Hiring the Rare Breed: Questions to Ask for Diverse Thinking

7 Must-Ask Interview Questions for a More Diverse, Daring Workplace.

Diversity is good, right? Talk to the people behind the 2021 Golden Globe Awards, which devoted a fair amount of time to roasting the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for being whiter than a jar of Hellman’s Mayonnaise, and they would shout “Yes!” But why is diversity good? Is it simply because respecting the full spectrum of human genetic and cultural heritage is virtuous? It is virtuous, but that’s not the reason. We’re talking about business, so the conversation must, at some point, turn to profitability and growth.

We tend to assume that an organization whose people represent a broad range of ethnic backgrounds, gender identifications, religious faiths, and ways of seeing the world will be a healthier, happier, more productive place. But smart business leaders don’t score points by making assumptions. There’s nothing cynical about a chief executive asking if an office filled with culture warriors and wild-eyed mavericks from every background and class is better for the bottom line than one packed with lily-white Ivy League grads.

Turns out, it is.

McKinsey & Company studied this issue in 2020. Its report, Why Diversity Matters, revealed that companies whose executive class ranked in the top 25 percent for gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to show above-average profitability than companies whose executive teams were mostly white dudes. Even better, companies with high racial and ethnic diversity were 35 percent more productive than mostly white, monocultural organizations.

Entrepreneur magazine points out some of the commonsense reasons why diversity is key to growth, profitability, and long-term success:

  1. Diversity attracts talent. Diverse companies appeal to a wider range of talent circulating in the workforce. If you’re transgender or a person of color, you’re far more likely to apply to an organization with a reputation for being welcoming and inclusive.
  2. Diversity leads to innovation. In monocultures, everyone tends to think the same way. But imagine an office where the MIT grad from Mumbai, the recent Muslim émigré from sub-Saharan Africa, and the gender-fluid designer from Northern Ireland all work on the same team. Diversity yields diverse backgrounds and ways of seeing the world, creating fertile soil for outlandish, bold, business-changing ideas.
  3. Diversity means better customer relationships. If your company is staffed by people with a broad range of life experiences, odds are someone will relate personally to a customer’s problem and find a way to solve it.
  4. Diversity scores big ESG points. Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) is a big deal for investors and customers these days. They often decide which businesses to support based on who’s a good corporate citizen, and diversity is one important benchmark of an organization whose leaders care about doing what’s right.

Diversity is Not Enough

We could go on, but the data and analysis support what most leaders already know: Diversity is good for business. Hiring that diversity, however, can be problematic. The global expansion of remote work, the gig economy, and tech tools that make being an independent contractor easier and more lucrative mean workers have more choices than ever. They have more power; employers have less. In fact, employers face not one but four challenges:

  1. Identifying diverse candidates who fit the company and its culture.
  2. Getting them in the chair.
  3. Getting them enthusiastic about accepting a position.
  4. Retaining them.

At Motto, if there’s one thing we’ve learned in advising major brands on how to build winning corporate cultures, it’s that every one of those four becomes a lot easier if you hire people who click with your organization’s values from day one. That brings up the fifth challenge:

Diversity isn’t enough.

Staffing up based solely on people’s gender, racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual identity is just PR window dressing if they’re not the right people with the right skills who fit into your culture and make it stronger. Diversity for diversity’s sake is not a solution; it’s a Benetton ad. For business, the beauty of diversity isn’t in its variety but in its fresh perspectives, norm-challenging passion, and terrifying innovations.

Today, hiring is a high-wire act with everything at stake. There are a lot of people out there who won’t fit your culture—and only a handful of real difference makers. That’s why you shouldn’t simply be looking to hire for diversity. You should be looking to hire the Rare Breed.

The Rare Breed

In our book, Rare Breed, we argue that character traits often regarded as hallmarks of hard-to-handle misfits—Rebellious, Audacious, Obsessed, Hot-Blooded, Weird, Hypnotic, and Emotional—often point the way to incredible talents and game-changing genius. Because Rare Breeds are outside the mainstream, they’re inherently diverse. We’ve met LGBTQ entrepreneurs, nonagenarian fashion icons, disabled Black fitness gurus, and more—each one a brilliant Rare Breed who challenges convention and redefines how everyone around them sees the world.

Those are the people you need. Not simply diverse, but daring, fearless change agents who will bring a new vocabulary to your company and view issues through their own unique perspective. With their stories, causes, and preposterous ideas, Rare Breeds smash the complacent status quo and transform organizations. They’re the people everyone wants but nobody knows how to find.

We know how to find them. We’ll tell you how to ID those pugnacious, off-putting drama queens with IQs fifty points too high for the room, and to determine if they jibe with the values that make your culture run. There are 7 interview questions (in no particular order) that will help you determine if you’re talking to a Rare Breed or a run-of-the-mill foot soldier.

What aspect of your identity is most important to you and why?

A classic diversity question, with a twist. Like everyone else, Rare Breeds have multiple identities—racial, religious, professional, family, etc.—but they tend to take pride in them all. That’s part of their complexity.

What do people tell you about yourself that’s supposed to be an insult but that you’re secretly proud of?

Since childhood, most Rare Breeds have been told by parents, teachers and other well-meaning adults to shape up, be quiet, behave and stop being so…odd. For them, being misunderstood is almost a badge of honor. It reminds them that they’re not like everyone else. 

What about the COVID-19 pandemic worked out better for you, personally, than you ever could have expected?

There are endless tragic stories associated with the pandemic. You’ll also hear sad tales of isolation, anxiety, boredom, and disillusionment. However, Rare Breeds tend to thrive in conditions that other people find burdensome. If your candidate has a lockdown story of innovation or uniting the neighborhood behind a cause, you’ve got someone special.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Rare Breeds often have strange preoccupations or bizarre interests that suggest a keen mind and a vivid imagination. Finding out that someone is fascinated by LARPing (live-action role playing), collecting samurai swords, or even dumpster-diving for trash to turn into treasure might tempt you to end the interview on the spot, but don’t. Odd pastimes are a Rare Breed telltale.

Would you accept a job in a company where there was no one else like you? Why or why not?

If there’s one quality that unites Rare Breeds, it’s a genuine love for screwing with the status quo. These people love being the square peg in the round hole, the tarantula on the wedding cake. You might not want to hire someone who wants to come in and throw bombs at your culture, but what about someone with the confidence to walk into unknown territory, head held high, and ask smart, tough questions? Um, when can you start?

What is our company really screwing up right now, and how would you fix it?

Rare Breeds don’t usually lack opinions, and if they’ve done their homework, they’ll have some on what your company is getting wrong. Invite them to share and tell them not to worry about whose sacred cow they slaughter. You might learn something about a blind spot in your business, and you’ll definitely learn about the candidate’s intellect and insight.

What’s the one thing you will always fight for, no matter the cost, and why?

This question is about character and values. Many Rare Breeds have had to fight to be seen and respected, given opportunities, or taken seriously. Some, because of race, gender, or sexual preference, have had to fight for justice or even their lives. So they know what they stand for and they won’t be shy about sharing that with you.

There is no standard Rare Breed answer to any of these questions. But if the answers are brave, bold, provocative, and even a little wounded, you might be sitting across from a true jewel.

Get Our Book!

If you’re inspired by this episode and ready to turn your vices into virtues, get your hands on a copy of our explosive new book, Rare Breed: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous and Different. It’s available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Target, and Audible.

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