Iterating on a Hiring Process (Part 1)

Remember, It Is a Project that Impacts People


As part of my job responsibilities, I’ve served on several hiring committees. I have been the hiring manager for a few of those.

Moving candidates through a hiring process with a hiring committee involves many decisions by many people about many other people. I want to share my process that I’ve refined and adopted.

This will be a two part blog post. This post will give a process overview. The other post will go into the details of some tools I’ve designed.

Process Overview

There are three major components of the process:

  1. Treat hiring as a project with a deadline
  2. Provide consistent and considerate engagement
  3. Use tools to support decision making

Treat Hiring as a Project with a Deadline

The first thing I like to do on a hiring committee is to establish a date when we will extend an offer to a candidate. Up until that point, the hiring committee has significant control over the timeline. Once we extend the first offer, things get murkier.

First there might be a counter offer period. Or we may need to move on from our initial choice to another candidate. The extended offer is that moment when we all enter into a quasi-contractual moment. This is why I choose to figure out the offer date.

Then, from that date, we work backwards and establish due dates for the various known phases. In the cases I’ve seen we have:

  1. Application window open
  2. Application window closed
  3. First date to review applicants
  4. Last date to review applicants
  5. First date for screening interviews
  6. Last date for screening interviews
  7. Date to decide who advances from screening to in-depth interview
  8. Window of time to hold for in-depth interviews

Those dates are not entirely solidiable. However, in working backwards, we can determine if the offer extended date is feasible, or if we need to adjust the timeline.

And for heavens sake, please everyone look at the calendar; Understand summer includes vacations and between Thanksgiving and New Years is a real difficult time to do any hiring processes.

In other words, be realistic and account for known disruptive times. Then stick to that schedule, and if it slips adjust that offer extended date to accommodate.

Provide Consistent and Considerate Engagement

When I’m the hiring manager, once we’ve selected who we’ll first talk with, I send an initial round of written questions to the candidates. I like to give them at least 3 days, and preferably a full week to answer and return their written response. I want those responses in with at least a day for the hiring committee members to review. Failure to follow the instructions is grounds for me to pass on advancing the candidate; more on that in a bit.

Let me reiterate, doing this one thing—providing written questions and requiring written responses—is the single best thing I’ve introduced to my hiring process.

These written questions and instructions serve many purposes:

  1. It ensures I’m asking the same questions in those initial interviews.
  2. It “breaks the ice” in our first verbal conversation.
  3. Given that competent written communication is a requirement of the job, this tests that.
  4. There’s a written artifact that can move with the candidate for later rounds of interviews.
  5. It allows for those who are think then speak to have a chance to shine; that could be the candidate or the interviewer.
  6. Failure to follow the written procedures can help surface problematic behavior.

There have been a few candidates that I’ve sent instructions, and for various reasons, they failed to follow them. In some cases, I’ve found people writing up an excuse laden with blame-throwing or demonstrated a brazen degree of hubris. In other cases, someone had a momentary crisis. In all cases, if anyone reaches out to me with asking for accommodations, I’ll readily and without reservation make an accommodation.

Other things that I do for consistent and considerate engagement is that I share where we’re at in the hiring process. I also share the general date by which we hope to extend an offer. Sharing that general date helps candidates plan; after all they are likely applying to more than one position, so I want to be as clear and up front about the timeline so they can plan.

And as quickly as possible, if I’m not considering advancing an applicant to the next round, I’ll reach out to them and let them know.

In other words, I try to treat each candidate as though they were already a colleague; I really don’t believe that hiring should be trials of fire. They should instead be deliberate and demonstrating who we aspire to be.

Crafting Questions

When I first started doing this, I asked too many questions. With input from others, I think 5 or so questions is the right amount. When crafting those questions, reference the position’s Knowledge, Skill, and Abilities (KSAs 📖). Make sure that each KSA will likely be discussed in at least one of the answers.

If the candidate’s written answers don’t answer a KSA, make sure in your screening interview to ask a follow-up question to hone in on evaluating that response.

These questions and prompts should be open-ended:

  • Describe your favorite collaborative project and your role on that project.
  • Please describe a time when you faced a significant organizational or political barrier to succeeding with an important work project or activity. Describe the barrier and the process you used to arrive at your solution.
  • Describe a technology in which you’ve needed to gain a depth of understanding. How did you go about gaining that understanding?

And always ask What questions do you have for us? That question is a kindness you can extend to yourself and to the hiring committee members. It lets you all think of their answers ahead of any verbal conversation.

Again, let’s give time and space for fellow humans to think and be their best self.

Use Tools to Support Decision Making

This last one requires a blog post of it’s own. But for an overview, provide a process for people to consistently submit feedback regarding candidates. The hiring manager and committee should be able to reference this feedback as they make their decisions. And they too should be using those tools.

These tools primary purpose is to provide a consistent mechanism for comparing and evaluating candidates.

In the next blog post in this series, I’ll go into far more detail about these tools. As a spoiler, they’ve been tested for hiring processes, but are extensible to other group decision making activities.