about who they identify as diverse, and I’m pretty sure, they probably have a very sharp funnel in how they built that relationship with those different audiences. That is extremely important, again, the intentionality of being explicit of who an organization is trying to attract.
Any other barriers come to mind?
Yeah, you know, some of the barriers are just blatant tokenization. An organization that, on their career site, they have stock photos of communities of colors, and those stock photos don’t even show people engaging outside of the workforce; it’s just people, typically in the hallways or maybe they are dressed with a shirt and tie via conference rooms. I think that’s one way to turn people away, and organizations who have written job postings that typically conform to a white-centered, homogenized identity intact and then at the very end they’ll throw in an EEO statement, right. They’ll highlight things like, “Hey, we are looking for recruitment.” But the ad will lean more towards your super ninja developer, if you will.
The ad was, in its totality, exclusive but they tried to add the diversity language at the end. I think those are markers that typically turn candidates away.
Well, I want to take a break, Marcus. When we come back, I want to continue our conversation about how to be your authentic self in a job search, and I particularly want to draw you out about your advice about how to ask these questions in interviews. And I also want to talk about the different experiences that different communities have in a job search.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Marcus Carter.
He’s a senior recruiter at Instrument. It’s a creative agency, engineering firm, and consultancy.
Now, Marcus, before the break, we were talking about how to be your authentic self in your job search.
I do want to talk about, before we dig into that a little more, about the different experiences that communities of color have in a job search. And I remember when we had a pre-interview, you talked about research that shows that applicants from black communities, for example, get a very different response when their resume is sent in versus people who have a different kind of name. I wonder if you can talk about that.
Yeah, there’s been tons and tons of research that shows, someone used their native name and it, for whatever reason, is hard to pronounce in English, their probability of them getting an interview request is much lower than someone who has the name, John Smith. We’ve actually seen, there have been studies that highlighted this if we’re talking about gender; there are women who have just decided to use their initials and that’s been a way for them to get forward in the interview process.
Then, again, as it relates to race, you have people who have changed their name to sound closer to what you might consider white-identifying and they’ve had greater success. In our pre-call, I highlighted a Harvard Sociologist, Devah Page, who unfortunately passed away in 2018, but Devah Page did a phenomenal job documenting racial discrimination as it relates to the labor market and it…you know, Devah first got started in a dissertation that was extremely successful. That was in 2003 and then she wrote a book called, “Marked.” Which was published in 2007, but again, it highlights the inequities around race in the job market, and since then, I think that that research has exploded.
What advice do you have for candidates about how to be their authentic selves, while not jeopardizing their chances of getting the job they want? What do you see work?
Yeah, I think, when it comes to being your authentic self, you have to know what you want, that’s part of it. Know your intention, know what kind of trajectory you want, and then also get a sense of what kind of obstacles might you face? Because I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, whatever. Everyone is going to face some sort of obstacle.
Now, it might not be related to race; it might be growing a specific competency, but understand, what is your tolerance and threshold in the workforce? And I think that is essential because a lot of people will go in and they might believe in this concept of meritocracy and, “Hey, you just work hard. You’ll get ahead.” And then you look around 5, 6, 7 years later, you realize maybe you haven’t progressed at that rate or your peers and those who came in at the same time as you have.
Again, I think people have to know exactly what they want and try to have some sort of gauge of, what is their tolerance? And, now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that is acceptable. People should not have to have that experience, but I also want to be fair and say that does happen. So, people do have to gauge, again, what is my tolerance? And again, what kind of intel can I pull out of an employer via the interview process, as well as their networking?
How do you do that Marcus? How do you pull together that information so that you can make those decisions? When you talk about tolerance, tell us more about that. What does that mean?
Yeah, let’s talk about the interview process. One red flag for me is if the employer doesn’t ask any explicit questions around diversity, equity, and inclusion. If I note that they have a statement on their website or they have a statement via their job post, yet we get in the interview process, whether that’s interview 1, 2, 3, 7, or 8 and there’s not been one question around diversity, I would question how authentic, what kind of intensity, what kind of internal conversations are even existing around diversity, equity, and inclusion, in order for them to omit highlighting that in the interview process.
The other piece is when an organization cannot produce a diverse interview panel. That tells you a lot in and of itself, just in terms of the visual and physical makeup of the team and representation.
The other piece is, I think in the interview process, it is very fair to ask them, what might they share as it relates to their diversity, equity, and inclusion programming? You might inquire about what holidays do they observe? We have Juneteenth, which is a holiday observing the emancipation of African-Americans here in the US. That’s going to be this Friday.
I think if an organization observes something like that, at least for the African-American community, you would hope that there’s been at least a significant amount of dialogue and understanding and education within that organization to observe that. Where I currently work, at Instrument, we’ve had Indigenous People’s Day off. That is still a newer term to others but that shows me that, look, the organization has been doing its work to understand a global perspective versus just adopting a western homogenous perspective on what is a “Federal” or “Observed Holiday.”
