Building an Interview Team

When a hiring manager (or a recruiting manager) brings a candidate in for a round of interviews, one of the most important pre-interview tasks is to decide who will interview the candidate.  In almost all cases, the hiring manager and someone from HR are involved, for reasons that are (I hope) obvious.  Who else?

Remind yourself of what you’re trying to accomplish: Is this candidate the best person to do the job you’re trying to fill?  Who is qualified to help make that judgment?

In addition to assessing the candidate, it’s important to recognize another function of the interview process: the fact that the candidate is making a decision about your company, as well.  You want to consider that as you compose the interview team.  You should expose the candidate to a cross-section of the co-workers she would have.  In addition, you want to present your organization favorably – part of the interview process should be a “recruiting pitch” – not forced or contrived, but legitimately and honestly highlighting the benefits of joining your team.

With those considerations, who should be included on the team (and what are they expected to accomplish)?

  • Potential peers, especially senior co-workers

If you’re hiring a software developer, these are senior engineers on the same team.  If you’re hiring a sales rep or a sales consultant, this is one of your best sales reps or sales consultants.

A key objective of potential peers is to assess the relevant skills for the job.  Give the developer candidate a programming task or a problem-solving exercise.  Ask a sales candidate to make a presentation, as he would to a potential customer.  Ask a potential QA engineer to design a test plan or a set of test cases.  Give a writing task to a product marketing candidate or a potential technical writer.  Make the assignment as real possible.  [I cannot stress this enough.  Candidates should have to demonstrate that they can perform the tasks that they’ll need to perform after they are hired.]

These individuals can also serve (possibly unwittingly) in the “recruiting” part of the interview process.  Ideally, they like what they do and are often passionate about the organization.  When they are, that will show through in their demeanor and enthusiasm during the interview.

  • Potential subordinates

It can be tricky, when hiring a manager or leader, to include potential subordinates in the hiring process.  I always do, for several reasons.  Most importantly, those future subordinates are likely respected, talented, current employees whose judgment you trust.  [If that’s not true, then you have a much bigger management problem than the hiring process at hand!]  In addition, those people have different (but valid) expectations of what that new manager will need to do.  You need to be realistic when considering the input of these potential subordinates, but it does need to be considered.

  • Experienced interviewers from other departments

This is a role that’s often overlooked (or never considered) by hiring managers.  I think that’s especially unfortunate, because it can be very valuable.  [That belief is only partially because I personally play this role very often.  At my company over the past few years, I’ve interviewed candidates for Account Executive, HR manager, IT Director, Territory Manager, Software Engineer, Data Warehouse Consultant, Test Engineer, Sales Consultant, Project Manager, and more.]

This person’s role is sort of a catch-all.  Identify imposters.  Evaluate the ability of the candidate to handle stress.  Distinguish real contributions and real leadership from mere participation.  Uncover potential personality problems or motivational challenges.  Anticipate mismatches with company culture.  [Yes, it really is possible for someone to do all of those things in an interview.  I’ll explore that in a future post.]

  • The hiring manager’s boss (and higher levels of management)

This person can often play the role described above, but has a few other important potential duties.  One is to answer questions the candidate might have about the hiring manager and about the organization.  In addition, this person is often the key advocate of the organization in convincing the candidate to join the company.  After all, a higher level manager or executive can (we hope) effectively convey the company direction and strategy, offering a compelling vision of why it’s a great place to work.

Although that’s a lot of different roles, don’t shy away from being thorough.  Hiring decisions are critically important.  Hiring mistakes are extremely expensive.  If you hire an unqualified candidate, it will probably take months to recognize the problem and even longer to correct it.  During those months, you’ll spend money and time training the new employee.  Meanwhile, once you do correct the problem (and replace the failed employee), you’ll be back where you started, but you’ll have missed months of opportunity that would have resulted from a better hiring decision.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

You might be wondering whether you can really include that many people in the interview process.  In my opinion, you can’t afford not to!

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