Jacob Kaplan-Moss

Mailbag:

Dealing With Misalignment While Hiring

Jörn Zaefferer writes:

I’m wondering if you’ve seen the problem that is plaguing the recruiting I’m involved in: We decide to hire for some position, put the job ad online, start getting applications - and then start arguing about who we really want for that position. Seniority seems to be the most common topic, sometimes its payrange or particular skills (like “should this web developer be open for native app dev?"). Or we start questioning our interview process in the middle of doing it.

One thing I’d try next time: Before putting the job ad online, make sure that all stakeholders (the team with the open position, directors, relevant C-level) are all onboard with the job ad draft and that we agree on a payrange.

Yes, I’ve seen this: it’s very common. It’s common to think everyone agrees on a JD only to have disagreements arise once candidates start interviewing. In the worst cases, you’ll want to make an offer only to have someone above you pump the brakes. I once didn’t realize that my CEO wanted final approval on all hires1, made an offer without consulting him, and ended up having to walk back the offer. What a terrible experience.

You’re on the right track about making sure that all stakeholders are aligned ahead of time. This can be more work than you might think: it’s generally not sufficient just to send the JD out and hope people read it. Folks may not read it, or may not take away from it what you intend. Especially in larger organizations, getting to alignment is tricky.

Here are some tactics that may help:

  • You’ll probably want to gather all the key stakeholders together for some synchronous review and agreement. Go through the JD, talk about what you’re looking for and where you’re willing to compromise, and get agreement. This probably also means pre-work to gather consensus.
  • With this group of stakeholders, be ruthless about cutting requirements. You probably have an ideal candidate in mind, but you’re unlikely to find someone who checks all the boxes. More likely, you’ll find someone who has 80% of what you need, or 60% – and you need to be clear if that’s enough. I like to look at each item I have listed as a requirement and ask, “could I make do with a candidate who doesn’t have this?” Most of the time, I think you probably can. Take a long-term view: if something’s a skill that the right person could pick up in six months or even a year, it’s probably not a hard requirement.
  • You might want to use a RACI matrix, or some similar tool, to capture what each person’s role is. In particular, knowing who’s responsible for (leading) the hiring process versus who the final approvers are is important – they aren’t always the same! Hiring managers often need sign-off from their director, their VP, HR, or maybe all three.
  • You also need alignment among interviewers! One of the most embarrassing hiring fails I’ve had involved a misunderstanding about who was conducting the work sample test. We ended up hiring someone who hadn’t taken one, and turns out he couldn’t do the job! I find Lara Hogan’s interview loop template very useful here. It’s super helpful to write down the purpose of each interview, who’s responsible, and what the selection criteria are.
  • Once you start interviewing, don’t change the process or selection criteria midstream! If you do, you’ll end up trying to compare candidates that got different selection processes, and that’s an impossible task.
  • Instead, consider a short pause to regroup and adjust after your first candidates. Interview maybe 3-6 candidates, and if you don’t make an offer, pause your hiring pipeline for just a few days while you gather your stakeholders again, review the candidates you’ve seen and why you rejected them, and decide if you want to make any adjustments.

Good luck!


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  1. A bad practice everywhere except the tiniest of companies, but that’s another article. ↩︎