Who is Making the Hiring Decision?
You would think it was the hiring manager, but does he or she really have the final say?
There is an exact correlation between a) understanding who is the decision-maker in hiring and b) understanding who makes the decision when negotiating any sort of business transaction.
This also applies when you are running your own business and selling your services. You need to know who is the decision-maker.
Note: This post was originally published in August 2015. It was updated in March 2020.
This is the 9th post in the Negotiator Job Search Series. You can read the rest of the series here.
In Jim Camp’s book, Start with NO…The Negotiating Tools that the Pros Don’t Want You to Know, he writes:
WHO’S CALLING THE shots? Who are the real decision-makers within the adversary’s bureaucracy? This might seem, at first glance, to be a fairly mundane issue, but it’s not. It is a critically important issue in any negotiation, even though you can read book after book on the subject and never find a single acknowledgment that the question of who’s calling the shots demands immediate attention. How can you create a vision and paint the pain effectively without knowing who the decision-makers for the adversary really are? You can’t, so the decision-making process within your adversary’s organization must be discovered and understood at the very beginning of the negotiation, or as soon thereafter as possible.
You need to know—at the beginning of the hiring process—who is calling the shots and who can make the final hiring decision.
Who is Calling the Shots?
In 2006, I left teaching high school math and decided to try my hand at working for a non-profit. In most small to medium non-profits, the decision-maker is often the CEO, Executive Director, or even the Board of Directors. I attended a non-profit conference specifically targeting the Executive Directors or CEOs of five non-profits. I met face-to-face with all five.
The following week, I was offered an interview for a junior-level corporate fundraising position at the local Jewish Community Center (JCC). You have to understand – I am not Jewish, but I had a lot of business connections and was a JCC member. I was a really odd fit for the position.
The head of fundraising for the organization interviewed me, but you could tell she was not completely comfortable with me. I later found out I would have been the third person to be placed in this position. The previous two had been let go for poor performance. The CEO was relatively new to the organization and wanted to try something different.
The CEO was Making the Hiring Decision
I interviewed and was subsequently offered the position. The hiring manager was NOT the decision-maker. I had convinced the CEO that I was worth taking a chance on. It was a new kind of endeavor that the organization had not pursued in the past. The CEO was the real decision-maker, yet he never interviewed me.
I lasted a year before I resigned. Being a non-Jew as the face of a Jewish organization is…interesting. Besides, I never clicked with the hiring manager as I was not who she wanted to hire.
If I had not pursued the CEO who made the hiring decision, I would have never been given the opportunity to interview. Through this experience, I also learned I could not work for a non-profit.
Recruiters and the Hiring Decision
Recruiters and other HR professionals do not make hiring decisions. They can hinder or block you from getting hired, but they do not make the decision to hire you.
A few years ago one of my clients, who I am going to call Kathy. worked through a long, drawn-out interview process. Near the end of the process, she told the recruiter that she could not start until September, which was 2 months away.
The recruiter responded, “The hiring manager, Mary, is not going to like that you cannot start until September. This is a deal-breaker.”
Kathy calmly told the recruiter, “Please relay my requirements to Mary and let me know what she says.”
The recruiter was expressing her own opinion, but she was not the decision-maker. She took the message to the hiring manager.
Recruiters Do not Make the Hiring Decision
The hiring manager called Kathy a few days later, wanting to know the real reason for needing to wait. Kathy explained that her 55th birthday was in early September and her pension with her current employer would vest on her birthday. To leave even one day early would cost her a lot of money.
The hiring manager asked how much was on the table and offered that maybe she could compensate with a signing bonus. Kathy told her the sum was $150,000. Mary paused and then said, “Okay, I will wait for you.”
A September start date did not make Mary happy, but she was willing to wait.
If a recruiter acts as the decision-maker, you need to tell them to pass your messages directly to the hiring manager. Stay cool, calm, and collected in telling them what you want.
Who do you need to impress?
The decision to hire you may be made by a key member or members of the team.
One local Austin company has a consensus-based hiring process. The entire team has to agree on who to hire. Think of this as a jury. Everyone needs to agree.
During the interview process, you need to determine who the lone juror might be that could prevent you from being hired. In reality, they become the key decision-maker in your not being hired. Unfortunately, this can make the hiring process very slow because consensus-based hiring requires everyone to be available. You can imagine when the team is moderately large (even just 5 or more people), vacations, sick time, and business travel can cause the hiring decision to be delayed.
Therefore, that quiet person at the end of the table in a panel interview might, in reality, be the true decision-maker.
As you do your homework on the company, it is important for you to understand the hiring process. It will be key to ask probing questions on how they make hiring decisions. Start this dialog during the initial phone screen.
When I needed to make a hiring decision at both of my tech startups, I relied on the opinions of my team. I will readily admit I am not good at interviewing. The true decision-maker who got hired was my team and not me.
Explore the Past
Who really made the decision to hire you in past jobs? Think about it.
Was it always the hiring manager, or did a key team member make the decision?
Was the key decision-maker higher up in the management chain?
In your current job search, who do you need to convince that you are the right person for the job?
This is the 9th post in the Negotiator Job Search Series. You can read the rest of the series here.Marc Miller