The Influence of Personal Connection in Diversity Recruiting

By Naheed Afzal

Share on: 


On Mother’s Day, tech titan Sheryl Sandberg shared a reflection with her community on Facebook about the challenges that single mothers face and her newfound appreciation for how hard this makes it to also focus on leaning in at work.

You can read the full post here.

“On Mother’s Day, we celebrate all moms. This year I am thinking especially of the many mothers across the country and the world who are raising children on their own.

People become single parents for many reasons: loss of a partner, breakdown of a relationship, by choice. One year and five days ago I joined them.

For me, this is still a new and unfamiliar world. Before, I did not quite get it. I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home. I did not understand how often I would look at my son’s or daughter’s crying face and not know how to stop the tears. How often situations would come up that Dave and I had never talked about and that I did not know how to handle on my own. What would Dave do if he were here?”


In that moment, she wasn’t speaking as a woman in tech. She wasn’t talking about wealth. She was being honest and open about something we all can relate to: having a newfound appreciation of how difficult something is.

This made me think about the power of personal connection in Diversity Recruiting. In order to successfully build a diverse workforce—however that goal manifests itself in your organisation—candidates must be able to trust and relate to you.


Establishing trust early

In my former life as a Human Rights solicitor, I worked with many people whose trust was violated. They felt vulnerable, being equally afraid of taking action as staying silent. Some questioned their worth or place in society.

Working with someone in a position to help requires the person being helped to open themselves up to the risk that they’ll be taken advantage of or overlooked again. Naturally, this causes their guards to go up.

In the hiring process, this often leads to behaviour that makes it difficult for an employer to understand the candidate well enough to determine whether they’d be a good fit for the role or the company.

As Diversity recruiting specialists, we work on building this trust from the start. A common reason why candidates lie in interviews, especially if they have had negative experiences in the past, is that they don’t trust the recruiter’s reaction to their truth—or their interpretation of it. They may walk into the room concerned about hiring bias or worry that the recruiter won’t be able to understand the cultural reasons behind some of their career decisions, such as taking a break from working in order to take care of their family.

At Contracts IT, our recruiters focus on relating to candidates first and building this personal connection in order to “disarm” the performance mode that all-too-often results in candidates borrowing a shoe to put their best foot forward.

Once a candidate trusts you, that’s when you’ll begin to gain an authentic perspective of who the candidate is and what they really can do.


Seeing how a candidate’s differences enhance them professionally

Think about the people and experiences that you’ve learned from that have helped you with your work.

Maybe you were talking about a work problem and the person listening offered a perspective that you hadn’t considered before. You may have learned about a different industry or job that ended up being useful in your work months later. Maybe your most impactful innovation was inspired by something you saw or experienced that was unrelated to work at the time.

If your goal is to create a diverse workforce—particularly a workforce that thrives on thought diversity to drive innovation—not making an effort to understand your candidates’ lives outside of work could be the biggest mistake you’re making.


I’m not suggesting that you should ask about their personal lives directly (that can feel intrusive and, depending on the question, may be risky to your organisation from a legal perspective) but you should be asking interview questions that open the opportunity for candidates to tell you about their personal experiences and networks.

These are a few questions you can use to better understand and relate to candidates on a personal level:

  • Do you have a mentor or someone in your life—this could either be personal or professional—that you look to for guidance or to share ideas with? [follow up on this question with: “Tell me about something you’ve learned from them”]
  • What interests you??
  • Tell me about a time when an experience outside of work helped you professionally?

The candidates you want to work for your organisation will have different experiences, different interests, and different lives.

The challenge is: how do you relate to a large number of people in a personal way without sounding inauthentic?


It’s painfully clear to spot the companies that are out of touch with their employees and candidates. You can see it in the language they use, the generalizations they make, the delicate way they approach candidates. Some Diversity hiring practices present to BAME and LGBT candidates as stereotypical, even bordering on the offensive in cases.

When it comes to building an organisation that thrives on diverse thinking, this line in Ms. Sandberg’s Facebook post really struck me.


“I will never experience and understand all of the challenges most single moms face, but I understand a lot more than I did a year ago.”


When hiring for diversity, you’re never going to experience and understand all of the challenges that your candidates face.

You won’t find a secret list hidden away somewhere with incentives or goals that motivate 100% of people in any given group, no matter the criteria you use to group them (e.g. personality types, racial backgrounds, age, socioeconomic backgrounds).

Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook post didn’t resonate with everyone. It even made some critics think that she’s back-tracking her message in Lean In. The comments and overall response, however, show that she was successful in building a personal connection with the people she was speaking to. This connection compelled many to engage with her.


Finding that experience… that emotion… that event… that connects the candidates we’re recruiting is what makes Diversity Recruiting work.


To learn how we can help you build a diverse workforce that thrives on unique perspectives, ideas, and abilities in the tech sector, visit us online or call +44 (0)20 7627 3358.



About the author

Naheed Afzal is an accomplished diversity advocate and co-founder of Contracts IT, a specialist technology recruitment agency that partners with businesses around the globe to promote diversity and inclusion within their recruitment practices. 

Naheed’s work and active involvement with organisations such as Wonder Women Tech, and The Engineering Development Trust, Mosaic, and MSDUK (Minority Supplier Diversity UK), have earned her an impressive list of accolades from organisations that celebrate diversity and mentorship.

If you would like to discuss the tech workforce challenges and goals for your business, please contact her by email [email protected] or by phone +44(0) 207-627-3358



Learn more about Social Hire

The Social Hire team never just do social media.

Our group of specialists are an organisation that helps our clients boost their social media marketing by offering social media management services on a monthly basis.

You might like these blog posts Website Speed and You, 7 Tips to Attract Instagram Followers… Fast!, How to Use Twitter to Promote Your Business, and Small Business Marketing - How To Generate Leads Using Social Media?.

  Back to Recruitment blogs