Hiring by committee

How successful are employees that were hired by committee?

Hiring by committee can be one of the best ways to bring new people into your business, IF the following conditions are met:

  • The committee is selected carefully
  • The committee is trained to follow a process that works
  • Members of the committee know their role in the interview process
  • Each member has veto power and the hire is NOT determined by majority vote

Joel Spolsky, of JoelonSoftware.com, writes about hiring by committee in his book Smart, and Gets Things Done.  Primarily, Joel hires programmers.  He (and other programmer managers) believe it’s pretty easy to determine whether an employee is smart.  Simply lob a few conversational openings over the net, and see what the candidate says in reply.  If you’re smart yourself, you can tell.

“Gets things done” is much harder to determine, in the course of a hiring interview.  If you’re not careful, a canny candidate can snow you with talk about plans, and strategy, and intent.  It can take a lot of work and attentive listening to distinguish “team participation” with real activity and self direction.  That’s where the committee comes in.

When you plan the interview, both at the level of the job description (what do you need to know about how any candidate can do the work) and at the level of each candidate’s day in your office, think about who will ask what type of questions.  You have the resumes, and the job description, and your list of questions designed to elicit useful stories about each candidate’s work history.  Don’t leave specifics about the candidate’s job history and accomplishments mentioned in the resume to chance.  Make sure everyone knows who will be asking about what.  In the course of the interview, each interviewer should take complete notes about how the candidate responded.  If it becomes clear that you need more information about a specific position or work assignment, early-morning interviews can ask people interviewing later in the day to probe more deeply.

At Fog Creek Software (Joel’s business), interviewers are expected to give a “hire, no hire” decision within 15 minutes of the end of the interview.  One “no hire” is a deciding vote.  It’s not a popularity contest.  Joel’s employee’s are trained in interview techniques and they know that they are will have to work with whomever they hire, so they are looking for employees who can pull their own weight and are sensitive to excuse-makers and wool-pullers.

Even if one person misses a clue, it’s rare that the entire team will.

Where committees fail in a hiring process is if the eventual hire becomes a majority vote, particularly if one ore more committee members are saying, “well, I guess he can work in someone else’s department, but he’s not exactly what I had in mind for mine.”  If she’s not good enough for your department, she’s not good enough for the business.

Have you had success using committees to select new candidates?  Let me know in the comments.  Thank you!