How to make great hiring decisions

Hiring managers discussing recruitment strategy over coffee

10 mins, 2 secs read time

In recruiting, we put great effort into sourcing and interviewing top talent, but when it comes time to make the right hiring decisions, we far too often hit a wall. There isn’t a recruiter out there who hasn’t spent months running a great process only to be met with comments from hiring managers, like:

  • “None of the candidates are perfect, let’s keep looking” or
  • “Let’s bring them both back in… just one more time” or (I know you’ve heard this one)
  • “Can’t you keep them warm for another week?”

This indecision isn’t only frustrating (no, we can‘t just keep the candidate warm for one more week!), it also creates a poor experience for the candidate, signals a lack of confidence in your hiring managers and is costing your company top talent.

If this resonates with you, know that you’re not alone. Here are four straightforward things that you, as a recruiter, can do to bring clarity and confidence to your hiring decisions.

Start with clear roles and responsibilities

There are a number of stakeholders involved in the recruiting process – each with a very important role. To avoid friction between these stakeholders when the final hiring decision is being made, it’s important to align everyone’s specific responsibilities early on.

The hiring manager is the main decision maker

As the future manager of the new hire, the hiring manager is the main stakeholder of the hiring process and the ultimate decision maker. Others will support their decision-making process with data, information and consulting, but the hiring manager is ultimately accountable for the success of their team.

The hiring manager will also have to weigh the potential risks and rewards of their decision. With the help of the recruiter as their consultant, they’ll be able to weigh those tradeoffs in an informative and intentional way.

The recruiter is the project manager and the consultant

As the project manager, the recruiter will design and facilitate the overall hiring process. They will be the hub at the center of all communication, ensuring that everyone is well prepared for the process and informed along the way.

The recruiter is also the consultant. Given their experience and scope of knowledge of the market and the business, the recruiter can provide expert guidance on the structure of the recruiting process, the talent pool and the strategy behind the decision-making.

The recruiting coordinator is the facilitator

The coordinator covers the details. They ensure that what needs to get done, gets done efficiently. Similar to the recruiter, the coordinator will be at the hub of the process, but they will be focused on tactical efficiency rather than strategic consulting.

The interviewers are advisors

The interviewers will gather information throughout the interview process to inform the decision of the hiring manager. They should be set up for success through well-designed interview kits that enable them to gather the best data.

Recognizing that all interviewers will bring their own personal biases to an assessment, the interviewers should represent a diverse slate of people from across your organization. That will help ensure the best, most objective data possible is being used to make the hiring decision.

The approver is an objective check on the process

Different internal stakeholders can hold the role of approver, but it’s important that they have a more objective view of the process. Often this will be a leader on the People team, a department head, the CEO or even a hiring committee or panel. The role of the approver(s) is to ensure that the decision on who to hire was made as thoughtfully and objectively as possible.

They should review feedback to ensure it’s thorough, check that hiring decisions are being made in a consistent way across roles, and verify that compensation and leveling is equitable across the offers that are submitted to them.

More and more organizations – like Google and Amazon – are starting to utilize hiring panels as their approvers instead of or along with executives. It’s easy to see how a panel of objective observers will help to ensure a consistent process is used and better hiring decisions are made.

Create a big-picture strategy

Using a structured hiring process will support better decision-making by bringing better data into the process. And to optimize those decisions, establish and maintain a consistent framework and strategy for all of your hiring decisions.

Company and department level strategy

In her book Radical Candor, Kim Scott talks about the concept of employees as “rock stars” and “superstars”. Some great employees are “the rock of the team” – they maintain structure and institutional knowledge, and leaders can always depend on them in their role. Other great employees are superstars – they are hyper-ambitious, accomplish great things and blast forward in their careers, and leaders can depend on them to drive the business forward.

Teams will thrive when they have a mix of rock stars and superstars, but companies will benefit from being strategic and intentional about which profile of employee will take the business where it needs to go at that moment in time.

A defined strategy for each role

Strategically defining and prioritizing the attributes necessary for success in a role will enable more informed decisions on who to hire. Here are a few tips:

  • Use focus attributes to prioritize the most important attributes for success in the role. When it comes time to make the hiring decision, simply shift the focus of your decision onto those most important data points.
  • Differentiating nice-to-have attributes upfront will reduce the risk of false negatives. This is how you reduce the risk of rejecting a stellar candidate because they didn’t have a specific skill or experience that wasn’t essential in the first place.
  • Define coachable attributes based on the existing team’s known skills. In order to diversify the expertise on a team, predefine the attributes that are necessary but coachable. This will broaden the pipeline of candidates and enable you to hire for a broader range of excellence on your team.

