Jeff Bezos once said that he’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person. That may be true, but it also seems like an inefficient use of time for a guy trying to colonize outer space.
Okay, perhaps he didn’t mean that he’d rather interview 50 people personally, but you get the idea. A division of labor is needed when weeding through a crowded candidate pool and who better than the team they’ll be joining to do it?
Here I’ll take you through the basics of collaborative hiring, what foundations need to be in place for it to succeed, the elements that make up a good collaborative hiring strategy, and the potential challenges you’ll have to overcome in implementing it.
What Is Collaborative Hiring?
The term collaborative hiring refers to the practice of involving various stakeholders, sometimes from different business areas, over the course of the hiring process.
From the candidate’s perspective, they get to meet more potential team members and gain a better sense of the organization, company culture, and team.
For the organization, a collaborative hiring method provides a standard hiring framework that unites the team and divides the big task of making a hire into more manageable chunks for each person.
Each person can focus on a specific area and help the hiring manager gain deeper insights into the candidate’s expertise and reduce bias.
Even people outside of the direct team can be invested—for example, often product managers are involved in the hiring of engineering candidates.
Hiring, as they say, is a team sport and not everyone in the team is a football player—coaches and medical staff are needed too.
Benefits Of Collaborative Hiring
When properly implemented, collaborative hiring can benefit the talent acquisition process in a number of ways, for example:
Spark recruitment conversations
As mentioned, a truly collaborative hiring process brings together the right people to ensure the correct decisions are being made about open roles and priorities, skill requirements, job descriptions, and the hiring process itself.
It sparks conversations around role refinement, business needs, team structures, candidate traits, and skill requirements.
Bottom line is that these discussions, if properly focused around required skill sets and gaps in capacity and experience in the team, ensure that the team is more united around what good looks like for each role and can apply that standard more objectively.
Benefit of diverse opinions and division of interviews
Research from decision intelligence platform Cloverpop shows that teams make better decisions than individuals 66% of the time. Additionally, diverse teams make better decisions 87% of the time.
When designing the interview process, you can take advantage of having multiple people involved by having each one focused on a specific area.
For example, for an engineering manager role, a senior engineer can focus on technical expertise, a product manager can focus on cross-functional work and collaboration, and the head of engineering can focus on management and team leadership.
That way each conversation can be more in-depth to truly uncover expertise and avoid covering the same ground multiple times.
Better candidate experience
Through interacting with a variety of employees, candidates feel more connected with the teams they’re about to join including culture, managerial styles, expectations, benefits, and what success looks like.
“Team interviews feel inviting and engaging to a candidate,” says Hollie Castro, Chief People Officer at Miro, “Creating an individual experience for the candidate by building a relationship with them to understand their personal situation is key.”
Additionally, it can help candidates not feel like they have to appease the whims of one person and their potential biases.
Speaking of biases—a significant benefit to having more than one opinion on a matter is that an opinion, if not properly justified, will be challenged.
If someone cannot back up their opinion on a candidate with evidence (i.e. what the candidate said) there is likely some bias at play and it should be examined.
Biases are inherent within us, and are extremely difficult to overcome, but an effective approach is to shine a light on it and make yourself explain your reasoning to others—which is where collaborative hiring comes in.
A diverse recruiting panel can also help to eliminate bias on the candidate side and catch candidates with undesirable qualities—for example, sexism.
As mentioned in my previous articles on bias in hiring, I have caught candidates who were patronising and sexist to myself and other female colleagues but behaved properly toward all the males on the interviewing panel.
Challenges Of Collaborative Hiring
While collaborative hiring is great in theory, like with most things involving multiple people, there are challenges to getting it right.
Lack of efficiency
While including more people is a great way to distribute the workload and ensure that you hire the right candidate, it can just as easily muddy the waters for the decision-making process and overwhelm the candidate.
For efficiency, this should be a collaboration among only those who need to be involved.
The process should still be lean, with each stakeholder being aware of their specific role and responsibilities.
While the exact number depends on the circumstances, if the candidate is meeting more than 6-7 people over the course of an interview process, then you can start really questioning if everyone needs to be there.
You will not get more and better insights just by adding more people to the mix, so instead try to focus the interviews and allow each stage to do a more in-depth dive.
Additionally, make sure that there are no more than 1-2 people from the hiring panel in any one interview with the candidate.
I was once interviewed by five people from a company at the same time (it was meant to be six but one couldn’t make it).
Each barely had the time to ask a single question, let alone go into any depth, and they were talking over each other as they hadn’t figured out the order and two people didn’t even speak at all.
It was comical, and something most candidates would find annoying or overwhelming.
