How to Make Committee Interviews Work

Having candidates interview with multiple team members often has its advantages. However, it can also be full of pitfalls and non-productive efforts that may lead to a vacant seat being vacant for an extended time if not executed well. Having a solid strategy for conducting candidate interviews using a committee is essential.

Creating a Committee Interview Strategy

A committee interview strategy includes four key elements:

  • optimal committee size
  • key roles to include
  • question mix to use
  • ranking scale

These elements will allow you to maximize everyone’s time and identify the best candidate from the selection pool.

How to Determine the Size of the Interview Committee

Determining how many team members should be on the interview committee is the first step.  You want to include essential team members while optimizing staff time to keep interview costs under control.  For example, if the team has six individuals, reviewing each candidate’s resume requires 20 minutes, and each interview is 30 minutes in duration, then each candidate would cost you five hours of technical staff time. Multiply that by 3-5 candidates, and not only is the time cost significant for a larger committee group, but it also is likely not going to be a good use of each member’s time. Minimize the size of the interview committee to maximize productivity and minimize costs.  Ideally, the committee should have a maximum of 3-4 participants.

Also, the more members the interview committee has, the harder it is to schedule interviews. Timeliness is essential when looking for quality candidates as the competition for them is high, and delays will cause you to miss talent time and time again.

Key Roles to Include in the Interview Committee

The interview committee should include a hiring manager and one or more technical staff. Including the hiring manager is essential as this person needs a good feeling about what they are getting if they select the candidate. A technical lead and one or two additional technical staff should round out the hiring committee roles. The inclusion of more than one technical staff member is helpful as each person may cover different topics or probe in different directions based on the conversation.

Having a technical lead as a member of the interview committee is vital as you need to be able to ask detailed questions to understand the candidate’s depth of knowledge and experience in the particular skills your team is seeking.  A candidate that gives a textbook answer to a question may or may not have mastery of that specific skill. A tech lead can ask follow-up questions about the particular tool or technology to get the candidate talking about their past experiences with those skills or tools. Follow-up questions based on the candidate’s level of experience will lead to a better evaluation of the candidate. In addition, many IT concepts or processes can be called other things in various IT shops, so having a technical resource able to restate a question is helpful.

Selecting the Question Mix to Use

Most interviews today include a mix of question types in an attempt to predict the candidate-position-company fit accurately. While there is no ideal mix of question types, you will want to use a combination of questions targeted at:

  • Behaviors – objective analysis of past actions as a predictor of future behaviors
  • Cognitive creativity – subjective analysis of creative ability to formulate a path to answering a complex question
  • Competency – subjective analysis of alignment between past behaviors to position requirements
  • Credential verification – objective verification of resume points
  • Experience verification – subjective evaluation of specific experiences
  • Opinions – subjective analysis of responses to given scenarios
  • Original thought – subjective analysis of the ability to think and react quickly
  • Problem-solving – subjective analysis of approach and ability to work through potential situations

Specific examples of questions designed to assess one or more of these areas where tools are concerned include:

  • How did their past team evaluate, implement, and utilize the tool?
  • Did they proliferate the usage of the tool to other teams within the organization?
  • How much time did they personally spend utilizing the tool?

Since most candidates have a laundry list of skills used for each assignment, the use of probing questions for specific skills is essential. Examples of probing questions include:

  • What was used most?
  • What was used least?
  • What rough percentage of their time was spent utilizing the skill?

Quantifying questions will help the technical lead tailor their probing questions to Entry, Mid-level, or Advanced based on the candidate’s answers.

How to Create an Effective Candidate Ranking Scale

To rank candidates effectively, it is crucial to focus on the primary qualifications and experience you are seeking. Too often, interviews and rankings focus on the fringe needs rather than the essentials.

A practical method to creating a properly focused ranking scale is to turn your job description into an evaluation tool. Break the qualifications into two sections 1) Must-have and 2) Learnable or Nice to Have. Think about each point included in the job description carefully before putting them in each area. Nothing should be in the must-have section that isn’t an essential qualification. Once you have your list developed, frame each point as a yes/no question. Then include a summary section of questions to get their overall impressions. Examples of the types of questions to include:

  • Does the candidate meet 70-80% of desired skills?
  • Will they contribute to the team and make incremental gains in skills and knowledge?
  • Are there skills or tools the candidate possesses in which they are proficient and are immediately productive?
  • Did they have experience in similar tools that could shorten the learning curve on your IT Shops particular tool or framework?

Refrain from rating the candidate on a numerical scale.  Chances are members of your hiring committee will have been part of a hiring process in the past where they felt the candidate was great.  However, several months after the new hire started and was onboarded, gaps in the new employee’s skills and knowledge were discovered. After having to answer the question of “How did we hire this individual?” from leadership in the past, they will naturally be hesitant to give out a top numerical rating. Even if the candidate aced all the questions, the safe rating on a 1-10 scale would be a 7-8. Few technical interviewers are likely to rate the candidate as a 10, and even awarding a 9-10 would really sticking their neck out for the candidate. If you must use a numerical rating, use a 1-10 scale and grade candidates on the curve.

Rack and Stack

The candidates’ salary expectations must be assessed once they have been evaluated on their qualifications and experience to complete their racking and stacking. The hiring manager should have an idea of where each candidate is likely to end up on their salary expectation. When evaluating each candidates’ salary expectations, you will want to ask questions such as:

  • How did the candidate compare within the interview group you evaluated?
  • Which candidate was the best the group interviewed?
  • Is the top candidate worth the asking salary?
  • Will the candidate’s asking salary allow for future increases?
  • Did another candidate have similar skills but is asking for a reduced salary to allow for merit-based increases?
  • Would the candidate consider adding skills, technology, or industry experience to their resume as a benefit in lieu of a top salary?
  • If the candidate lacks skills, would they be willing to take a reduced pay level initially and move to the higher salary once they master the new technology?
  • Would a candidate that is willing to accept a lower initial salary with a 3-6 month evaluation be a value-add to the team?

The answers to these questions, combined with the assessment of their qualifications and experience from the interview committee, should allow each candidate to be placed in order of overall desirability for the position.

Once you have your top candidate(s) identified, you can move on to making an offer of employment.

Is Try Before You Buy via Contract-to-Hire Right for the Position?

As you can see, IT hiring can be challenging as there are many variables in the mix when trying to bring on the ideal candidate. One option that hasn’t been discussed in the previous steps is hiring a candidate using a contract-to-hire scenario. The advantage of using a contract-to-hire scenario is the ability to have a highly skilled resource start work and actively demonstrate their skills by delivering quality work before you make a permanent, full-time offer of employment to them. Not only do you receive immediate throughput, but you also have the time to actively evaluate the candidate’s skills and how ideally they fit into the team and organization. This model is similar to how you test drive a car or walk through a house/apartment before leasing or buying. Contract to hire increases peace of mind in many situations.  Your organization may find the contract-to-hire option particularly beneficial when implementing a new tool, technology, or framework.

IT contract firms, such as QAT Global, have an experienced recruiting, hiring, and technical staff to guide the evaluation of candidates and have extensive practice at identifying top candidates, which streamlines the entire hiring process.  As the old adage about why you should hire a consultant goes, “Consultants tend to shoot accurately and use less bullets.” If contract-to-hire feels like it might be a good fit for your organization, your hiring process should start with a call to your contact at QAT Global.