Organizational hiring processes vary, but one common element across companies is the vast amount of time and resources expended on interviewing — often with disappointing results. Mike, the head of a very well-funded recruitment department for a global company, described to us a particularly grueling and extensive hiring process. Every year, the company receives 300,000 applicants for just 2,000 open positions. By the final stage, a candidate will have met with and been evaluated by an average of 20 different people within the organization. An enormous amount of resources goes into the coordination and execution of this process, not to mention the indirect cost of interviewers’ time. Yet, Mike confessed, of the 2,000 new hires each year, at least half prove to be poor fits and exit the organization prematurely. He was confident that better matches existed in his candidate pool but didn’t know a more effective way to identify them.
We wanted to know whether Mike could identify the interviewers who could distinguish good matches from poor ones and persuade even the most in-demand talent to join. So we asked him a simple question: Do you know who your best interviewers are?
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Mike was embarrassed to admit that he had no idea. In fact, the question had barely crossed his mind — and he’s not alone. We’ve had very similar conversations with many executives across industries.
As simple a question as it is, very few organizations have considered who their best interviewers are, and as a result, they may be leaving money on the table by failing to optimally allocate or manage their interviewers. Such inefficiencies can mean higher turnover, a lower quality of hire, and a more expensive hiring process.
Finding Top Interviewers: Evidence From a Global Contact Center
Our recent research provides clear evidence that some people do indeed make better interviewers than others and offers a simple methodology for identifying them. (See “The Research.”)
A global contact center introduced a simple tool in its applicant tracking system to monitor which employees, randomly assigned, interviewed which candidates. By tracking which candidates received job offers, accepted those offers, and turned out to be good hires — defined as those who remained with the company for at least 90 days — we linked those candidate outcomes to the interviewer who had made the hiring recommendation.
We set out to determine whether we could identify any interviewers who were doing a better job at identifying and attracting good hires than others. The data revealed the answer to be a resounding “yes”: There was significant variation in interviewer performance along each dimension we measured and, even more important, an interviewer’s performance in previous interviews was a strong predictor of his or her performance in future interviews.
In our analysis, we calculated the performance of each interviewer in his or her previous 50 interviews, controlling for seasonality, geography, local labor markets, and other factors beyond the interviewer’s control but still likely to impact outcomes. We classified those who generated a high fraction of good hires per interview the best interviewers (top third) and those who generated a low fraction of good hires the worst interviewers (bottom third).
After we classified the interviewers, we tracked their performance over their next 50 interviews and found that the past was indeed prologue: In their subsequent interviews, the best interviewers were able to generate more than twice as many good hires per interview as the worst interviewers (26% versus 12%, respectively, as described in “Time-Persistent Variation in Interviewer Performance”). This time-persistent variation is clear evidence that some people are better interviewers than others.
The difference between the best and worst interviewers is substantial in the business context. By predicting future performance based on past performance, an organization could classify interviewer performance to reassign job candidates to its best interviewers. If it were to stop using its worst interviewers altogether, replacing them with the best interviewers, the company could generate the same number of good hires with 19% fewer interviews, 8% fewer hires, and a 6% drop in six-month new-hire attrition. (See “Reallocation: Replacing the Worst Interviewers With the Best Interviewers.”)
Note also that, because the total interview workload would drop, the best interviewers would have to increase their interviewing workloads only by about 55% to take over for the worst interviewers. That reallocation amounts to significant savings in sourcing, recruiting, and turnover costs.
It’s also important to note that the best interviewers varied in their approach. Some excelled primarily because they were good at persuading candidates to join (high accept rate), others because they were good at identifying durable candidates (high stay rate), and still others because they were less likely to reject quality candidates (high offer rate). Of course, the very best excelled across all three dimensions.
Top Interviewing Practices
To better understand what various interviewer skill sets look like in practice and how these differences can present themselves in real business contexts, we offer three suggestions gleaned from our qualitative research.
Balance individual interviewers’ approaches with a multistep interview process. Benjamin was the CEO of an expanding global technology company who frequently interviewed prospective leadership hires. His interviewing style was less focused on evaluating the candidate than on offering a vivid sales pitch to excite candidates about the prospect of joining his company. After an hour-long interview of this style, however, Benjamin might not have learned a thing about the candidate or whether his or her skill set, background, and personality fit the organization’s needs. In short, this CEO is the last person you should ask about whether a candidate should be hired.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this approach. Leadership hires typically go through several rounds of interviews and screening, and it may not be every interviewer’s job to assess candidate fit. This CEO’s passion made him highly effective at attracting top talent and persuading people to join his organization, relying on his colleagues to handle the screening.