Besides, it’s entirely unnecessary for 99% of roles unless you’re specifically hiring someone to go before panels of judges.
Some training will likely be required when you create the hiring team to educate people on processes and roles.
Everyone involved will also need to be on the same page as to what they are looking for. This ensures that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet when explaining the role to the candidate and evaluating the candidate to the same standards.
You don’t want one person judging junior candidates to senior level standards because of a lack of understanding about what the team needs.
People may need training on keeping interviews focused and engaging and collecting appropriate feedback.
Doing so will keep the candidate engaged without confusing them about the role, company, or the process, and will also ensure that the collaborative hiring team gets what they need for the candidate’s scorecard.
While hiring the right candidate is important, everyone involved in the process also has their full-time job to do and aligning everyone can bog down the process.
To counter this, ensure to only involve people who will be able to make time to properly commit to the process.
If someone is involved in multiple projects, behind on their work, or unable to block off time on their calendar for training, then I’d avoid inviting them to participate in the process.
Make sure that the hiring manager bears this in mind when they choose the people to be involved. Where possible have back-ups for people, if appropriate.
While including the perspective of multiple stakeholders is an important part of evaluating candidates and establishing if they’re a good fit for the company, a decision has to be made by a person or group that may not match the sentiments of some individuals involved.
At the end of this process, the decision needs to be respected and allowed to pass with the understanding that it cannot create friction within existing teams.
The collaborative hiring team should create a shortlist of candidates and provide feedback on each one for a hiring manager or panel to reflect on. The decision maker in the process should then provide their thoughts and a justification for whatever decision is made.
Decision by committee
One trap to not fall into is the over-index on the wisdom of the crowd.
Eventually, a decision will need to be made and sometimes the time sacrificed in making sure everyone who might have a slight interest or involvement with the hire’s role has had the chance to meet them prior to their hire will yield diminishing returns.
Often I see this in hiring managers who are not sure of themselves and hide behind the opinions of others so they can later avoid the responsibility for a potential bad hire.
It is a balance to be struck and sometimes it requires practice, trial and error.
Laying The Foundation For Collaborative Hiring
At the core of a good collaborative hiring strategy is a shift in mindset for both the organization and the hiring team.
Traditional recruitment processes and team dynamics can naturally lead stakeholders to value certain opinions or perspectives higher than others, or to leave it up to the opinion of one person altogether. That’s not why you’ve brought the group together.
How well you’re able to execute collaborative hiring will ultimately be a reflection of your culture.
For example, if you don’t value diverse perspectives as an organization, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to convince the members of your hiring team that you’re going to value theirs if they aren’t the manager the person will be reporting to.
Likewise, if a culture of collaboration isn’t the norm, HR leaders will find it more difficult to attain invested participants from other segments of the organization.
If the organization is heavily siloed, the hiring team may struggle to understand the needs of the team the new recruit will be joining or the role this person will play in the success of the business.
Ultimately, collaborative hiring efforts are driven by transparency, culture, and a mindset rooted in trust and open communication.
If these characteristics are not built into the organization as it stands, you’ll need to work with managers to educate around collaboration altogether and then focus on hiring practices and outline the benefits to their teams.
In the beginning, you’ll likely only have managers or department heads involved in your collaborative hiring efforts, but as the process evolves the variety of stakeholders can grow with it as you see fit.
Elements Of A Collaborative Hiring Strategy
Once there is confidence that the organization has the foundations in place to be able to do the work of collaborative hiring, there’s the small matter of implementing the various elements which will make up your collaborative hiring practice.
As mentioned, there may be training required around different aspects of collaborative hiring, whether that’s how to use the applicant tracking system (ATS) or how to coordinate what each member of the hiring team is focused on and assessing during the interview process.
To help you get going with your strategy, we’ve outlined seven elements you’ll want to have in place from the start and iterate on as you go.
1. A well-defined recruitment process
Establishing a well-defined recruitment process is the first step in creating a collaborative hiring strategy.
It starts before a hiring need is established with strategic workforce planning efforts that create guidelines for managers and teams to identify hiring needs, determine job requirements, and create job descriptions.
The actions your recruiting team takes next, and what happens as qualified candidates enter the ATS, should be clearly mapped out for the entire hiring team.
Here is a checklist of questions each member of the hiring team should have the answer to:
- Who leads each interview stage?
- What gets cover in each stage - skills traits and questions?
- What “good” looks like for each of the topics they cover?
- What is the hiring bar?
2. Effective workforce planning
As we’ve established, the collaborative process doesn’t begin once you’ve started the search for a candidate.
