The Critical Role That the Hiring Manager Plays in the Interview Process

The Critical Role That the Hiring Manager Plays in the Interview Process

Part 3 of the Executive Interview Series

February 1, 2023

Running a successful interview process – one that yields the best hire possible – is a challenge. And it becomes even more challenging during an executive-level search. Making a set of interviews an iterative and revealing series of conversations is the key to finding exceptional talent and cultural fit that will drive impact over the long term. That means planning ahead, communicating with all the stakeholders, and having a “flexibly structured” plan for every step of the process.

Interviews are by no means a perfect method to identify talent, but they are simply a baseline requirement for recruiting. In this three-part series, we will share what we think helps ensure a productive interview experience from start to finish:

  1. Defining the Need
  2. Designing the Process
  3. Designating the Responsibilities 

Part III: Designating the Responsibilities

The critical role that the Hiring Manager plays in the interview process


As the hiring manager, you ultimately are in charge of keeping up the momentum of the search. That means you have a relationship to build, responsibilities to handle and details to address along the way.


Establishing relationships


Preview the process from the outset. Prospective hires spend most of their job search waiting and wondering. You can alleviate some of that anxiety by giving a clear preview of the process. Get on a short 30-minute call at the beginning to outline the steps they can expect.

Stay in touch. Share your contact info with prospects. Be friendly and invite them to stay in contact with you — a simple “here is my number, feel free to call or text whenever” works well. Reaching out at key points in the process to ask how things are going does not just show you care. It gives you critical feedback from candidates you can use to improve your process.

Keep it personal. Show personal concern for your candidates. When the Baylor Bears win the championship, and your prospective hire is an alum, send a quick text to send congratulations. Little personal interactions take you beyond “nice meeting you” and help you to stand out in the mind of the candidate.


Build momentum throughout the process

As the hiring process proceeds, take steps to ensure that everything is progressing smoothly.


Provide context for the interview

Preparing prospects for meetings can make everything run more smoothly. For example, you might say to the candidate: “ You are about to meet the head of sales, and here is why she will be a key stakeholder in the relationship. She can be a bit prickly at first, but once she warms up, she is really easy to talk to, and you both share a passion for skiing, so maybe that will come up.”

Be transparent about the process

Always keep candidates informed about where they are in the process. Be honest and direct. Avoid overpromising or creating false hopes. Let them know that you appreciate the time and energy they are putting into the process and tell them how delighted you are to get to know them however things turn out.

Consider things from the candidate’s perspective

What seems fast from an HR perspective can seem like a lifetime from the viewpoint of the candidate. As an HR manager, you might check in with your candidate on Monday—and before you know it, it is Sunday already, and you need to send an update. Meanwhile, your candidate has been checking their email ten times a day, looking for updates. Keep your candidate in mind and let them know when they can expect to hear from you.


Checking references

With executive searches, formal reference checking once a finalist is identified is more about onboarding and confirming what you already know. Formal references are ones that the candidate gives you formal permission to conduct. Formal references will want to tell you what is great about the candidate, so you really have to dig to get constructively critical feedback.


Getting constructive feedback


If you are speaking to a candidate’s manager, ask them:

  • How they rated them in annual performance reviews and what areas of development they worked on with their former employee?
  • Who they had tough working relationships with?
  • What customers did not work well with them, if any?
  • How did they manage their team?
  • What was their NPS score within their team


When conducting references:

  • Block out enough time to make 30-minute calls to 5 to 10 references with a mix of managers, peers and direct reports.
  • Ask a set of consistent questions of all of them, and then ask topically relevant questions depending on what their working relationship was with the candidate.
  • Listen with an open mind, noting positive and negative information. And no matter how well the process has gone so far, do not be afraid to eliminate a candidate if their references are weak.


As much as it is tempting to hear what is great about the candidate since you are likely considering extending an offer, the real objective of formal references is to learn what development areas they have so you can get ahead of any problems and help them develop. No one is perfect—every executive has areas to work on—you just want to know what you are getting when you hire someone.


Backchannel references

While formal references are a must-do step as a matter of course, you are likely to get better, deeper and more insightful feedback from backchannel references that you conduct earlier in the recruiting process. However, backchannels require a delicate touch:

  • Tools like LinkedIn and general network effects in today’s small world make it easier than ever to figure out who you know in common with a candidate.
  • It is wise to start backchannels as early as possible, but it is also important to be protective of the candidate’s privacy and current work status when you call people they may know without their permission.
  • Limit the communication over email and instead, call your shared connection and have a live conversation in real time.
  • Emphasize that this is a confidential backchannel, and that the candidate did not suggest them as a reference and that you are early in the process.


Making the hiring decision

Ultimately, the hiring decision rests with you. You will manage this person going forward and if they end up failing in the role, the buck stops with you. Whether you decide to move forward or not, make sure the hiring decision is one you can stand by.


Ensure a smooth onboarding

Before your new hire comes on board, continue to stay in touch. Build relationships by setting expectations for the first 90 days and make introductions to other key stakeholders.

To set your new hire up for success, ensure that little things are already taken care of. Make sure their computer is already set up. Add them to the important email lists that they will need to be a part of.

And ideally, choose a Thursday or Friday start date. Starting your new executive on a Monday is a common error that makes for a long, exhausting first week. By starting midweek, you let your new hire spend a couple of days just getting oriented. That way, they can take the weekend and come back on Monday ready to really get rolling.


Download the full Executive Interviewing Guide here:

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