Don't Be Brief, Debrief

I recently worked with an organization that had a robust interviewing process that involved multiple team members. Yet, despite receiving the team’s feedback, the VP would routinely overrule and hire whomever he wanted. Needless to say new-hire turnover at this organization was extremely high.

While you may not necessarily encounter such an extreme example, making hiring decisions can be treacherous if the hiring process lacks structure. One of the ways to combat hap-hazardous hiring is to utilize a debrief.

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In some organizations a debrief can range from an informal touch-base between interviewers to highly-structured hiring committees in others. However your organization decides to conduct its process, effective debriefs will answer three questions about the candidate:

  1. Did we miss what's important?

  2. Are we all bought-in?

  3. Are we hiring/not hiring?

Question 1: Did we miss what’s important?

One of the primary purposes of the debrief is to review everything the team has learned about a candidate. Effective debriefs focus on data points and will reduce biases/snap judgments.

All data points (ideally via written feedback) should be reviewed and explored vigorously during a debrief. The person conducting the debrief should focus on interviewing the interviewers, a process that challenges interviewers to provide concrete examples to validate their conclusions about a candidate to discern potential biases. Questions a debrief should address:

Why does the interviewer feel a certain way about a candidate? How does the candidate demonstrate the behavior being described? Are there specific examples?

Effective data points will be able to address these questions and data should always be valued above opinions. If there’s not enough data? Err on the side of caution.

Question 2: Are we all bought-in?

Once all the feedback has been reviewed, the next step is helping the team reach a consensus about a candidate. While gaining consensus can be an arduous exercise, it is an important factor in any new hire’s success. How is anyone supposed to succeed if there’s already resentment over whether they should have even joined the organization?  

If you’re consistently encountering split opinions in your debriefs consider the following:

  • You may need to better define what’s being evaluated in each interview. An interview guide could be a useful tool to leverage.

  • You may need to examine what kinds of interview questions are being asked and if those questions are effective.

  • You may need to assess the effectiveness of your interviewers. Are they probing deeply enough?

  • You may need to add some independence in your debrief that has veto power. At Amazon this was the Bar-Raiser who wasn’t on the hiring team.

Question 3: Are we hiring/not hiring?

If you skip directly to hire/no hire decision, you’re probably that VP who is making everyone’s life miserable with your poor hiring decisions. You’ve also probably also stopped reading so it’s a moot point.

Everyone else, if there’s confidence in what the team has observed and everyone’s bought-in, then your answer should be relatively straightforward. Happy hiring.

Joe Shao
Chief Talent Officer