A good strategic workforce planning process is a collaboration between hiring managers and HR to map out team needs, priorities, and the skills that will be required to achieve long-term goals and value to the business
“Collaboration between HR and hiring managers to identify needs versus wants,” Christina Schelling, Senior Vice President and Chief Talent & Diversity Officer at Verizon said. “As managers, we often initially start off looking for ‘unicorns.’ It's the responsibility of both HR and the hiring manager to focus on the core skills and look for aptitude towards some of the nice-to-haves. This includes re-evaluating how our job descriptions look and how we connect with our applicants.”
Considerations for how company culture is to be reflected in the recruitment process and setting expectations for what the process demands of current employees should be established at this stage as well.
Further resource: 10 Best Workforce Planning Software for Executive Teams in 2023
3. Socializing the talent pool
Collaborative hiring begins with collaborative recruiting.
Whether it’s beefing up your employee referral program, or simply creating easy-to-share job listings that can be used on LinkedIn or other social media sites, tapping into the networks of the people you already have is an easy way to connect with talent you may not have had visibility with previously.
It will also get people talking internally and inevitably spark discussions among employees about who from the existing staff might be a good fit for the position, thus promoting a culture of internal mobility.
This approach ensures people feel there are opportunities to develop and advance, thus aiding employee retention and improving performance on experience metrics.
Also, do not forget to ask people “Whose voice is not represented in your team?” to challenge them to think about referring underrepresented groups in each team.
4. Staying focused on candidate experience
You only have one chance to make a first impression. Candidates for a job are often given this advice, but the same extends to the business.
The experience you create in the interview process is part of that. While your collaborative hiring efforts provide the candidate with more opportunities to meet people and learn more about the business, bogging them down with too many interviews can be overwhelming and excessively time-consuming.
Striking a balance and making each step of the process meaningful will ensure that your candidate's experience remains a positive one.
5. Understanding stakeholder roles
Typically, a collaborative hiring process has three groups involved with distinct duties that support the process.
- Hiring managers help create job descriptions and communicate the vision for the position and ideal candidate. In the end, hiring decisions often land on the hiring manager’s desk.
- Recruiters act as an intermediary between candidates and other stakeholders. They’re responsible for the creation and execution of the end-to-end hiring process and candidate experience.
- Interviewers help assess the candidate and provide different perspectives about the organization to the candidate.
Others who may be involved include executives or leaders who are particularly interested in the candidate and what they bring to the table. As you might expect, this is particularly true for open positions higher up in the organization.
"We take a 360 view in our hiring process,” Castro said. “This means we get input from employees, peers, and hiring managers on our interview panels.”
6. Fostering team collaboration in hiring
While the perspectives of team members have to be valued, that perspective also has to be cultivated through a lens that makes clear the direction the interview should take and the scope of what they’re looking for.
If, for example, an interviewer is tasked with asking questions they may not know the answer to themselves, then their opinion on the candidate’s answer will likely not be helpful to the hiring manager.
As such, try to avoid having people who are not experts ask questions they don’t know they answer to. If that can’t be avoided, then try to provide training on what a good answer looks like i.e. a few different variations of potential answers.
You will need clearly defined goals for the questions being asked and scoring parameters for interviewers to use at each stage of the hiring process.
This will not only help shape the interviewer’s perspective but help them translate their perceptions into consistent feedback and mitigate unconscious bias.
“We have created a hiring ‘group,” says Weronika Niemczyk, Chief People Officer at technology company ABBYY. “As a candidate, you meet with different managers—one will interview you on technical skills, another on soft skills, maybe another on leadership skills or work style, and whether you’re a good culture fit.
As a hiring manager, you need more than just data points from a 60-minute interview to get a good impression of someone’s ability and personality for the role. Now the decision and responsibility of taking on a new hire is spread between the group.”
7. Gathering stakeholder feedback
After a decision has been made and the new hire has started onboarding, it’s important to collect feedback from stakeholders on how they thought the process went and what could be improved.
In turn, the recruitment partner who built the collaborative hiring process should provide feedback to stakeholders from their perspective and advise on further improvements.
Like any other innovative approach to a process, fine-tuning your approach to collaborative hiring will be iterative and take time to tweak it to where you want it. Once you do, you’ll have a distributed workflow that mitigates bias and helps teams identify the best candidate to meet their needs.
Join The conversation
Hopefully the above has given you a solid grounding of what collaborative hiring means and how to approach it.
Feel free to reach out in the comments with any questions or insights, or join the conversation over in the People Managing People Commmunity, a supportive community of HR and people leaders sharing knowledge to help you progress in your career and provide more strategic value to your org.