You’re reading an excerpt of The Holloway Guide to Technical Recruiting and Hiring, a book by Osman (Ozzie) Osman and over 45 other contributors. It is the most authoritative resource on growing software engineering teams effectively, written by and for hiring managers, recruiters, interviewers, and candidates. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, over 800 links and references, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.
Choosing a Decision-Making Strategy
No matter the strategy your company employs, it should align with your hiring goals and your company values. To that end, the following questions will be helpful to discuss among your team:
Consensus or Accountability?
It’s worth considering the trade-offs between the different methods of decision-making. These should be consistent with your company’s culture, and some cultures are inherently more consensus-driven than others.
Requiring consensus will probably mean more selective hiring, since doubt from any interviewer can mean rejecting the candidate. This may be even more important for candidates for a leadership role. On the other hand, allowing some discretion for the hiring manager might be useful in certain cases. After all, the entire process is noisy and a judgment call might be needed. Or, in some cases, the hiring manager may want to augment the team with skills or traits that the current team is undervaluing. Assessing candidate-company fit or candidate-team fit requires an objective sense of the team’s strengths and weaknesses—it’s hard for teams to reflect on what they lack.
Most of the decision-making techniques described above prevent managers from making unilateral hiring decisions. But when managers can’t freely choose who will join their team, they may feel it is because the company doesn’t trust them to make their own hiring decisions, and feel less empowered on all fronts. As we mentioned earlier, Netflix’s culture of “diffused accountability” allows managers (and teams) to make hiring decisions independent from the rest of the company and without a lot of structured process. The company strives to have managers who feel like they “own the hiring decision every step of the way.” Imposing any friction or external decision-making could undermine their sense of accountability.
caution However, managers can be reluctant to take ideas from the team for the wrong reasons, often because they are tasked by their managers to focus on short-term outcomes.* In hiring, this can be particularly problematic when individual decision-makers or hiring managers override disagreement among the team related to interpersonal or values-related concerns—for example, underrepresented interviewers being ignored by hiring managers when they raise concerns about a candidate’s attitude or views. If anyone on the team is worried that bringing someone on will affect their safety or ability to thrive at the company, the decision-maker needs to listen.
It’s important that the team agrees on who is responsible for making a decision and understands the hiring structures in place. Even if the hiring manager (or committee) is right about the candidate’s skills and potential, the candidate will still have to rely on the rest of the team to succeed, especially in the critical first few months.
Hiring for Team or Company?
One way to think about this is whether you prefer hiring for each team or hiring for the company overall. If every team can make local decisions, it can be hard to ensure consistency in hiring, especially at larger companies. This can impact a company’s ability to move engineers internally and even allow cultural silos to form. Many companies with team-based decision-making also are also quick to let employees go if they are no longer a fit for the team they were hired for.
On the other hand, using techniques like hiring committees, which introduce decision-makers who won’t work closely with the candidate or team, will result in decisions that weigh the candidate’s fit for the company as a whole.
How Important Is Speed?
One of the core principles is to keep the recruiting process as fast as possible, while balancing speed with the principles of effectiveness and fairness. Efficiency is extremely important for the candidate experience, especially when a candidate is anxiously waiting on the final offer decision and may also be hearing back from other competitors.
But speed must be balanced with the principles of effectiveness and fairness. Having one person responsible for a decision will certainly be fast—but with only one person’s perspective, will it be fair? Is there enough confidence in that person’s decision that the candidate will thrive at the company and be in it for the long term?
A more structured process designed to emphasize effectiveness and fairness will usually lead to longer decision times. Companies with multiple layers of approval, typically large companies, are notorious for taking a significant amount of time to make a final decision. In Facebook’s early days, the company tried to work against this trend by having hiring committees meet on a daily basis for fifteen minutes to ensure faster turnaround times. There is always a tension and a balance to be found between these principles, and the more experience a company has in hiring, the more likely they are to figure out strategies that can meet that balance.
Decision-Making Tips and Pitfalls
Now you’re set up to navigate the final decision about whether to make a candidate an offer. You have developed a philosophy and strategy around hiring, decided what you’re looking for ahead of time, designed and administered structured interviews, and agreed on who should be making the final decision. And sometimes, the decision can be straightforward. But often, things are not so clear cut—after all, you’re working with limited (and noisy) information.
Here are some tips for making the final call:
Stick to your hiring criteria as best you can. Did the candidate actually demonstrate the skills required for the role? How did they perform against a calibrated rubric? Take into account all the positions you had on strategic issues, such as how strong of a fit you need for this role. Putting all of that together, is this someone who will be successful once hired?
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