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Hiring should never take place in a vacuum. While recruiters and hiring managers will lead the process, it pays to open out the process to more people.

Here I’ll take you through the basics of collaborative hiring, what foundations need to be in place for success, what makes a collaborative hiring strategy, and the potential challenges and pitfalls.

Let’s dive in.

What Is Collaborative Hiring?

Collaborative hiring is a recruitment strategy that involves various stakeholders, sometimes from different business areas, throughout the hiring process.

From the candidate’s perspective, they 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

Even people outside of the direct team can be invested—for example, product managers are often involved when hiring 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.

Collaborative Hiring Vs Traditional Hiring

As you’ve probably realized, collaborative hiring breaks the mold of the traditional, hiring manager-led recruitment process.

While the hiring manager will still work closely with the recruiter and have the final say, they can take advantage of other people’s knowledge and expertise.

Traditional HiringCollaborative Hiring
Heavily-reliant on hiring manager’s opinionIncorporates expertise of multiple team members
Candidates get a narrow view of the orgCandidates receive an expanded view of the organization and team
A lot of work for the recruiter and hiring managerOpportunity to share the workload
Traditional hiring vs collaborative hiring.

As we'll go into now, collaboration is beneficial at both the hiring planning and interviewing stages.

Benefits of collaborative hiring

Collaborative hiring can benefit the talent acquisition process in several ways, for example:

Spark recruitment conversations

First off, a 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.

I’ve had many situations where conversations like these led to the creation of new strategies for the teams, succession plans, and even learning and development initiatives.

These discussions, if properly focused on gaps in capacity and required skill sets, ensure that hiring teams are more united on what good looks like for each role and can apply that standard more objectively.

Lastly, the more people who are aware of open roles and what’s needed in teams, the more people you have on the lookout for potential candidates 👀.

Benefit of diverse opinions and division of interviews

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 uncover expertise and avoid covering the same ground multiple times.

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Better candidate experience

By interacting with a variety of potential co-workers, 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, candidates will like that they’ve had the opportunity to show their skills to multiple people and aren’t at the whim of a single person’s judgment and potential bias.

Reduce bias

Speaking of biases—a significant benefit to having more than one opinion is the opportunity to challenge each other and call out biases.

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. However, 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 article 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 complicate 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 during the interview process, then you can start questioning if everyone needs to be there.

You will not get more and better insights just by adding more people to the mix. Instead, try to focus the interviews and make each stage 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.

Training

When you create the hiring team, some training might be necessary to educate people on processes and roles.

For example, people may need training on keeping interviews focused and engaging and collecting appropriate feedback.

Everyone involved will also need to be on the same page regarding 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. 

For example, you don’t want one person judging junior candidates to senior-level standards because of a lack of understanding about what the team needs.

Competing schedules

Everyone involved in the process also has their full-time job to do, so 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.

Managing opinion

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 the time sacrificed in ensuring everyone who might have a slight interest or involvement with the hire’s role has had the chance to meet them will yield diminishing returns.

Often I see this in hiring managers who are not sure of themselves and hide behind the opinions of others to avoid the responsibility for a potential bad hire. 

It’s a balance to be struck and sometimes it requires 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 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.

Likewise, if a culture of collaboration isn’t the norm, HR leaders will find it more difficult to attain invested participants from other departments.

If the organization is heavily siloed, the hiring team may struggle to understand the needs of the team or the role this person will play in the success of the business.

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 that 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, I’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 be able to answer:

  • Who leads each interview stage?
  • What gets covered 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.”

How the 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: Best Workforce Planning Software

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.

“Candidates who are referred by current Grainger team members often end up doing well when they join the company. Current team members understand what is needed and are often great at spotting talent,” says Randy Tosch, VP of Talent and Grainger.

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 employee experience metrics.

Also, make sure to ask people “Whose voice is not represented in your team?” to challenge them to think about referring candidates from underrepresented groups.

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 can 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 clarifies 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 ask questions they don’t know the 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 help shape the interviewer’s perspective and 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. 

Eventually, 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 to me 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.

Mariya Hristova
By Mariya Hristova

Mariya is a talent acquisition professional turned HR leader with experience in large corporates and start-ups. She has 10+ years of experience recruiting all over the world across many different industries, specialising in market entries, expansion, or scaling projects. She is of the firm belief that great candidate and empoyee experiences are not just a luxury, but a must. Currently she is the People Lead at Focaldata.