How to Solve Disagreements Over Whether to Hire a Candidate

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Mar 30, 2022

Some candidates are instant and undisputed rejections for every member of the hiring team. Just as there are those who are obvious and unanimous thumbs-up’s. But what about the candidates who divide the opinions of hiring managers and recruiters?

It’s quite common for a hiring panel to have wildly different opinions about candidates, even when they’re sitting in the same room hearing the same interview responses. For example, I recently tasked participants on a panel interview with rating each candidate’s interview responses.  

This chart shows how the 12 interviewers rated one candidate’s answer to a question about a time they made a mistake at work. Interviewers were asked to rate the statement, “Based on their interview answer, this candidate evidences resilience when they make a mistake.”

These interviewers were all in the same room, at the same time, listening to the same candidate; yet they came to radically different conclusions. These varied scores weren’t unique to this candidate or this response; the scores for most candidates’ answers were similarly wide-ranging. Much of the time, there wasn’t even a whiff of consensus about whether a particular candidate would be a good hire. 

Some of the disparity comes from good old-fashioned differences of opinion. But another portion is the result of variability in interviewing skills.

In the quiz “Could You Pass This Job Interview?” respondents select the best answer to a series of interview questions. Regardless of whether the quiz takers are senior executives, HR leaders, middle managers, or recruiters, fewer than 30% receive a perfect score (i.e., they always choose the best answer).

Maybe you’ll get through your next few interviews with perfect alignment among expertly-trained hiring managers and recruiters, but it would be wise to prepare for the possibility of significant differences in candidate evaluations.

Your end goal isn’t merely agreement among interviewers; you need agreement based on a correct assessment of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. And for that, you need interviewers not only to share how they assessed a candidate but also why they arrived at that evaluation.

The nominal group technique will help you surface and resolve those disagreements in a calm and measured way. This technique starts by posing a question to the group, making members write out their answers, and then having them share what they wrote, one-by-one, within a fixed amount of time.

Imagine that you just interviewed a candidate using a panel interview. You might begin your debrief meeting by posing to panel members a question like, “We’re going to start by discussing how well this candidate would fit into our highly collaborative culture. To that end, reflecting on their answers to our teamwork questions, take five minutes and write down how you rated that candidate and why specifically you came to that evaluation.”

When those five minutes have elapsed, give each panel member two or three minutes to read what they wrote.

Using the nominal group technique in a hiring context accomplishes several goals. First, it forces every one of those hiring managers to really think through their evaluations. Snap judgments and biases typically won’t withstand the process of writing down specific reasons why this candidate has good or bad teamwork skills.

Second, each interviewer sharing their specific reasons for their evaluation quickly reveals who has legitimately good interviewing skills. I saw this play out in a recent interview debrief meeting. One hiring manager shared, “I gave this candidate a very low score for teamwork. In their answers about the most effective team they worked on, they never used a first-person pronoun. They didn’t discuss any of their own personal team experiences; instead, they talked about the really good teams in other parts of the company.”

The hiring manager who was to share next paused and then said, “I honestly didn’t catch any of those signs. I was going to rate the candidate very highly, but given what you just said and given that I completely missed all of those issues, I’m going to change my rating.”

Had this debrief meeting simply been a freewheeling debate about whether the group liked or disliked a candidate, the group would have been assured of disparate ratings, heated arguments, and perhaps even hurt feelings. But with the nominal group technique, the conversation is structured, calm, and far more revealing.  

You can’t — and shouldn’t — avoid all differences of opinion. But this technique gives you a framework for reaching consensus in a less biased and heated way.

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