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The Evolution of a (Hiring) Decision

Hand drawn steps with the steps in a hiring decision.

From the perspective of the hiring manager, finding the right person to fill a job opening can be an arduous process. It involves many steps, including getting the headcount and budget approved, combing through resumes, contacting potential hires to set up interviews, actually doing the interviews — sometimes several rounds — and then finally negotiating with the best applicant. 

Yet, when we’re on the candidate side of the table, we lose sight of this complexity. Our goal is to get a job and, as they say in baseball, we “swing for the fences” at every step. We say things like “I would love to work here” before we know much at all about the role, the team, the company, or the compensation. We confuse our end game (get a job) with the incremental objective of moving forward in the interview process. We allow our primary goal to blind us to incremental goals.

Drive the Process

The next time you find yourself in the interview process, try synchronizing your goal at each phase with where you are in the hiring process. Consider these steps:

  1. The goal of your cover letter is to get someone to read your resume.
  2. The goal of your resume is to get an initial interview.
  3. Your goal in initial interviews is to get further interviews.
  4. Your goal in later rounds of interviews is to get an offer.

After an offer is on the table — and only after an offer is on the table — is it time to decide if you truly want this job.

Many people misunderstand the nuances of this process and of the decision-making process in general. This is especially true when we are faced with influencing a hiring manager to make the decision to offer us a position. Yet understanding these incremental steps is crucial when trying to convince someone to make a decision in your favor.

The hiring process—like all change initiatives and decisions—is based on two fundamental axioms:

1. No One Makes a Decision in an Instant

All decisions — like all change — are incremental. We often think of decisions as a punctuated moment in time. The moment before the decision the world was one way, and the moment after the decision the world is different.

Except decisions come about that way. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes and in our minds before an external decision is reached. We ease our way into decisions — especially big ones, like the decision to hire someone. Decisions take time to form. Our thinking evolves. Eventually we reach a point in time where we make the decision — we flip the switch and move on.

Good marketing and sales people understand this process. They inch us along in our thinking until we reach that magical point in which we make the decision to buy. It should come as no surprise that hiring managers make hiring decisions in much the same manner.

2. No one makes a decision in a vacuum

We tend to think of decision-makers as lone wolves. “It’s lonely at the top,” as they say. But decisions don’t really work that way either. No one makes a decision in isolation. We all look to others for input, for feedback, for validation — especially for validation. In order to get the decision-maker to make up his mind, you must also convince all the influencers around him that he will turn to for advice or validation. This cadre of influencers is usually quite explicit in the interview process when multiple people are brought in to interview each candidate. Take your time. Focus on impressing and influencing each one.

Back to the hiring manager

Armed with this insight, how should we adapt our approach when we are looking for new career opportunities? Your job in the hiring process is to convince a relatively large number of people (three – six in most companies), over the span of several weeks, that you are the person for the job. How can you help them inch their way toward the decision to hire you? This is no easy task.

However, one thing is for certain: each step is an incremental movement toward the next. Don’t overreach at any given step. Simply use each phase to ease the person forward in the right direction. I’ll say it again:

  1. The goal of your cover letter is to get someone to read your resume. Period.
  2. The goal of your resume is to get an initial interview. Full stop.
  3. Your goal in initial interviews is to get further interviews. That’s all.
  4. Your goal in later rounds of interviews is to get an offer.

When you get to second round of interviews, it’s time to nudge the interviewers in the direction of a decision. Be bold. Don’t be afraid to look the interviewer in the eye as you are getting ready to leave and say, “I would like an offer.” They will often give you a standard retort such as, “we’re interviewing other candidates and we’ll get back to you.” Remain confident and say, “I fully understand. I just want you to know that I would like an offer,” and walk out.1

Understanding the decision-making process that goes into a hiring decision won’t guarantee that you will get a job. But it will increase your odds of getting an offer.

I wish you success.

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1For more on how to powerfully close an interview, see the Interview Series from Manager Tools. The series costs $150 and, I dare say it, might be the best $150 you will ever spend on your career.

Originally published November 6 2013. Revised and Update September 18, 2019.

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