Are hiring committees the best way to interview applicants?

Are Hiring Committees the Best Way to Interview Applicants?

Are Hiring Committees the Best Way to Interview Applicants?

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Dec. 14 2015 7:08 AM

Are Hiring Committees the Best Way to Interview Applicants?

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Hiring committees have some positives.

Photo by moodboard/Thinkstock

This question originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

Answer by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, founder and CEO of CareerCup, author of Cracking the PM Interview, Cracking the Coding Interview, and Cracking the Tech Career:

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At the right company, hiring committees can be incredibly valuable.

Hiring committees allow consistency in the process. Every candidate goes through the same decision-making group and will hopefully get held to the same standard. (Even if the company is large enough to merit multiple hiring committees, it's still much easier to standardize a small group of hiring committees than a large group of interviewers.)

These committees have high standards, even in high-pressure times. Hiring committees avoid issues where teams might drop their standards because they're desperate to hire someone. That person might be a value-add in the short term but be detrimental in the long run.

Hiring committees are somewhat less subject to group dynamics issues in decision-making. When interviewers make decisions, the first person who says, “I didn't like him” might influence others to downgrade their opinion too. This is mitigated somewhat by making people writing down some impression of their opinions. It's mitigated even more when decisions are made by a hiring committee. All the evidence about the candidate is right in front of us, so decisions are a bit less subject to unfair influence. Group dynamic issues still play a role, though.

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If you want to review, evaluate, or change your hiring process, it's much easier to do that with hiring committees in place. Everyone's getting funneled through one place, which means I can gather the information about interviews from that place. It's much harder when I need to talk to tons of interviewers about what they're doing. If the process gets changed, the hiring committee can be there to enforce the changes.

Of course, in order for it to work well, the hiring committee must actually have the skills to evaluate the candidates. That works well in, for example, a large tech company where software engineers tend to be hired primarily on fundamental skills (problem solving, coding, etc) and less on specific knowledge.

There are drawbacks and issues though.

Hiring committee can't necessarily understand the roles. They can be dysfunctional when the hiring committee can't actually evaluate the roles. For example, one very large company I saw had a single hiring committee for all roles. Highly specialized network programmers and administrative assistants went to the same hiring committee—which, obviously, couldn't understand the feedback well enough to make an informed decision. (Interestingly, in this case, I recommended the company keep the dysfunctional hiring committee in place for now. A company that has created a highly dysfunctional hiring committee usually has a whole bunch of other problems, too. The hiring committee was a waste of time as far as evaluation and decision-making, but it could at least act as a central force to advocate and implement change. Fixing the other, bigger issues at the company would be easier with a central hiring committee.)

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They have inconsistent experience for specialist roles. A company might create software engineering hiring committees, project management hiring committees, etc. But what do you do for the sound effect producers, when there aren't any other sound effect producers to make up a hiring committee? You'll need to either not put the person through a hiring committee or put him through some sort of catch-all hiring committee. Either way, it's a bit inconsistent.

Hiring committees often delay decisions substantially—often up to a week (until the next time the hiring committee meets). That can result in losing some candidates who are under time pressure.

They have a big time burden on interviewers. Hiring committees require written feedback, which can easily take an hour to write. This means that you're spending about twice the manhours to hire. Yikes!

My recommendation is that once a company is big enough to be able to create a hiring committee, then it should start doing it. But it's not without major disadvantages.