When you’re a hiring manager, all the effort you’ve put into the hiring process, from screening resumes to interviewing candidates, leads up to one dreaded moment – making that actual hiring decision.

If you’re lucky, the star candidate has shined through and they’re an obvious fit for the role. In that case, you just need to prepare an offer to welcome them to your team. But often, you’ll have two or three or more amazing candidates in front of you, each with different merits. Surprise, surprise: this is a ‘good’ problem because it means your talent attraction strategies are working well.

But the challenge remains – who do you decide to hire? Well, the hiring decision process starts far before the moment you extend the job offer, with multiple people involved at each step of the hiring pipeline.

How much say does the hiring manager have?

As the hiring manager, you’re the ultimate decision-maker. You’re usually the person new hires report to or the leader of the department new hires belong in. So, it only makes sense that you make the final hiring decision.

Of course, good hiring managers seldom make decisions in isolation. It’s useful to consult your own manager to make sure you know the wider requirements of the department. Depending on the way the hiring process is structured, your own manager might also get to interview the finalists. Involving your team members is also helpful; they’re often aware of the requirements of the position you’re hiring for and will work with new hires closely. Your company’s recruiters play a part, too, since they’re experts in hiring and can give you pointers throughout the process.

So, to make informed hiring decisions, you need a collaborative mindset. Apart from that, here are four tips that will help you in making the right hiring decision:

1. Know what you’re looking for

As the hiring manager, you know the basics of the role you’re hiring for, but you may or may not be familiar with all the specific requirements. For example, if you’re a principal software engineer, you probably know what duties and skills are involved in a role for software engineer. But, if you’re a marketing manager hiring for a designer role, you might not have the same depth of understanding for the role. In this case, consult someone who actually does this job full-time or use a job description sample to get started.

Now, ask yourself:

Which are the duties of this role?
What educational requirements are there?
What experience is required?
Which soft skills should a person in this position have?
What’s my ideal candidate like?

The answer to the last question will be very useful when you have to make the final hiring decision – you’ll get to choose the one candidate who most closely fits your ideal candidate. But, there’s a caveat; if you build an expectation that’s unattainable, you risk turning down great candidates because they aren’t as “perfect” as you’ve imagined them to be. So, keep your expectations realistic and look for a candidate who can do the job at a high level and possesses important qualities of an employee. If you’re not sure whether you’re expecting too much, bounce your ideal candidate by a colleague who is familiar with the job you’re hiring for.

2. Work against your biases

Halo effect, anchor bias, confirmation bias… and many more cognitive biases that most of us share can influence your hiring decision. This means you risk favoring a candidate for the wrong reasons and that can easily lead to a bad hire that’ll eventually cost a lot of money. The problem with all these biases is that they’re usually unconscious, so it takes some real effort to combat them.

First, you can take Harvard’s Implicit Association test. It’s useful to start there because the test can reveal biases you didn’t know you had. It also helps to educate yourself on bias and how to combat it. For example, take a look at this TEDx talk by author and CEO Valerie Alexander on “outsmarting” our biases:

Keep potential biases in mind before you reject a candidate. Ask yourself: do I have tangible, job-related reasons to reject them? And if that person didn’t have a specific characteristic, would I have made the same decision? Remember that some characteristics are protected by law, so you need to be sure they’re not at all involved in your hiring decision making.

3. Use objective hiring methods

Objective hiring methods minimize the effect of biases – and they’re also very effective on their own merit. To make sure you have all the right information on a candidate to facilitate the hiring decision process, consider these methods:

Structured interviews. Structured interviews are good predictors of job performance. Their main characteristic is the preparation that goes into the interview questions you’ll ask. Find a set of effective questions that assess the qualities you’re looking for (the first step will come in handy here) and ask them in the same order to all candidates. This method ensures all candidates will have the same chances to impress you and will help keep the interview job-related.
Interview scorecards. With scorecards, you get to evaluate candidates’ answers by assigning a grade. This helps you think about the candidate’s answer instead of immediately dismissing it or accepting it. You can also easily compare candidates. Workable’s built-in scorecards use a “Yes/No/Definitely” system to make the process easier.
Assessments. It’s becoming increasingly rare to get hired without some kind of work sample or test. And a good thing it is, too – seeing a candidate in action helps you evaluate their ability to do the job. If your company doesn’t already have standardized tests, ask if you can include a step where candidates complete a job-related assignment. Alternatively, you can give candidates a problem during the interview (but make sure this problem is simple enough to be solved in a limited time). When evaluating assignments, pay attention to the way candidates think as well as giving the correct answers.
Taking notes. Without notes on candidates’ answers, you may come out of the interview with only your general feelings about a candidate. A few days later you may not remember their actual answers or you may confuse them with somebody else’s. This is natural when you have to interview a lot of people, but it will impact your decision making. So, dedicate some time to practicing note-taking and try out different techniques. Don’t overdo it during interviews (eye contact with candidates helps build trust) but do right down the principal point of each answer. Avoid writing your impressions on candidates as you won’t later be able to check if your initial impression was correct, without remembering the actual answer.

In short, any method that encourages you to think before you form an impression, and helps you standardize the way you evaluate candidates, will eventually lead to more informed hiring decisions. So, if you suspect you or your team make hiring decisions on the fly or based on gut feeling, sit together to discuss about using these methods to document interview feedback more objectively.

4. Make the final hiring decision…

If you’ve taken all the steps outlined above, you’re probably in a good place to decide on the finalists without the risk of making a bad hire; any one of the finalists is a good fit since you’ve only moved forward with qualified people. Your final challenge will be to decide which one of those finalists to hire (although, if you have the budget and your company’s policy allows it, you could hire more than one people).

To choose the single best candidate, here are some steps you can take:

Review your scorecards and notes. Check each and every note or grade you’ve assigned to a candidate. Average your scores if appropriate. Generally, make sure you have a holistic view of each candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. Through this process, keep in mind the gravity of each skill or attribute. For example, good communication skills are important for a salesperson, but it may not be as important to be an extrovert.

Make a list. At one point in the popular TV sitcom Friends, Ross gets in trouble when he makes a list to compare Rachel to his girlfriend. While such lists may not be acceptable in personal relationships, they can prove useful when deciding between job candidates. Write down three things you liked and three things you disliked about each candidate. Look at them side by side. And, gather your team to get their insight on your lists. Sometimes, you’ll know which one you prefer, but make sure you also know why – and remember to be aware of your biases.

Check references. Ask your finalists to provide you with a couple of names so you can ask for references. Usually, candidates will direct you to people they know will give them a positive recommendation, so make sure you know what reference questions to ask to get useful answers. Collaborate with your company’s HR department to determine what you want to know. And here’s an email template to request references that’ll help speed up the process.

Finally, don’t give in to self-doubt. When it’s time to make an offer to the candidate, some hiring managers start second-guessing themselves. Have I made the right choice? The other candidate was Ivy League, and perhaps I should have hired them instead. The more you ponder, the more you’ll doubt. That kind of thinking will get you nowhere.

At the end of the day, it’s best not to overthink it; if you have been careful throughout the hiring process, it’s very likely you have made the right choice. Instead, invest your time in effective onboarding and training sessions so that your new hire will get to maximum productivity soon.

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