How to Hire Like Amazon: Why Cross-Team Interviewing Could Transform Your Hiring Strategy

February 13, 2014

Hiring for any position can be time-consuming. What’s worse, you can’t always guarantee the best results, and any mistake you make you’ll be paying for big time.
What can you do to improve your hiring process and overall success? Take a cue from the biggest online retailer in the world.
How to Hire Like Amazon: Why Cross-Team Interviewing Could Transform Your Hiring Strategy

Finding the Right Balance Between Hiring Quickly and Hiring Effectively

“Who hired this guy?” That’s a line that is all too familiar for companies who have let their hiring control measures wane, especially during growth periods where the need to increase capacity outweighs the performance of due diligence on new talent acquisitions.
As a Talent Specialist recruiting for OpenView’s portfolio companies, I often have discussions with founders and hiring managers who have struggled to strike the right balance between hiring talent efficiently for hitting growth targets and ensuring that the brightest, most competent and culturally suitable talent walk through their doors. Given the magnitude of responsibilities and volume of decisions being made everyday concerning the development and growth of a startup or expansion-stage company, this is no easy feat (the same can hold true for larger growth companies, as well).
How do the best of the best do it? One interesting and innovative approach is Amazon’s use of “bar raisers” — current employees who assist in the hiring process.

Cross-Team Interviewing: Taking a Closer Look at Amazon’s Secret to Hiring Success

As Greg Bensinger explains in his article for the Wall Street Journal,  to ensure that employee selection objectives are being achieved, Amazon has adopted a team-based hiring strategy, with a particular focus on having candidates meet with employees outside of their core areas of focus. In essence, these current employees have been “deputized to vet job candidates and ensure cultural fit.”
This approach can offer significant benefits including an added measure of quality control to the hiring process, but it can also place a strain on current employees who may struggle to retain a focus on their core responsibilities within the organization.
Let’s examine some of the opportunities and drawbacks from employing a team-based hiring strategy.

Opportunities of Cross-Team Interviewing

Pro: Improved Continuity of Corporate Culture and Professional Standards

When more than one hiring manager is involved in the decision-making process, or when other employees are able to share feedback and deliberate collectively in the procedure, there is a greater likelihood that a richer perspective of the company’s culture will be shared with the candidate. At the same time, current employees will also be better able to determine whether the potential hire will be able to function and succeed in that environment.
Additionally, broad employee involvement in hiring signals a strong sense of integrity and transparency associated with the hiring process, as well as a greater adherence to professional hiring standards.

Pro: Better Ability to Identify and Test Broader Skills and Competencies

Having various employees from different departments and teams throughout your organization interview candidates can provide deeper insights on a candidate’s broader skills and competencies. Some may not always be identifiable through traditional recruitment and interview practices.
For example, a a senior software developer interviewing a candidate pursuing a marketing role may identify competencies and knowledge beneficial for the development team. This technique can also be used to validate the range of skills highlighted by the candidate in his or her resume. The wide range of interviews can provide richer perspectives on the breadth of capabilities, knowledge and skills a candidate holds.

Pro: Elimination of Individual and Team Biases

Another advantage of leveraging a wider base of interviewers in the hiring process is the higher probability of eliminating individual or team biases — either positive or negative. Sometimes, an interviewer or a group of interviewers operating within one function may develop a positive bias, such as the “like me” or “similar to me” factor, which results in the failure to examine a candidate’s competencies more critically.
The corollary of this can be equally detrimental whereby a negative bias — perhaps stemming from the high qualifications of a candidate — may result in an interviewer feeling threatened or insecure in their own role should the candidate be hired. The danger there is discounting the merits of a candidate and potentially losing a great hire.

Downsides of Cross-Team Interviewing

Con: The Need for Time Commitment from Current Employees

As outlined above, there are clear advantages for implementing a team-based hiring strategy, however there also are some drawbacks.
Firstly, it takes an extensive time commitment for the numerous individuals across various areas participating in the interviewing process. However, new technologies are emerging that enable employees to assess candidates on their own or preferred time through video-recorded responses, and organize the broad feedback systematically through apps and other data aggregation tools.

Con: Potentially Drawing Out the Hiring Process

Another adverse consequence of a cross-team, collaborative approach is that the hiring timeframe can be lengthened due to the larger number of interviews that need to take place. This can result in companies — particularly startups and expansion-stage companies — not having access to talent when it’s most urgently needed to support their growth. Furthermore, some highly sought-after talent could be lost to competitors or other companies, who may operate with shorter hiring timeframes and less complexity in their recruitment processes.

Con: More Cooks in the Kitchen

Lastly, in situations where there are more voices contributing to the decision making, there will undoubtedly be more controversies, debates, and perspectives that all warrant consideration and timely feedback. Employees participating in the teams that support the hiring of new talent will need closure and a clear rationale as to why a particular course of action was taken. In the past, these employees did not have a vested interest in hiring, but because their opinions, time, and effort are now being sought, more communication will be needed from HR and the final decision makers to ensure that participating employees feel confident about the process, know that their time is being appreciated, and that their opinions and feedback are being heard and taken into consideration.

What Do You Think?

Whichever direction companies pursue with their hiring practices, the elements outlined above need to be carefully considered to ensure that hiring efficiency is well balanced with meticulous candidate evaluation, so they can hire the most suitable talent when they are most needed.
What’s your take on cross-team interviewing? Could it work at your company? Do the pros outweigh the cons? Let us know in the comments below!

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Head of People Operations

Salima Ladha is the Head of People Operations at <a href="">Signpost</a>, a cloud-based marketing software that gives local businesses the power to effortlessly build and manage customer relationships. She previously recruited top talent to to OpenView and our Portfolio Companies.