Multistep interview processes allow for, and can benefit from, a certain degree of specialization. What’s important is that hiring teams are aware of these interviewer skill differentiations and get clear about who’s good at what.
Practice transparency. Sky-high employee attrition at a U.S. call center meant its hiring team was continuously fighting to meet ambitious quotas in a tight labor market. Much of the team was determined to make the job seem attractive so that applicants would agree to show up for onboarding and training. Unfortunately, many new hires quit after just a few weeks on the job, realizing it wasn’t a good fit for them — and leaving yet another vacancy to fill.
Recognizing this vicious cycle, hiring manager Sarah used the interview process to present an honest, realistic assessment of what the job was like, rather than portraying it as universally appealing. She intentionally highlighted the divisive aspects that employees felt strongly about, such as off-hour shifts, and she translated the company’s heavily performance-based compensation plan into realistic wage estimates (“around $10 to $15 an hour”) rather than attractive but largely unattainable estimates (“up to $50 an hour!”). By providing an accurate description of the job, she allowed candidates to assess for themselves whether they would really be happy working there.
After Sarah adopted this strategy, the candidates she interviewed were a bit less likely to accept job offers — but those who did were a much better fit. Sarah emerged as the top interviewer on her team: The 90-day quit rate of her candidates was by far the lowest, and she generated the highest fraction of good hires per interview. By recasting the interview as an honest exchange of information and giving the candidate an opportunity to realistically assess the job opportunity, Sarah was able to weed out bad-fit candidates before the company invested thousands of dollars in onboarding and training them. When leadership saw her success, they asked her to run a series of workshops explaining her interviewing approach across the company.
Rethink deal breakers. A global business process outsourcing company also struggled with high employee turnover and perpetual vacancy rates, so its chief goal was to find as many qualified, reliable new hires as possible.
With lots of interviewing experience, Robert had pinpointed a few deal breakers — behavioral signals, such as requesting to reschedule an interview at the last minute — that indicated to him that a candidate wouldn’t succeed if hired. He used these signals to eliminate otherwise qualified candidates from consideration. In contrast, Robert’s colleague and fellow interviewer Alice saw potential where Robert saw liability, and she eliminated far fewer candidates on the basis of her guesses about their future behavior.
Even though Robert was much more stringent, the average quality of his hires was no better than Alice’s — but because of Robert’s deal-breaker rejections, he was missing out on valuable talent. When he saw that Alice was bringing in good hires in far greater numbers, he reevaluated his deal breakers and started extending more offers.
Practical Implications and Extensions
The data clearly shows that some interviewers are better than others, that different interviewers take different approaches, and that interviewers can excel on distinct metrics like offer, accept, and stay rates. But if organizations don’t know who their best interviewers are, or in which area each interviewer excels, they’re unlikely to utilize or manage that talent effectively.
Identifying your company’s best interviewers is simple: Decide on the candidate outcomes that matter, and evaluate interviewers on the basis of how their interviewed candidates perform on those outcomes, controlling for extraneous factors like seasonality or local labor markets. The definition of a good hire can vary by organization and may include metrics like employee performance ratings, productivity metrics, manager assessments, or employee retention. While an interviewer’s average past performance will be a reliable indicator of his or her future performance, keep in mind that reliability will increase as the interviewer conducts more interviews. (The metric should be highly reliable by the time the interviewer has conducted 25 to 50 interviews, but our data shows that outcomes from as few as five interviews can consistently predict future interviewer performance.)
This methodology allows for tremendous flexibility. The metrics used to evaluate performance can be tailored to each organization’s specific goals. For those concerned with diversity in their hiring practices, measures like offer rates to women and racial or ethnic minorities could be included. For hiring teams that use candidate experience survey tools, employer brand metrics like Net Promoter Score might be an important component of interviewer performance.
Companies can leverage this information about interviewer performance in several different ways. They can try to reallocate interviews to their top interviewers or allocate interviews based on specific interviewer strengths — for example, by sending female candidates to interviewers who excel on diversity metrics, or sending candidates with competing offers to the interviewer with the best “sales” record of accepted offers. Sharing performance information strategically can encourage interviewers to improve their numbers. Companies can design incentives to reward their best interviewers or use interviewing outcomes as input for performance ratings.
Interviewers can use this information to learn about their specific strengths and weaknesses. Top interviewers can share successful interviewing strategies with their colleagues, enabling peers to learn and adopt approaches that work well. Improving interviewer ability is particularly important for smaller organizations that may not have much flexibility in who conducts interviews.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. By bringing visibility to the interviewing process, organizations can achieve significant improvements in their hiring process and realize substantial value. The next time we ask an executive whether they know who their best interviewers are, we hope the answer is yes.