The assessment comments made by managers are so influential that they can limit contradictory comments from others. Unfortunately, many in recruiting assume that something as obscure as the order in which interviewers, during panel interviews, provide assessment comments make little difference, but they are wrong. Instead, recruiters and hiring managers must realize that the early assessment comments provided by managers are extremely powerful. Once they are openly expressed to the other interviewers on the panel (out of deference or fear of the hiring manager), they will almost always stop offering any contradictory comments.
Whether a hiring manager’s candidate preferences are expressed during the panel interview or in the discussion period right after the candidate departs, from that point on, most of the subordinates on the interview team will simply shift to being 100% supportive of the manager’s declared perspective. This withholding of accurate but contradictory interview team opinions will, unfortunately, increase the likelihood that the final panel interview scores will primarily reflect only the hiring manager’s dominant opinion. In addition, this “forced consensus assessment” will also mean that you have essentially wasted the time of all of these interviewers whose assessment opinions were suppressed and therefore never used in the final decision.
Interviews are the highest impact candidate assessment step.
The Many Problems Created By Premature Assessments
Few in recruiting are willing to accept that the typical unstructured candidate interview process is riddled with over 50 flaws, to the point where new-hire failure rates often approach 50%. Fortunately, most interview results can improve significantly by adding only a little structure to your interview process. And, one of the high impact/low effort structural changes I recommend implementing first is to encourage hiring managers to withhold their candidate assessment comments until after everyone else (with less influence) on the interview panel team has already completely voiced their candidate assessments. Those common “influence problems” typically include:
- Premature manager comments will reduce diverse opinions during candidate assessment – once other interview team members realize that their hiring manager has a strong preference towards a candidate. Other interviewer comments and their votes will quickly become similar to those of the hiring manager. Loss of these diverse assessments will likely also have a negative impact on both new-hire quality and new hire diversity.
- Candidate flaws that the hiring manager misses won’t be brought up by others – after the hiring manager has expressed their positive opinion towards a particular candidate. Later, when an interviewer spots a major flaw in a candidate, they are unlikely to vocalize that flaw unless the hiring manager mentions it first. Failing to point out these flaws could cause interview teams to hire candidates with major weaknesses that negatively impact productivity and add to the need for more replacement hires in the immediate future.
- Low interview excitement levels may drive some candidates away – once potential interviewers realize that they will be prevented from fully expressing their opinions. They will consciously avoid participating in most interviews. Or they will be less enthusiastic during the interviews that they do formally participate in. If your candidates see or sense any lack of enthusiasm and candor, they will likely look elsewhere for their next job.
- A lower level of employee ownership of new hires will reduce their productivity – many team members who participate in interviews unnecessarily influenced by hiring managers will feel that they had little opportunity to express their opinions openly. And after having less influence on the hiring decision. Many team employees will likely accept less ownership and responsibility for their new hires. Without having “a sense of ownership,” employees will likely provide less mentoring, help, and guidance to the new hires. Lack of support will extend a new-hires time to minimum productivity levels and new hire retention rates.
- Not being fully “listened to” will increase recruiter frustration – once individual recruiters realize that some individual hiring managers are not bothered by their overwhelming contrary opinions. Individual recruiters will be more likely to conduct shallow candidate assessments that agree with the expressed hiring manager’s perspective.
Actionable Steps To Reduce Premature Influence
Fortunately, premature influence problems that occur during team interviews don’t take a lot of time or money to mitigate. So here are eight suggested action steps that you should consider.
- Ensure hiring managers are aware of the damage and costs of excess influence – provides a compelling business case that helps individual hiring managers understand the many areas of damage caused by premature influence. For each problem area, list the potential costs to the team (converted into dollars).
- Create a ranked list of interviewers and designate powerful people as the last to provide candidate comments – purposely minimize the premature influence problem by pre-identifying individual interviewers that are likely to have a great deal of influence over others. Use the ranked list to hold questions from powerful interviewers until the end of the “who to hire discussion.” Also, use the same list to determine who should express their opinions first during the post-interview discussion time block.
- Increase interviewer candor by using an anonymous scoresheet for providing feedback – having a candidate scoresheet makes it more likely that assessments will be provided only in job-related areas. In addition, if you make the scoresheet anonymous, you will provide the opportunity for more dissenting votes.
- Video your actual interviews to identify any influence problems – because the video recording of interviews provides many benefits. It’s almost always a good idea to encourage hiring managers to video record each interview. The recording also offers an opportunity for a manager to sit down with a recruiter and go through a sample of the recent interviews to identify possible problem areas (including those related to early influence).
- Show managers how, during the interview, their actions can also influence the assessments made by other interviewers – it’s also important to make hiring managers aware that it’s quite common for managers to make their preference for or against a candidate clear during the interview itself, by questions they ask, their voice tone or their body language. Educate managers so that they don’t prematurely reveal their candidate preference during the interview.
- Assess whether there is consistently a significant percentage variation between hiring manager and team member assessment scores – to identify where you have an insufficient differential between the hiring manager’s assessment scores and the rest of the team scores. Periodically use metrics to assess where the scoring differential is not wide enough. You should also use quality of hire data to determine which members of an interview team frequently end up with the most accurate interview scores because they best predict new hire on the job success.
- Use educational videos to ensure that everyone “feels the problem” – use videos to vividly show hiring managers and other interviewers how premature comments and body language can inappropriately influence candidate selection decisions. Also show everyone, real examples of how hiring managers can minimize any obvious reactions in front of the candidate. Include examples of managers that have maintained “a poker-face,” an unexcited voice tone, and a neutral body language during their interviews.
- Provide frequently asked questions for first-time interviewers – be proactive and minimize any interviewer uncertainty by logging likely questions from previous hiring events. And then fairly answer them in a prominent spot on your company’s website for educating your interviewers.
A Few Additional Quick Actions For Improving Interviews
In addition to delaying the influence that hiring managers have during interviews. You can also improve interviews by heavily weighting how the candidate performs when you give them a real problem from the job that they are applying for. Videotaping each interview allows potential interviewers that could not attend an added opportunity to see and comment on the candidate. Don’t allow interviewers to utilize any personal “candidate knockout factors.” And finally, providing interviewers with an approved list of job-related interview questions. It will help minimize many legal issues while ensuring that the interview focus remains on questions directly related to the listed hiring criteria.
Trying to overhaul an entire interview process is almost always painful and time-consuming. Instead of a complete revamp, I recommend that you start improving your interviews by identifying “low hanging fruit” actions that cost little but will have a great impact. I suggest you start with the need to minimize unnecessary hiring manager influence during panel interviews. In part because I see this influence error appear so frequently. But also, because few, outside of psychology, seem even to realize how devastating its negative impacts can be. Teach your hiring managers to put on their “poker face” during interviews and withhold their strong opinions until all other interview team members’ opinions are fully presented.
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