All of the guidance above is intended to illustrate what great decision-making looks like before the hiring process even starts, so the hiring manager can remain focused throughout the process and have full confidence in every hiring decision.

Gather reliable data

There cannot be a decisive and objective hiring decision if it’s made using gut instinct. Gut instinct decisions will lead to bias in the hiring process, a lack of confidence from other stakeholders and, ultimately, the wrong person in the role. Instead, a structured process that will enable data-driven decisions should be implemented.

Before interviewing begins, build a scorecard of attributes that are necessary to achieve the goals that will define success in a role. Use a consistent and structured interview process to assess each candidate for those attributes. Make your final hiring decision based only on the data gathered in the process – not on your feelings toward a particular candidate. A few tips for gathering reliable data:

  • Diversify your interview panels as much as possible in order to get multiple perspectives of the candidates and make your data more objective.
  • Keep the scorecard and the process consistent. Assess all candidates for the same role on the same set of attributes so that your final comparison is apples to apples.
  • Recognize potential bias in human evaluation. Acknowledging that you can’t eliminate bias in human evaluation, you are responsible as the decision maker for acknowledging its presence in both your data and your final decision.

Present a structured candidate roundup

The final step in making clear, confident hiring decisions is a well-structured candidate roundup. At a high level, the recommended structure of a roundup meeting is: align on the goal of the meeting, discuss potential interview biases and dig into the attributes assessed throughout the interviews.

Align on the goal of the roundup

The goal of this meeting is to clarify details and gather further evidence to inform the hiring manager’s decision. It’s important to note that the goal is not necessarily to make a decision on the spot, though that will certainly happen in some cases. Generally speaking, the recruiter will facilitate the conversation, the hiring manager will be analyzing the data and all the interviewers will be providing context for their data points.

Focus on attributes, not feelings

The natural tendency in a roundup might be for the facilitator to ask “How did you feel about this candidate?” but we encourage you to focus on the assessment of the attributes over any feelings about the candidate. By gathering data in a structured way through scorecards, you can make this change very simply. Rather than asking about feelings toward the candidate, the facilitator will use statements and questions like:

  • “You assessed in your scorecard that the candidate was not collaborative. Can you tell us what answer or behavior led to that assessment?”
  • “You assessed the candidate to be highly technically proficient. Can you back that up with an example?”

Now you’re focusing the conversation on the assessment of attributes, not individual feelings about the candidate.

Address potential biases

All humans have bias, and becoming more aware of our biases is the first step in reducing unconscious bias in your hiring decisions. At the start of the meeting, promote awareness of potential interview biases by directly defining and discussing them. Some common interview biases to address with the hiring manager and interview team are:

  • First impression error is the tendency to make initial judgments, positive or negative, about a candidate in the first moments that you meet them. After that first impression is made, our natural tendency is to spend the remainder of the interview searching for validation of that initial impression.
  • Affinity bias leads us to favor people who we feel we have a connection or similarity to. For example, attending the same college, growing up in the same town or reminding us of ourselves or someone we know and like.
  • Recency bias comes into play when you have a stronger recollection of the most recent candidates interviewed rather than those you met earlier in the interview process.
  • Finally and in roundups particularly, remind the interviewers about Groupthink, where the opinion of one vocal (often powerful) interviewer dominates the narrative about a candidate.

Once the facilitator addresses that the biases do exist, let all the participants know that you’ll be asking questions throughout the roundup designed to mitigate the impact of those biases. And encourage them to do the same. Simple questions like “What do you mean by that?” and “Why do you think that?” can go a long way. And asking for more detail through questions like “Can you provide us with a specific example?” and “Can you tie that feeling back to a scorecard attribute?” will help you to stay focused on the attributes displayed by the candidate rather than the interviewers feelings about them.

Additionally, in order to reduce groupthink, require all interviewers to submit written feedback prior to the meeting and encourage the more junior members of the team to speak first so they feel more comfortable stating their findings and less pressure to align with the group.

With this guidance toward better hiring decisions, we’re confident you’ll reduce friction in your hiring teams and save valuable time for your company.

And please don’t forget the importance of transparent communication throughout your decision-making process for ensuring alignment. Communicate clearly with the hiring team about their roles and the value they add to the process. Use the data you gathered in your structured process to make a case to the approvers and clearly explain why you’ve chosen to hire the candidate. Finally, communicate the process and the feedback to the candidate to let them know their time is valuable to you and help them understand why you want them on your team – it could go a long way in their decision on whether to accept.

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