Some common hiring manager mistakes.

August 2, 2020. Filed under management 114 hiring 9

There’s a lot to say about hiring, and I’ve written a fair amount about it, but as I was chatting with a few folks over the past couple weeks, I realized one thing I haven’t written about is the frequent mistakes or challenges that new hiring managers often encounter and sometimes struggle with.

If you’re just starting to think about hiring, focus on your hiring funnel first, but if you’re finding hiring to be a challenge, think through whether you’re running into one of these problems.

  1. Not getting to yes (or no). Being indecisive about candidates is the most common mistake I see in new hiring managers. At some point you simply have to make a decision, and you’re going to have to make it with fairly incomplete information.

    It’s better to make a timely decision to hire (or not to hire) and manage the consequences than wait in limbo indefinitely. If you can’t make a decision after following the interview process, then let the candidate know you won’t be moving forward so they can move on with their search.

  2. Overly fluid interview loop. A frequent response to hiring manager indecision is to create new interviews on the fly to attempt to generate new signals. These are usually ad-hoc interviews that haven’t been given before and won’t be given again. Uncalibrated interviews are vectors for bias, which will often help you get to confidence, but that confidence won’t be based on anything particularly solid.

    When evaluating a specific candidate, do your best to make a decision on the information you have. Then analyze across candidates to identify policy or process improvements to get better signal next time.

  3. Holding candidates in stasis for too long. When hiring managers can’t make a decision, they often try to stall the candidate to wait for other candidates to complete their process. It’s totally reasonable to occasionally slow down an interview process sometimes – particularly when it’s the first one or two candidates you’ve seen for a new role – but done frequently it creates a lot of confusion for the candidate and the internal hiring team. It very frequently leads to a bad candidate experience and churns either recruiter or hiring manager time on keeping the candidate partially engaged.

    Give candidates a clear timeline and give an honest update if you don’t hit it, “We’re still excited about you, but we want to interview at least one other candidate for the role to make sure we’re doing the right thing here.” They might be annoyed and disengage, but the alternatives are even worse if you don’t tell them.

  4. Not knowing what you’re hiring for. The first few interviews for a new role are always a calibration period, and the interviews and loop should change frequently early on. However, the scope of the changes should narrow the further you go. If you find yourself still making radical changes over time, for example deciding instead of a Staff Engineer you really want a Technical Program Manager or what not, then you’ve probably not spent enough time thinking about the role you’re hiring for.

    Time spent upfront on ensuring you’re hiring for the right role will repay itself many times over. Spent more time than seems reasonable. Then, spend even more.

  5. Lack of calibration across the hiring panel. Sometimes the hiring manager knows exactly what they’re hiring for, but no one else interviewing the candidate shares that vision. This often leads to the manager and rest of the loop generating opposite hiring decisions and undermines everyone’s confidence in the process.

    Take the time to explain to every interviewer what the role you’re hiring for is, why it matters, the specific work they’ll be doing, and what skills you believe are necessary to be successful in the role. If it’s quite different than seemingly similar roles, also take the time to explain what isn’t as important for this role relative to other hiring loops.

  6. Unicorn hunting. It’s a virtue to aspire for amazing candidates, but it’s a waste of everyone’s time to pursue candidates that generally don’t exist or that you’re not able to incentivize properly to join your team. Many searches start with a prolonged period where the recruiting partner attempts to educate their hiring manager on the impossibility of the role they’re defined, and it’s largely avoidable.

    Start our ambitious, but recalibrate frequently based on candidate interest. If you truly need a unique candidate, then don’t assume a volume hiring approach is going to get them in, and instead treat it more along the lines of a senior leadership hire.

  7. Desperation. If you are getting a lot of pressure to hire and your team is falling behind on commitments, it’s very hard not to hire the candidate you’re talking to, even if you know they aren’t the right person. You will convince yourself they’re the right person, even if someone else was the hiring manager you’d immediately know they aren’t.

    The fix here is to try to avoid falling totally behind in the first place. That said if you have fallen behind – and who hasn’t? – then the secret is to avoid listening to that voice in your head telling you to ignore the other interviewers’ concerns.

  8. Pedigree chasing. If you’re not quite sure how to evaluate candidates, then it can be easy to delegate evaluation to the previous institutions they’ve been involved in. Did they work at a FANG company? Are they from an Ivy League school? This is the hiring version of “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” A defensible choice but not obviously a particularly great one either. While many folks with academic or institutional pedigree are fantastic, others with those same backgrounds have been those I’ve found most challenging to work with in my career – the correlation here isn’t high enough to rely on it, and these also are usually the hardest to close and most expensive candidates.
  9. Unresponsive to recruiting partners. The vast majority of recruiters are operating under quarterly targets for either number of extended offers or number of accepted offers. If you, as a hiring manager, are not getting back to them quickly, then they can’t rationally continue to prioritize your search. Their job performance depends an inordinate amount on you supporting them well, and being responsive is the single most important aspect of that support.
  10. Just-in-time interview questions. It’s pretty common to run int interview loops that are well-designed, well-structured and yet somehow rely on each interviewer to make up their own questions! This makes it quite challenging to evaluate across candidates, and leads to questions that are simply unreasonable to complete in the allotted interview time frame. (The initial version of pretty much every programming interview question takes three times the allotted time to complete without foreknowledge of the question.)
  11. Cargo-culting their previous company process. It’s totally reasonable to start designing your interview loop and process based on what’s worked for you before. Where some hiring managers get caught up is refusing to deviate from what worked elsewhere even if the funnel metrics give a clear indication it’s not working. This usually happens for a couple different reasons.

    First, it’s common for the hiring manager to have been unaware of some aspects of what made the process work at the previous company. A huge recruiting operations team behind the scenes calibration offers or what not. Second, it’s often that the companies are fundamentally different. What works for FANG doesn’t work for a Series A company, and vice-versa.

  12. Only hiring candidates that’ll be easy to close. It’s easy to project your values and feelings onto a candidate and assume that someone will be impossible to convince to join your team. One variant of this is new hiring managers assuming someone with experience would never work for them and filtering them out immediately. When you’re a new hiring manager is exactly when you particularly need more experienced folks on your team, so work through that discomfort and try to hire folks who you think might not have much to learn from you.
  13. Compensation exceptions as the standard. In my experience, the best indicator of a flawed interview process is frequent compensation exceptions. This is both because I personally don’t like exception-driven systems, but also because these sorts of escalations tend to be slow and inconsistent relative to a well-designed happy path.

    If you find yourself doing frequent requests for compensation exceptions, then you should spend some time to determine if you are misaligned with a well-functioning system or if the system doesn’t quite work.

There are, excitingly, an infinite number of other mistakes you could be out there making, but if you’re avoiding these then you’re probably making a pretty good go of it. Although, inevitably, your funnel and retention metrics are a much better way to evaluate your success than my vague reassurances.)