One of the most challenging things to do is to build consensus about a candidate when multiple interviewers are involved in the hiring decision. Four interviewers can listen to a candidate clearly illustrate their competency for a role and come away with entirely different opinions about their ability to do the work. This happens so frequently it feels inevitable. And while perfect consensus isn’t often necessary, you need enough agreement to make a good hiring decision in a timely manner. Here’s how.
It’s All About Perspective
Individuals perceive candidates based on their personal experiences and their roles in an organization—we all have slight preferences for some qualities over others. Finance people will look at candidates one way; program staff will look at them another. Some interviewers may believe specific industry experience is important, while others are more interested in seeing functional impact across different fields.
Different viewpoints can be incredibly useful, but you can end up with endless interviews and a gridlock of opposing feedback that may not be related to the expertise your team really needs. Each person will look for different qualities in a candidate, making it difficult to build agreement without a consistent set of well-defined criteria for the technical and soft skills needed to succeed in the role.
It matters who you choose to include in the interview process, the role they will play in the hiring decision, how you prepare them to evaluate candidates, and how you collect their feedback.
Choose Your Interviewers Wisely
First, think about who you want to include and—most importantly—why.
You may invite finance team members to evaluate candidates for their budgeting experience and an HR person who focuses more on norms around culture and values. You may include board members to assess alignment with your organization’s mission. Or volunteers to evaluate how candidates connect with different stakeholders.
Whoever you want to include, ask yourself:
- What role do I want each person to have and why?
- What interview stage do I want each person involved in and why?
- Who will get a deciding vote? Who can rule a candidate out?
- What am I hoping to get from each person’s feedback? How will it affect the hiring decision?
- How much agreement do I need to move forward with a candidate?
Understanding each person’s role will enable you to better prepare them to interview candidates and weigh their feedback appropriately. You may find that there are some that you need agreement from and others you do not.
Define and Debrief
Have you ever been asked to interview someone with no more background information than the job title and their resume? Unless you were an expert in their functional area and knew the job inside and out, you probably struggled to give impartial feedback. We’ve all been there. Interviewers need structure to focus on what is objectively required to succeed in the role.
To create that structure:
- Start by defining the 3-5 key job competencies required to achieve success, including context about the work that will land on this person’s desk. Treat essential soft skills like any job competency, outlining how the candidate will use these skills to work within your organization and on their team.
- Develop interview questions based on those skills and consistent criteria to evaluate the candidate’s responses. If you use a work sample test in your hiring process (we strongly recommend it), make sure the assignment and accompanying discussion align with this same framework.
Debrief all interviewers with the key skills, interview questions or work samples, and context about the job. Explain to each interviewer their role and the type of feedback you are looking for. You want everyone to be on the same page before talking to candidates.
Collect Structured Feedback
How you collect feedback from interviewers is critical. Groupthink occurs in discussions often; it happens when a single voice overshadows the others, potentially skewing the objective feedback you are looking for.
Collect feedback individually soon after the interview when possible. In group settings, give your interviewers time for silent reflection and ask them to write down their ideas and share them privately.
When you collect feedback from interviewers, avoid questions like, “Who should we hire?” or “Who do you like?” The answers are more likely to be personal opinions. 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?”
Emphasize the Importance of Doing the Work
We often evaluate others based on how we can relate to them. Our “gut feelings” are actually slight preferences for one characteristic over another. That’s why four interviewers come away with four different opinions about a candidate who is demonstrably qualified for a role.
Problems arise when interviewers unknowingly favor a candidate for reasons unrelated to the job’s required skills. Making a hiring decision based on factors unrelated to job competencies is risky—it’s the root cause of many hiring errors.
The Staffing Advisors team has seen this in our executive search work at every career level, from director to CEO. A candidate who starts as a frontrunner because they seem like a “good fit” that interviewers can relate to falls behind when structured interviews and work sample testing require them to demonstrate their ability to do the actual work.
Using a competency-driven approach to hiring, the candidate who can do the work best always rises to the top. And it’s much easier for your team to agree on that.
- Read the Staffing Advisors Employer Guide to Interviewing for a complete guide through every step of the interview process—from pre-interview work and who to include in your interviews to determining what to discuss and how to collect feedback afterward.
- For a practical guide to developing effective work sample tests (including real examples from executive searches for Staffing Advisors’ nonprofit and association clients), read SA Perspectives: Work Sample Testing.