What questions do you recommend employers, either ask about diversity, equity, and inclusion in an interview process? Because there are many candidates who are listening who have probably never gotten a question about that. What would be a good practice?
I think there’s a number of questions. I would instead of immediately off the top of my head saying, “Hey, it’s one question or another.” When people type in diversity, equity, and inclusion questions, the best resources I’ve found actually come from academia and higher education. They do that very well in terms of, you can find 2-3 pages worth of questions that they ask faculty or staff, specifically related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, you could type in, I don’t know, University of Michigan diversity, equity, and inclusion questions, and I’m sure you’re going to have a page full of questions that they ask candidates to inquire about, “Hey, what is their sensitivity and understanding? What kind of racial and gender equity and analysis are they bringing as they engage with that institution?”
Candidates are doing a search that allows them to find employers that are going to reward them for being their authentic selves. What else are they doing differently? I mean, you gave us examples of questions you might ask in an interview or that you should ask, rather, and earlier, before the break, we talked about the research and networking that people can do.
What else should people consider as they do their search?
Yeah, again, I think the main thing I like to center is that people have to gain an analysis of their own tolerance and what’s the trajectory of their career. I say this because Marcus, having a decade-plus of work experience, my tolerance is fairly high at this point in terms of what are certain systems that I’m willing to engage with and that I’ll have an opportunity to help evolve. Whereas, when I first joined an organization, however long ago, I probably was completely blind to the inequities in the organization, and I’m sure the first inequity was pointed out to me, I’m sure I threw the biggest fit in the world.
I’m sure I thought the worst of this employer. Had I stuck with it longer, who knows what would have happened? So, again, people have to understand, what are you trying to get to? And do you have the opportunity to work with these different social or digital affinity groups, talk to people who are older in their career, have more experience and can they pass on any gems around what to expect and what are barriers you can get over. As well as, hey, there are some things that you’re just not going to be able to overcome.
Again, I’d hate to put the onus on a projection of what people think they should get and should not get, and I want to be mindful that that is a determination that a candidate has to make.
We’ve talked about company policies and practices, like mentorship programs; diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and practices. Are there other company policies that candidates should ask about in the interview process or consider in their research when they’re looking for work?
Yeah, I think transparency is always extremely high, and that’s transparency around salary; that’s transparency around, obviously, policies; transparency around decision making; transparency around promotion, career ladders. I think that is huge. Candidates shouldn’t necessarily have to dig for that. You’d hope that a recruiter is able to offer that information proactively, and again, in the event that the candidate does dig for that information, that those questions can be answered and valid and not necessarily vague.
Again, I would say transparency is huge, and like I said, a lot of us have an understanding via GlassDoor, or maybe you’ve seen what people are posting on LinkedIn or Twitter. For those of us who come from BIPOC organizations, go follow a company’s Twitter handle. When MLK hits, or other holidays that are specific to your ethnic and cultural background, does that organization actually tweet about that? How do they celebrate that?
I have been very critical of organizations that only present a white identity. So, they might observe the typical holidays and they omit things like Black History Month, they omit things like MLK day; yet when St. Patrick’s Day hits they’re quick to post something about St. Patrick’s Day. Again, I think that’s an easy way for people to start to gain an analysis of whether or not this organization is inclusive or at least thinking of ways to attract different demographics.
Any other warning signs, Marcus, that a candidate should keep in mind when doing that research or going through a hiring process that might signal an employer might not allow you to be your authentic self?
I don’t, and I still think that regardless of the different pointers I’ve offered, everybody has intuition and I think when we listen to ourselves, typically, our intuition will not steer us wrong. First and foremost, listen to your intuition throughout that process and I think that will give you an answer.
Well, it’s been a terrific conversation; now, tell us, Marcus, what’s next for you?
Yeah, for me, well, I’m extremely excited that this year I will take on more precedent opportunities with Portland Workforce Alliance, so I’m extremely excited about that. The last thing I’ll note is that I became a board member with the great folks over at Free Geek. That was in March, just as COVID started to pick up and I did not announce that but, yes, I am very excited and have loved working with Free Geek and being a part of that organization since.
Well, congratulations. Those are both great organizations.
I know people can learn more about you and more about your work in the community and at Instrument by connecting with you on LinkedIn, and you’re at Marcus Carter II.
Marcus, given all the useful tips you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to be your authentic self in a job search?
Number one is, know what you want and just don’t compromise.
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Next week, our guest will be Ana Lokotkova. Ana is a career advisor, speaker, and LinkedIn trainer. She helps people tell their professional story online, on paper, and in person.
Kudos to you if you’ve updated your LinkedIn page recently. But LinkedIn is also a great tool for networking with others.
Ana and I will talk about five ways you can network on LinkedIn like a pro.
I hope you’ll join us. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.