A team-oriented approach to making good hires

I made two really bad hiring decisions in a row a few years back, and I have to admit that it shook me for a while. I won’t go into details about why these two hires were horrendous (although I should note that the problem was not because the requisite technical skills were lacking), but the most important thing I can say about them is that both hires happened when, with all good intentions, I departed from the general hiring process and practice that I’ve evolved to over the years.

This process doesn’t always work out exactly as described below, for scheduling reasons, but here’s what I strive for and what I’ve found tends to get great results:

  • Through resume screening and phone call interviews, narrow the field to between three and five viable candidates, all of whom appear, on paper, to have the necessary experience and skills to do the job;
  • Construct an interviewing group, usually with 3-5 people on it, drawn from a cross-section of the people that the position to be hired will need to deal with. When possible and appropriate, get participation from business stakeholders, not just IT people.
  • Hold a brief meeting with that group, coming to a general agreement on which of them will be asking what kinds of questions (technical, background, judgment questions, etc.). It makes sense for there to be a division of responsibilities here, so that every interviewer doesn’t try to cover all the bases in a short interview. This is also a great opportunity to make sure that everyone is on the same page about what you, as hiring manager, are seeking in the ideal candidate and why.
  • Pull in each of the candidates for interviews, preferably all within about a week of each other. Have the interviews, generally, consist of half-hour to 45-minute one-on-one sessions with each of the members of your interviewing panel.
  • Get written feedback from each interviewer, and do not have the interviewers discuss their impressions with each other. The written feedback should consist of three important areas: pros for this candidate; cons for this candidate; and a single “hire” / “no hire” recommendation about this candidate. That recommendation is abstract, meaning “could the candidate fill the position and work out effectively here.” It’s not, for example, a recommendation with respect to the other candidates. It’s possible, in an interviewing cycle like this, for every candidate to receive a “hire” recommendation from everyone (and kudos to your screening process if that happens!)
  • When all the interviews are complete, reconvene your interviewing panel, with you, the hiring manager, as facilitator / moderator. Ask that each person, independently, rank the candidates in order of choice, from 1 to n. Write up the results in a matrix on the board: candidates as rows, panel members as columns. Note that this is why you asked the panel members not to discuss their feelings in advance with one another; it’s best to have independent assessments rather than the kind of “groupthink” that tends to emerge when people collude on their impressions.

Most often, you’ll see a clear consensus emerge for the top one or two candidates of the bunch. Occasionally, but rarely, the results will be all over the map, and you’ll find utterly invaluable and revealing the resulting discussion as to why that’s so.

In the end, it should be clear that you’re the hiring manager, and it’s your call. The panel is there to help you and to provide input, not to make the decision itself. This process is no silver bullet, no guarantee, no automated recipe. You may have to override the panel, or certainly one or more members on it. Make sure, going into this process, that everyone understands that reality. The best hire I ever made was an example of my having to override the “no hire” recommendation of my chief lieutenant about the candidate, and by no means did I do so lightly.

Go through this process methodically and without fail, and, if your results resemble mine, you will discover that bad mishires, while not impossible, are few and far between. You’ll also reap the many benefits of having taken a solid, team-oriented approach to hiring. Hiring may be the most important thing you do besides resource allocation (to be sure, it’s really just a species of resource allocation, one could argue). Invest the time and care it deserves.

Lagniappe

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