Skip to content

Pinpoint where you’re losing diverse candidates — and why

Pinpoint where you’re losing diverse candidates — and why

Efforts to increase diversity can live or die by your recruitment pipeline. As we try to unearth new talent, it’s inevitable some candidates withdraw from the process. We must focus on who these candidates are. Only when we understand this disproportionate fallout of certain groups, and where they are getting lost, can we go on to tackle the loss head-on.

Is the “pipeline problem” real?

A common excuse when companies fail to meet their diversity targets is that there is a “pipeline problem”. Essentially, this is the belief that the diverse talent they’re trying to recruit simply doesn’t exist; that there aren’t enough suitably qualified or able candidates who are also members of underrepresented groups.

When companies attribute their DEI failures to a pipeline problem, they are placing responsibility for change onto marginalized groups. If there isn’t enough qualified talent in a particular group, the responsibility is on members of that group to become more qualified.

This belief isn’t supported by the available data. Record numbers of diverse students are achieving advanced degrees, but this increase isn’t reflected in hiring outcomes.

The talent is out there — it just isn’t getting through

Accepting that we don’t have a pipeline problem can be empowering for hiring managers. By accepting that the talent is available, we also accept that we have both the responsibility and the power to find it. 

Some recruiters are putting in the hard work to attract diverse talent but forgetting a key point. Candidates from diverse backgrounds are likely to have different needs, expectations, and experiences, so you need to nurture them carefully throughout the whole pipeline. 

Companies have begun to be held accountable for numbers and increasing transparency into the recruitment process. However, recruiters not having access to figures that explain problems within their pipeline, means the blame of these failings often falls on the minority. 

Understanding why diverse talent drops out of our pipelines highlights areas in which we can improve.

Pinpointing the exact reason your pipeline is losing talent

A candidate leaving the pipeline could happen for a multitude of reasons. They could have successfully found another job, are no longer interested in the position or are ruled out for not meeting the minimum requirements. 

Each candidate will have their own story. However, there are some common pipeline stressors that you should consider.

Your job descriptions aren’t inclusive

Technically, this happens before the candidate enters your pipeline – but it’s a good place to start.

Your job descriptions need to resonate with the talent you’re trying to recruit. Overly rigid requirements, in particular, can discourage diverse candidates from applying in the first place.

When putting together a job description, consider whether the qualifications you are expecting are actually required, or whether you can highlight alternative ways to demonstrate the same skills and experience. 

The more flexible you are in your job descriptions; the more comfortable diverse talent may feel applying.

You assume talent understands the process

This is an easy assumption to make, but this isn’t always true. Candidates who don’t have friends or family who work in professional fields may have less support when writing applications or preparing for interviews. 

Similarly, they may be unfamiliar with interview formats, timelines and expectations. 

Providing clear, detailed information about all stages of the recruitment process allows candidates from all backgrounds to engage fully. Offering support to all candidates, through a named contact or support line, can give diverse candidates the confidence to continue with their application.

Your interview questions don’t reflect applicants’ lives

We all view the world through our own experiences, but candidates can easily feel excluded and unwelcome if the questions you ask don’t reflect them and their lives.

Often, this comes down to being open about what you’re trying to learn about a candidate.

Questions about academic success, for example, are sometimes used as a way to understand how an applicant works under pressure. Explain that. Being direct about what you’re trying to learn allows diverse talent to give you examples that resonate with them.

Here are some unique interview questions that pack a punch.

You’re slow to respond

Being slow to respond to questions or applications is usually nothing more than you being overworked

But if talent is already questioning whether they will be welcome in your organization, a lack of communication can make them feel like they’re just not important to you.

For example, candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may feel less confident in their application, could take these gaps in communication as a prompt to withdraw from the process. Those with more privilege may not feel the same stress.

Where possible, try to prioritize replying to applicants quickly. Where this is not possible, provide a timescale for your reply. Reinforcing that an application is important to you can go a long way in encouraging talent to continue with the process.

You provide a poor digital experience

A poor interface or irritating application form might seem like a minor inconvenience, but it’s important to put this into context for diverse talent. Applicants from minority groups have to make many more applications to receive a positive response, and they know it. 

Many diverse candidates begin their applications with very low expectations of success. So it’s hardly surprising that a poor application experience can make them feel like it’s not worth their effort.

Small changes can make the application process much more accessible. For example, being able to save their progress can make a huge difference to candidates who might have caring responsibilities or poor home internet connections.

You don’t recognize obstacles or provide solutions

For diverse talent to be included, you must give them the tools to succeed in your environment. Showing that you recognize obstacles they might face and that you have proactively put solutions in place to alleviate these, can go a long way to encouraging candidates to continue with their application.

Some candidates may not have a quiet, private space at home for a video interview, while some candidates might find attending in-person interviews more difficult. Giving all applicants the choice of online or in-person interviews allows talent to choose the option that suits them best — without having to explain their circumstances.

🗯 It’s about the human interaction, it’s about exposing people the differences to realize that fundamentally we’re all human and we all have different preferences, and we all have different needs, regardless of whether we’ve got a protected characteristic or that we’re in a particular situation.


Similarly, some talent may struggle with the cost of attending interviews but not feel comfortable asking about remuneration. Offering all candidates a refund for their interview expenses allows those in need to accept an interview without feeling awkward.

You should include information about your facilities and the support and services available to candidates as a standard part of your recruitment information. For example, a single line mentioning the presence of gender-inclusive bathrooms or quiet spaces for neurodiverse talent.

This can go a long way to reassure diverse candidates that they are fully included.

How to understand candidate rejections and withdrawals

Data is key to understanding the leaks in your pipeline, and how best to address them. That’s why we added Rejections and Withdrawal Insights to Headstart.

Track your pipeline drop-offs

How does it work?

Fair recruitment isn’t possible unless different types of candidates have equal opportunities at every step of the recruitment journey.

Headstart’s Rejection and Withdrawal Insights allow you to identify parts of your hiring process where a disproportionate number of diverse candidates drop out, so you can make changes that keep them in your pipeline.

With just a few clicks you can find out:

  • The total number of rejections and top rejection reasons for any role
  • The rejection rate at each stage of your hiring process
  • Rejection rates broken down by candidate characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, and social mobility

Understanding where your recruitment pipeline is leaking, and why, allows you to move beyond the “pipeline problem” and towards a truly inclusive recruitment process. See for yourself how our Rejection and Withdrawal Insights can help you by booking a demo today.

Get HR Insights In Your Inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter for original insights and bias-busting resources, every month.

What is conscious leadership, and how can it help make recruitment more equitable?

Hard as you might try, it’s very difficult to build an inclusive organization without switched-on leaders who are committed to…

Why creating a DEI team is only half the battle

You know that focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion is important for your company. You’ve probably seen the stats a…