Decision-Making Techniques

9 minutes, 14 links


Updated August 24, 2022
Technical Recruiting and Hiring

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While any of the above archetypes can be highly successful, each has pitfalls, and the way a company makes hiring decisions can impact the candidate experience and the type of people that get hired. The techniques employed to make hiring decisions are often driven by an underlying philosophy about who should be empowered to make decisions and how those decision-makers should be held accountable.

As you’re building your process, you might use these techniques:

Debrief Sessions

In a recruiting debrief session (or huddle), interviewers, recruiters, and the hiring manager meet to discuss all the feedback from a candidate’s interview process and discuss the candidate’s performance. In advance of the session, the hiring manager should circulate interviewers’ written feedback for the entire group to review. The discussion in the debrief session itself is led by a moderator, often the hiring manager.

As this Guide uses the terms, debrief sessions differ from postmortem meetings in that debrief sessions are about assessing candidates’ performance while postmortem meetings are about assessing the recruiting and hiring process for a role.

At many companies, the moderator is the hiring manager, but not always. For example, at some companies, an impartial moderator is assigned to avoid any authority bias that might affect more junior interviewers (Dropbox used this technique in the past). Others start with the most junior team members to try to avoid biasing them with the opinions of more senior members.

In a debrief, every interviewer should have an answer to the question: “Should we hire this person?”* Healthy debate should be encouraged to avoid groupthink (to see examples of this in action, you can read about the Asch conformity tests). By the end of the meeting, it should be clear whether to reject the candidate, move them forward, or if additional information might be required.

A good debrief session can serve multiple purposes:

  • Assemble and combine feedback. By collecting and discussing all the feedback, the hiring manager can create a clearer view of how the candidate performed. It’s good to probe for “patterns in the noise.” For instance, maybe multiple interviewers detected a (positive or negative) personality trait in the candidate, but didn’t detect it with enough confidence to weigh it heavily. Or maybe the candidate was rude or condescending to interviewers (or recruiters) of a particular gender, age, or perceived status. There might be an area that wasn’t thoroughly tested and requires further information.

  • Discuss uncertainties and disagreements. A healthy debate can help surface where perceptions differ and help elicit how interviewers really feel about a candidate. The goal is not to come to universal agreement, but to be welcoming of opinions and explicit about uncertainties and about where people disagree, and why.

  • Calibrate and learn. Group discussions can help interviewers learn from each other and better calibrate how they interview and evaluate candidates. It’s often a good practice to tell everyone that a secondary goal of every debrief session is to help each other improve at future interviewing and hiring decisions.

  • Build teamwork on decisions. The verbal discussion can help every interviewer feel heard and bought into the final decision. It helps reinforce the fact that recruiting is a team effort. If the previous three goals are handled well, it can make the whole team more confident that hiring decisions are being made well and with the right inputs.

contribute We’re looking for more resources on how to run a great interview debrief session. If you know of any we’ve missed, or if you are interested in writing on the topic, please let us know!

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Senior Level (or Executive) Reviews

At many large companies, before a hiring manager can extend an offer, a more senior leader of the company must review a candidate’s feedback packet and sign off on the offer. The assumption is that senior leaders will have a broader view of what the organization needs, be better-calibrated, and be more impartial toward the immediate hiring pressures the team is facing. At some companies, the senior review might just be the hiring manager’s own manager. At other companies, it might be someone higher up the chain of command or even from another team. For instance, Google co-founder Larry Page signed off on all offers until this became impractical.

Hiring Committees

In technical recruiting and hiring, a hiring committee is a group of employees who did not participate in a candidate’s interview loop and are tasked with deciding whether to extend an offer based on the interviewer’s feedback and the candidate profile. The members of a hiring committee are often from a range of job levels, which can make the decision process feel less hierarchical than requiring senior approval and may produce better decisions.

confusion Hiring committees don’t fit this description in all industries. In academia, for instance, the members of the hiring committee conduct interviews but may not have final say on extending offers.

Google, a strong proponent of hiring committees, points to research suggesting that a diverse group of employees reviewing offers might result in better, less-biased decision-making.

controversy The effectiveness of hiring committees isn’t without controversy, so it’s good to understand the trade-offs.

There are different types of hiring committees. The ones employed by Google are composed of impartial “peers and managers” from different teams. At Facebook or Dropbox, the hiring committee might be composed of directors or other senior leaders.

Since hiring committees, by design, introduce decision-makers who don’t interact directly with the candidate, there are a couple of prerequisites to making them successful. First, interviewers should be well-calibrated and must write very clear and consistent feedback (this is good practice, regardless of whether you’re using hiring committees). Second, hiring committee members should have enough context on the role to enable them to make the proper assessments. Given all this, even companies that use hiring committees in general sometimes break out of that model for roles that are highly specialized.

controversyIt’s rumored that Google once had a hiring committee review anonymized versions of their own interview packets, and the committee rejected themselves.

Bar Raisers

There can be lighter-touch approaches to introduce a decision-maker from outside the immediate team into the mix. For instance, at Amazon, every interview loop must contain a special interviewer known as a “bar raiser.” Bar raisers are interviewers who hail from outside the team with the immediate hiring need—to ensure that they are as objective as possible. They receive special interview training and calibration so that they are more effective at assessing things like values alignment. They also hold veto power over hiring any candidate and may often moderate the interview debrief. Coinbase also uses the bar-raiser method. Microsoft uses a similar system, known as the “As Appropriate” interview. As Appropriate interviewers are senior leaders who conduct a candidate’s final interview and work with the hiring manager to make a final decision.

Considering how little we have centralized, we use the bar-raiser group as a type of glue across organizations. We select bar raisers from the pool of experienced folk at Amazon, not just those who can interview well, but more importantly—those who deeply understand our leadership principles. As bar raisers, we then try to hire people who can understand and act on our principles.David Anderson, General Manager, Amazon*

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.

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