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Aligning Hiring Panels as a New Manager

Alignment
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Feedback
Hiring
Coaching / Training / Mentorship

16 March, 2022

Ken Kantzer
Ken Kantzer

VP of Engineering at FiscalNote

Ken Kantzer, VP of Engineering at FiscalNote, shares his tips for new managers leading hiring panels, explaining collaborative documentation and debriefs.

Unknowns When Hiring

As a new manager, it can be challenging to hire for a team that you just recently joined. It’s difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of existing hiring practices, construct hiring panels, determine signals, and disagree with panels before when you may not know your team well.

Generally, my philosophy when it comes to making good hires is to think a lot about what types of data a hiring board should collect about a candidate. Rather than thinking about the ‘general feel’ of a person, I like to set my hiring up like a set of experiments. That makes each interview consistent reproducible and creates a foundation for further improving the hiring process.

Understanding Signal in Interviewees and Interviewers

I think most people assume that there will be parts of the hiring process where companies don’t learn anything, and that’s ok –– I believe this is a missed opportunity.

Each part of the hiring process should produce high-value, unique signals for your hiring decision. “Signal” is a concept I first heard about in “The Hiring Post,” which is a must-read for all engineering managers. It’s the thing that I think about most when hiring for a team. I want to understand if I am gaining signal from every part of the interview process, from the initial recruiter to each of the final interview panels. It’s crucial that new managers constantly change up the parts of an interview that have low signals.

Let’s talk about something awkward: not all your teammates produce the same amount of signal when they interview! Usually, this is about practice, so make sure you’re giving good feedback to those who aren’t as good at interviewing. Nonetheless, when you’re a new manager on a quickly growing team, it can be challenging to decide which teammates are best suited for interviewing. I try to determine quickly who gives me a high signal by paying close attention in the panel debrief sessions.

Even during panel discussions, I’ve found it difficult to disagree with team members about candidates. As a new manager, you want to be able to build trust and empower your team. At the same time, you don’t want to make a bad hire –– as it could affect the group dynamic, performance, and culture. I recommend that new managers take their time making hiring decisions –– even if there’s pressure from above and within the team. Listen to everyone’s feedback, but be ready to make and defend your own decision, even if it goes against the general feeling of the panel. Sometimes overruling a panel can be a powerful culture-making moment on a team.

Constructing an Equitable and Effective Panel

My top recommendation is to create a single document that can be shared with everyone on a hiring panel. It forces interviewers to write down their questions but also allows the hiring manager to gain alignment and direction for the hiring process.

One common pitfall for new interviewers is asking questions that are too generic or broad. It often seems like interviewers are nervous that by asking more specific questions, they risk not having enough to talk about. I’ve found that the opposite is the truth, however –– being more specific allows for deeper answers.

Finally, having this collaboration document requires interviewers to ask different questions. Nothing is worse for candidates than answering the same general questions during varying levels of an interview. It also makes the interviews not as equitable – making the interviewers more biased and less objective.  

Panel Debriefs

  • During the panel debriefs, after all the interviews have been completed, leaders should make sure there’s a discussion not just about candidates but also the hiring panels process. I recommend being very direct with your feedback when it’s aimed at the group (individual negative feedback should be brought up separately in a 1-1).
  • Although it can be awkward when providing interviewers with feedback, it helps to critique their specific questions rather than their interviewing skills. Doing so allows for feedback to be more objective and makes coaching easier. Even if team members are not great interviewers, providing objective feedback and using specific questions will enable the managers to make changes to the panel and will make your staff better at interviewing too.

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