Making bad hiring choices

I’ve been actively interviewing and part of the hiring process for engineers, project managers and product owners for the last 8 years. In that time, I’ve probably hired about 30 people (less if you exclude long-term contractors) to work with me directly, and been a voice at the table for the hiring of about another 20 people. The majority of the people to whom I’ve given jobs have worked out wonderfully and I’d be happy to work with nearly all of them again.

The people who didn’t work out all had one thing in common - we hired them even though someone in the room didn’t want to hire them.

Why are people in the room?

I think the first mistake we made was not identifying the roles that people were in the room to play. In a room of engineers interviewing another engineer, of course we’re all there to vet the candidate’s technical ability. But, we’re also all different, with different abilities and different qualities we look for in a candidate. In that sense, we’re all also there to decide, individually, “Is this person someone I want to work with?”

The ways that people come to a yes or no answer to that question are varied, and I can only speak for the ways in which I come to that answer. But what I’ve learned is that when someone says “No, something feels off,” we need to listen to that and honor that. If we’re going to overrule a person’s opinion on a person, they probably shouldn’t be in the room to begin with, or their role needs to be more clearly defined.

Why did people say no?

In nearly every case when things didn’t work out (but I was part of the choice to hire them anyway), the person who didn’t want them there could only articulate similar to “something just feels off.”

It’s a slippery slope when trying to honor people’s perceptions and intuitions and also help them see through any unconscious bias they might be having against the interview candidate. This comes back to trusting that the interviewers in the room are the right people and that you as the hiring manager can trust them to give informed and thoughtful opinions. I’ve made the mistake of saying “Can you give me something more than ‘something feels off’?”, watched them stumble, and then dismissed their hunch and pulled the hiring trigger. This has never, to date, worked out in my favor.

tl;dr

Trust the people you’re interviewing with and then trust the opinions they offer on the candidates.