In my experience, the number one way that organizations undermine their own hiring processes has little to do with HR systems, information sources, or recruiters (although they can play a part). The biggest problems are more mundane: too often, teams fail to clarify internally what they value most, and as a result the organization doesn't grow from the interview and hiring process. The problem isn't unique to the tech sector, either. For example, the hiring process for people in many industries plays out like this:
A colleague asks you to interview a candidate for a role in your department. You study the candidate's rsum and spot a few line items you want to discuss with them. You push a few other meetings around to make room for the interview--not always easy but hey, you know interviews are important. When the time comes, you meet put the candidate through her paces and answer her questions about the company--sometimes. Once the interview is over, you need to switch gears and get back to your work and all those other meetings and conversations you had to move around. You write up your feedback on the candidate and have a hallway conversation with the manager who asked you, "What did you think of so-and-so?" Days or weeks go by, and you hear whether the candidate got an offer or not and it takes you a few minutes to remember who that person was.
That's a lousy process, but it's a common one. I know plenty of people who would say this describes the majority of their interview experiences once they found themselves on the hiring side of the conversation. And if that's how the scene usually plays out in a company, everyone loses.
What Should Happen Before the Interview
The interview process itself can make companies stronger even without hiring a single person. When a group has to decide whether to admit a new candidate for membership or not, it forces the group to ask important questions of itself:What makes us who we are today, and are we happy with that? What qualities must a new person have to not slow us down and possibly make us even better? What do we want to look like as a group in the future? Determining whether to hire someone requires understanding. The best groups share a vision for how they want to build a successful culture and organization from the people up. That vision serves as the true north for everyone on the team as new people join. Done right, it is an irreplaceable part of not just building a culture but also of inculcating a philosophy for how to grow with people. Great teams and organizations get better through this process every time they go through it. Most don't.
Whenever someone asks you to participate in an interview, don't go in there without the information you'll need to make an informed judgment as to whether the person is a fit:
- Job Description--Don't settle for a boilerplate list of responsibilities. Ask the hiring manager to explain in their own words what they expect the person to be able to do and what qualities are most important to them. Find out what they're willing to compromise on and what they aren't. With whom does the hiring manager expect the candidate to work most closely if hired? You need as clear a picture as you can as to what it will look like when the ideal candidate is in place and contributing.
- Ramp-up expectations: What skills does the person whom you hire for the role need to have on Day One, and what can they learn over time on the job? Understanding how much time you expect someone to need before they start being really effective will help you judge how much to weigh raw ability and smarts versus subject matter expertise when making a recommendation. The best way I've found to do this is to pick a recent project with which everyone on the team is familiar, and establish a baseline for the size of the contribution to that project you would expect the candidate to be able to contribute.
What Should Happen After the Interview: The Candidate Debrief
I've learned more about business from participating in candidate debriefs with my past managers than probably other activity in my career. Numerous times, I recommended hiring or passing on a candidate with what I thought was sound logic only to be schooled by a more experienced executive who identified things I'd missed and completely changed my point of view. It's one of the best ways to, because new hires are often evaluated in the context of whether they can help solve one of them.
Debriefs are pretty basic, but I'll recommend three simple rules.
- Don't settle for sending feedback over email or for collecting feedback from people individually. In my opinion, this is where tools like Jobvite and others ruin the process by encouraging people to type rather than talk. This conversation must happen synchronously, verbally, and with as many of the interviewers present in the same room as possible as soon after the interview as possible. The purpose is to maximize dialogue so that everyone benefits from each other's perspectives and experience in addition to making a good hiring decision.
- No exceptions to rule number 1. No matter how senior or junior the position is.
- No one gets to pass on answering the "should we hire this person" question. Everyone must explain their answer, for or against, must be explained based on their observation. If the answer is "I don't know," then the person must explain why they can't make a determination and what they would need in order to do so.
It's tempting with scheduling difficulties to find quicker and easier ways for people to provide their feedback on a candidate. Don't let it happen.
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