HR Headaches Series: How to Steer Hiring Decisions to Align with Company Goals

In this week’s HR Headaches post, we discuss ways HR can help hiring managers make the right candidate choices for their team and their company overall.

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HR headaches graphic - hiring decisions
Tips for HR leaders and hiring managers to work together in the recruiting process

In some organizations, HR has the final say in hiring decisions; in others, department heads and managers take a more active role. Business leaders want to assure hiring managers are making the right choice for their team and for the company overall, which often puts them at cross-purposes.

When companies decide it’s time to diversify, they may need to retrain managers and help them expand the organization’s reach. To make sure everyone is satisfied with the decision, a bit of pre-planning before the interviews begin and a bit of steerage during the process can help.

Skill set matters 

For many managers, hiring new staff is an infrequent task. They may not be well-versed in what questions to ask or what questions to avoid. These managers should be prepped on how to conduct interviews legally and productively — before the process begins and routinely. While it may not be a task they perform often, it is part of their job, and they should still be trained to do it correctly.

Other managers hire staff on a regular basis. These managers should know what’s allowed and what’s revealing when they interview, but they can always benefit from guidance. Training and refresher courses for these managers is always a good idea.

Managers who routinely refill positions that have recently been filled could be a red flag for businesses.

Managers who routinely refill positions that have recently been filled could be a red flag for businesses. If market conditions don’t explain churn, training these hiring managers might be necessary to help them make better selections.

Whatever the skill set of hiring managers is, interview training is key. Understanding the limits of the law is necessary to maintain compliance. They’ll also need the basics:

  • Learning how to ask leading questions
  • Avoiding yes/no answers, and
  • Following the 80/20 rule (listen 80% of the time, talk 20%) to get the most information from a candidate

Objective criteria

Beyond the nuts and bolts, hiring authorities need to be able to defend their selection with objective criteria. “They seemed like a good match” or “I got a good vibe” aren’t reasons to hire. Training managers to avoid feelings may seem counterintuitive: they argue “fit” is important. Yes, you’re looking for someone who will work well within the team — but it will be necessary to identify the skills and qualities necessary for the job, then verify the candidate has those.

When managers are trained, they learn a great interview doesn’t necessarily mean a great hire. The best interviews may be with candidates that job-hop so frequently they’ve got the interview process down pat. The most awkward may be with talent that has a lot to offer, but is a nervous interviewer. Going beyond impressions, and getting to verifiable skills and experience, nets the best potential new hire. A manager who’s trained to skip past the superficial will interview more effectively and find the best talent for the position.

Going beyond impressions, and getting to verifiable skills and experience, nets the best potential new hire. A manager who’s trained to skip past the superficial will interview more effectively and find the best talent for the position.

Make it clear and follow through 

When an organization sets a goal to diversify their workplace, they may set specific guidelines or be informal in their processes. In either case, messaging must be top-down. A suggestion from upper management is just that: a suggestion. A commitment from upper management, to expand and meet diversity goals, demands attention and action.

Beyond setting goals, follow through whenever there’s a vacancy, and follow up whenever a new hire is being considered. It won’t take long for hiring managers to realize the new policy isn’t being taken seriously or being enforced. If you want to assure goals are met, more than just an announcement will be required.

Hiring that’s best for the group and the company

Even with pre-training, many People Operations leaders and business owners hope to influence hiring managers into making the choices that may stretch their usual repertoire. For some leaders the priority is:

  • Building a more diverse company
  • Looking to expand hiring to more trainable entry-levelers, or
  • Shift the hiring status quo to drive or spark innovation

Whatever the reason, it is possible to encourage broader thinking with hiring managers to achieve their goals and the company’s.

Some companies start at the front-end of the recruitment process. If the aim is to build diversity, they pre-screen candidates and only advance those applicants who meet the desired criteria. Hiring managers then have qualified candidates from which to choose who meet the goal of the group and the organization.

Reviewing candidates and resumes with HR

Another way to steer hiring managers is to review candidates and resumes with an HR representative. A look at why they’re selecting one application over another can be telling. If HR has already pre-qualified each of those offered, why are women, for example, not selected for an interview? Ask the hiring authority to rank which candidates they want to call in, and which they don’t. Then discuss why some were set aside while others were chosen.

Here you’ll want to review their selection criteria. If they don’t have a valid, verifiable reason to exclude someone, it might not be a bad idea to insist they interview the candidate. Follow up to see how the interview went: is the applicant moving forward in the process? If not, why not? Require specifics on why they were excluded and be ready to overcome subjective input with hard facts on qualifications and experience.

For companies that allow managers hire from start to finish, it may be more difficult to influence the process at the front end. Intervention throughout the steps can work: ask for copies of applications/resumes; then ask who was selected for the interview, and why.

Before an offer is tendered, set a meeting to discuss their choice for the position, again asking why they made the selection. If they haven’t expanded their reach beyond the usual suspects, be ready to discuss all the interviews they held to try to steer them to a better choice. Use the same criteria — what tangible traits, skills, and experience led to the decision. If they’re going by “feelings” alone, it’s time to retrain the manager and rethink the process.

When to intervene

Some hiring managers make diverse hiring a priority; others not so much. Some have frequent vacancies that allow for more opportunities to expand, others have little to no turnover. Hiring manager’s priorities are for their individual group: the organization’s priorities are for the company. In some cases, they may not align. Staffing data by department can help guide HR on when they need to intervene, but there may be some warning signs to watch out for:

  • You’re consistently sending diverse applicants who aren’t interviewed or hired
  • The team/department is homogenous, even with normal turnover
  • The team/department has high turnover, but no diversity
  • Objections to candidates, either selecting to interview or to hire, are subjective, like “not a good fit”
Training doesn’t have to be expensive or extensive: it simply requires managers substantiate their reasons to exclude or include candidates.
Pre-interview training should be a priority and help overcome some red flag areas you notice. Hiring managers must understand they’re expected to broaden their talent base. Training outlines what to look for in a candidate — skills, experience, and qualifications only. It should enforce that subjective criteria, like “think they’ll work well with the group” isn’t a reason to exclude. Training doesn’t have to be expensive or extensive: it simply requires managers substantiate their reasons to exclude or include candidates. With all things equal, it can be easier for the manager to choose the applicant that meets their department’s goals as well as those of the business.

Following through

In some cases, HR or business owners will be able to influence the final hiring decision. In others, you may have to put your foot down. Whatever the case is, it’s important to remember people — even the best of us — sometimes fear change. A hiring manager who thinks they have a system that’s successful will not want to do things differently. Your objective should be to bring them along, rather than demand. But if they can’t or won’t change, you’ll need to decide  whether or not they’re the best manager for the job.

Setting goals to diversify your workplace is a great first step. Work with managers to expand their reach into previously ignored talent pools: but don’t stop there. Nothing bodes worse for a new employee than a manager who felt they were forced to make the hire. Bringing your management team along the process of change not only makes it easier for them to embrace and welcome progress, it will make for a more inclusive environment for the hires they affect.

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