Does collaborative hiring really work?

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Getting employees from across the business involved in the hiring process can help eliminate bias and establish cultural fit quickly, but democracy has its drawbacks

Job interviews can be daunting at the best of times. But imagine being interviewed by the whole workforce of your would-be employer, or at least a significant portion of it.

It’s enough to make anyone more than a tad sweaty. And while it might bring to mind farcical images of 20-foot long panels and nose-to-armpit busy boardrooms, it’s exactly what some Silicon Valley tech companies have been doing for years.

Popular with the likes of Apple and Google, so-called ‘collaborative hiring’ or ‘team-based hiring’ typically involves a multi-stage interview process, allowing the candidate to meet more employees than the two or three they would usually. In fact, they often meet most of the team they’d be working with.

Its proponents claim it gives team members a voice, which is empowering and boosts engagement. The fact that co-workers are involved in the hiring process also means they have a vested interest in ensuring the new hire is successful. Unconscious biases are reduced as the views of the many rather than the interpretation of an individual are taken into consideration.

But it’s yet to catch on as fully in the UK as across the pond. This was evidenced when BBC2 programme Who’s the Boss? followed three small companies last year as they tried out the approach – with mixed results. “Despite some recognition that this practice is beneficial in improving hiring success its take-up in the UK isn’t as wide as you might think,” confirms Lisa Forrest, head of internal talent acquisition at recruitment consultancy Alexander Mann Solutions.

While there is no official data relating to adoption rates, the most frequent users (as in the US) tend to be in the tech space, although some retailers such as Pret A Manger have followed suit. Ad hoc pockets of activity exist in other sectors too.

Becky Mossman, HR director for EMEA and Asia Pacific at background screening firm HireRight, uses the approach when hiring for her team. She reiterates the benefits: “The broader input helps you get a more rounded view of the candidate from the people they‘ll be working with to see if they’re a good fit.”

But the practice also helps candidates “understand the role better and build relationships more quickly once they’re on board as people feel like they were part of the decision-making process and so are more engaged,” she says. “Hiring is such an expensive thing to do that it’s important to get it right.”

Jenny Carlyle, strategic personnel officer at workers co-operative ethical food wholesaler Suma, which uses the approach to recruit all new members, agrees. “One of the downsides is that it’s quite resource-heavy and takes a lot of time. But on the upside, recruitment is often seen as a closed shop and a mystery so getting people involved really does increase engagement.”

Meanwhile, Charlotte Bridgeman, head of UK recruitment at software development consultancy ThoughtWorks, went through the collaborative hiring process herself on being recruited to the firm, where it is standard practice.

“It’s typically a three- to five-stage interview process depending on the role, and I met 13 different people,” she says. “I initially thought ‘blimey this is really daunting’ and it made me question myself, but the more people I met the more I understood what the role was about and the more I bought into it.”

But there are a number of risks to going down the collaborative hiring route, which means employers should not simply rush into it. Bryn Doyle, employment lawyer at Squire Patton Boggs, points out that the dangers involved in being inconsistent can be amplified by the higher numbers of employees involved, meaning HR has less control over the process.

“You reduce risk if you have a consistent approach and ensure you’re even-handed,” he says. “So be careful that interviewers ask the same questions of each candidate, make notes with the same level of detail, even that they use the same location if possible, in case of future claims.”

Planning is vital to ensure that interviews are as objective as possible, the role is clearly defined, and criteria for measuring skills and performance are nailed down. Otherwise warns Daniel Tenner, founder of GrantTree (which has undertaken collaborative hiring from its inception), feedback can end up simply being based around whether members of the team like someone or not, which “can be useful, but isn’t necessarily the most important thing”.

Another important consideration in this context is training, which takes time and requires investment from the business. At ThoughtWorks, for example, the support ranges from learning interviewing skills to unconscious bias training, provided to all employees.

As with the best more traditional interview processes, inclusion must also be a consideration when selecting people to act as interviewers. “Ideally we’d have a both man and a woman or people from different backgrounds, but the important thing is to reflect diversity in each pair of interviewers during every stage of the process,” Bridgeman says.

She warns that, particularly in a competitive jobs market, it is vital to ensure the process is not allowed to drag on. “Maintaining pace is essential, so if you’re going to do it: do it quickly and do it well. With the candidate market being what it is you don’t want to end up losing them because people can’t make a decision.”

But despite the downsides, the approach is expected to become more widespread. As HireRight’s Mossman concludes: “If you think about the different generations coming through, which is changing how we all operate, it’s important to find ways of becoming more engaging and to give employees more of a sense of responsibility. It’s about uncovering new ways of developing them – and collaboration and giving people a voice is key.”

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