Decision-Making Tips and Pitfalls

4 minutes


Updated August 24, 2022
Technical Recruiting and Hiring

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.

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?

  • Look for patterns as you put all the feedback together. Sometimes, a behavior that might seem minor in one interview could be a red (or green) flag if it shows up as a common theme. For instance, did the candidate exhibit a bit of arrogance across all interviews? A single interviewer may have interpreted this quality as confidence, but if it shows up several times, it might be something else. It’s worth noting that interview debriefs can help surface these patterns more readily, but absent them, the decision-maker (hiring manager or hiring committee) will need to look deeply at the feedback and possibly follow up with interviewers. Reference check are also a good way to surface or dig into potential patterns.

  • danger Be conscious of what pressures you are subjected to and how they might bias you. Your personal disposition (risk tolerance) and your situation (hiring urgency) may push you to commit different types of hiring errors. The decision-making techniques we discussed above can help mitigate these errors, but it’s still worth being aware of how these pressures might manifest themselves:

  • If you are a hiring manager with an urgent need to fill a role, you might be prone to overlook a candidate’s weaknesses out of desperation.

  • If you are risk averse, you might find excuses to reject any candidate just to play it safe.

  • If you are hiring based on consensus, you might hire for lack of weakness over presence of strength.

important If you find that you’re frequently struggling to decide on candidates, that could be a sign that your interview process is not well designed. Make sure you have defined what you’re looking for concretely and communicated that to (or designed it with) the team. Ensure that your interviews actually test for those things, and that you have calibrated rubrics to help you evaluate candidates. Be aware of the cognitive biases that can impact people’s judgements, and check that comprehensive feedback is being independently gathered, written, and relayed to decision-makers.

This whole process leads to a weighty decision that will have a significant role in the course of someone’s life. It can feel overwhelming to anyone. One way to lower the stress of this high-stakes decision is to realize that everyone wants the same thing—to find the right fit. While the candidate may be really excited about your company, they might be excited about a company they have in their head and not the actual company you work for with the day-to-day challenges and requirements of its engineers. If the job requirements are beyond their skills, that day-to-day experience will be awful for them as well as the company. Coming to an objective conclusion about a candidate is to everyone’s advantage.


If the decision is to reject a candidate, the right thing to do is to deliver that decision with grace, respect, and speed. At this point, candidates have probably invested a large amount of time and effort in your recruiting process. Whether they receive an offer or rejection may have emotional and material repercussions, impacting their self-esteem as well as their career.

caution How you handle this interaction will also affect your future recruiting prospects. Bitter candidates may not apply again, even if the right role comes along in the future. They may also speak poorly of your company to their friends and colleagues, or on forums like Glassdoor, Blind, or Reddit, thereby deterring other potential candidates and affecting your brand. You might feel like you’d rather spend time on active candidates rather than rejected ones, but consider this an investment in your company’s brand and in upholding your company’s values—as well as your personal reputation. Indeed, as is so often true, doing the right thing is good for business.

  • Deliver the decision promptly. The longer you wait, the more pent up emotions the candidate might develop. If your decision-making process might take some time, you should set expectations for the candidate about when they should expect to hear back from you. If you’re still deliberating, reach out and give the candidate an update. If you have already decided but are stalling because you are dreading letting the candidate down, realize that the longer you wait the worse it will feel for both you and the candidate. If the candidate is reaching out to ask you for an update about your decision, you probably haven’t managed this properly.

  • You’re reading a preview of an online book. Buy it now for lifetime access to expert knowledge, including future updates.
If you found this post worthwhile, please share!