A proven concept in behavioral economics1, choice architecture is about changing the environment in which decisions are made—reducing the potential for bias and error—to arrive at choices that are better aligned with your goals. As a hiring manager, you may or may not be able to choose who will interview your prospective new hire. But there are steps you can take to ensure that regardless of who is involved in the process, you’ll get the input you need to fairly evaluate each candidate while maintaining positive relationships with your colleagues and leadership team.
Who Gets a Voice When It’s Your Choice
To get the most value from including a variety of people in the hiring decision, choose interviewers with a track record of successful hiring and a substantial understanding of the work, role, and competencies required to succeed. These may include peer-level colleagues, a supervisor, or sometimes even a board member. These people are your veto voters; their opinion matters. When someone with veto power says no, the candidate is not hired.
Give your interviewers ample time before the interview to review the most current job description, performance expectations, competencies needed to succeed in the role, and cues to assess how the candidate might add to your organization’s culture. Explain their role as decision maker and outline the type of feedback you’ll be looking for following the interview.
Every person comes to the table with an agenda, their default mode of thinking, whether that’s an unconscious bias toward the familiar or ideas about how they will interact with the potential new hire. By intentionally framing the position, you’re creating an environment that overrides that default mode resulting in a more productive interview.
What to Do When You Don’t Get to Choose
You may have to include others in the hiring decision who don’t understand the role, are junior team members, or have a poor track record for interviewing, regardless of their level of seniority in the organization. These are your courtesy interviewers. They occasionally have something important to contribute, but their input should not significantly affect the hiring decision.
The key to managing courtesy interviewers is learning from their input without becoming too distracted by their opinions. Their opinions should not be given equal weight to a veto voter unless they have objective facts to share.
Schedule these less-skilled interviewers into a panel interview. This involves them while respecting the candidate’s time and diminishing any adverse impact they may have on the hiring decision and the candidate’s perception of your company.
As with your veto voters, debrief this group ahead of time with the same performance expectations and competency framework and set clear expectations about their interview role. Explain that they should embrace a collegial rather than critical mindset. Their job isn’t to evaluate whether to hire this person. It’s to get to know the candidate and consider how their competencies and working style might add to the team.
Particularly for group members with less power, it’s human nature to respond negatively to outsiders—often without realizing it—creating a high tendency to be critical2. That’s the default mode for this group. If possible, include a hiring manager or experienced interviewer on the panel to moderate in case the discussion degrades to a grilling session.
Taking these steps will give you input that you can weigh appropriately within the context of the hiring decision and create a positive experience for the candidate while making your colleagues feel valued.
Avoid Groupthink With Structured Feedback
How you collect feedback from both sets of interviewers will make or break this process. Our basic human need for belonging drives groupthink3, the default mode for us all. In a group debrief where everyone shares their opinions without formal structure, one voice is often louder and more powerful than the rest; whether their ideas are helpful is moot. Once that voice rises up, the rest of the group tends to agree4, throwing all of your preparation out the window.
Avoid groupthink by structuring your feedback sessions. When possible, gather feedback privately soon after the interview. If you gather interview feedback in a group setting, allow a few minutes for silent reflection, have the group write down their ideas, and share them individually.
The questions you ask are essential here. Avoid questions like, “Who should we hire?” or “Who do you like?” The answers are more likely to be personal opinions, inherently biased toward the familiar. Instead, ask, “What do you think the candidate’s strengths were?” and “What support would we need to provide this candidate to help them be successful here?” This respectful inquiry will surface precisely the feedback you need to make a good decision.
Unanimous Agreement Isn’t Your Goal
While unanimous agreement is great when it occurs, it shouldn’t be something you strive for. Your goal is to collect structured feedback from interviewers as part of your decision framework, weighing the value according to each interviewer’s role and your hiring goals. Applying the principles of choice architecture, you’ve taken steps to reduce error and bias in gathering information about this candidate. That information—not unanimous agreement—will support a hiring decision that will benefit your organization for years to come.