Working in engineering at various sized companies has taught me that hiring is one of the clearest ways a company’s true colors come out. How a company approaches referrals, hiring decisions, conflicts of interest, and transparency has a direct impact on employee morale. It is especially powerful, because it’s something that employees are directly involved and invested in, and affected by. However, it can swing in either direction, either increasing employee loyalty and feelings of ownership, or leave people feeling disengaged and powerless.

In the good scenarios I’ve been in, referrers did not have a say in hiring decisions. Though they gave feedback about this person they had worked with before, the hiring decision was not up to them. The decision was left to the people who would be working with the person day to day. My feeling after the process was that I was treated fairly and I had a say in what happened here. It gave me a feeling of responsibility. One, I have a say in who I’d be working with, and two, who has an impact on the company that I had invested myself in.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, poor situations have included opaque hiring decisions that were the basis of a single powerful person’s say, sometimes against the recommendation of all others who interviewed. It’s like saying, “Your vote doesn’t count”. It’s a little cut, but one in an important place. Why would I continue to invest in a place that discounts my opinion. On top of that, what a waste of everybody’s time if it didn’t matter anyway. These situations were extremely frustrating both at the time, and leaving a lingering bitterness afterwards. The next time I’d be in an interview round with the All Powerful, what would be the point of going against? So you learn to be quiet and not care.

I get it though. There’s an engineering shortage, so we need to hire. And this person was referred by so-and-so who worked with them before. But as I’ve seen again and again, this is a trap. A short term poison pill taken that will do far more damage in employee morale in the long run than a bad hire can make up in work. When employees feel like they don’t matter, they will in turn not care, or go above and beyond to keep the company going long term.

Each hire is not only him or herself, but each and every person they hire afterwards.

A few solutions to keep the process great that I’ve seen and liked are:

  • Referrers have absolutely no say or visibility to the hiring of their referral, other than their initial referral
  • Having an independent body in every interview group, that is on equal level as the hiring manager, that can question the process or hiring manager, and who looks at the hire within the view of the company as a whole, rather than team specific
  • All discussions, decision making and decisions involve the whole interview group, and people are genuinely happy with the decision.

It takes far longer to come to this kind of consensus, but it’s worth it. Like with any business, it’s far easier to keep an existing customer, than to get a new one.

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