How to debrief after interviews

The WhoCo guide to running interview debriefs that will help you make the right hiring decision.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: Piles of resumes are sorted and culled. The hiring manager talks with some folks to whittle down to a shortlist. Your team interviews the shortlist, and you’ve now got all of the information you need to make a hire. So everyone gathers (or gets pinged on Slack) and is asked, “Who did you like?” And you go around the room, and people say who their favorites were, who rubbed them the wrong way, or who didn’t have the right shoes on, the hiring manager goes away and picks someone, and that’s the end of it.

So, what was all of that preliminary work for if you’re going to throw out a name? Your interview process is only as good as the debriefs they lead up to.  Make sure you’re making the most of all the work that goes into designing roles and planning interviews. End your hiring cycle with careful consideration of the candidates and a responsible decision based on all of the evidence you carefully gathered.

Welcome to the debrief.

What is a debrief?  

Debriefs are when decision-makers determine whether to advance a candidate to the next round. They can occur after a single interview or a couple. Just make sure these decision points are the same for all candidates, and you’re only talking about the pertinent interview(s) at each debrief.

Debriefs are when decision-makers determine whether to advance a candidate to the next round.

Why are debriefs important?  Nobel-Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman preaches the ease with which people anchor judgments around small amounts of information instead of considering a complete, more accurate, picture. By independently assessing multiple skills during a debrief, we can push back on anchoring and other biases to yield more comprehensive, realistic candidate judgments. In other words, the process of talking through feedback diffuses gut feelings and snap judgments and gives everyone a fuller, more precise idea of a candidate’s potential.

So, how does a debrief work?

Lay the groundwork for a scorecard

If you’ve followed the WhoCo guides for defining the role and creating a job description, building an interview plan complete with rounds, or phases, and assembled your crack team of interview panelists, you’re off to a good start. Before you begin interviewing, you need to create and distribute a rubric to your panelists for scoring candidates’ skills and value proficiencies. To keep it fair, don’t change the scoring rubric once you’ve started interviews, and accommodate both qualitative input and ratings for skills and values.

Have your interview panelists independently record their feedback and scores for the skills assessed in the interview. This should be completed directly after the interview (we recommend within two hours). Compile this feedback data to get a scorecard, and you’re ready to debrief.

Scorecards guide your debrief discussion by laying out all of the feedback and skill scores data for one interviewing round.


Use the scorecard to debrief and decide

Unless someone else is designated (perhaps a recruiter who handles the initial phase in a hiring funnel), the hiring manager will own the debrief process at each round. They’ll schedule the debrief with all the panelists in that round of the interview plan.

The hiring manager or owner of the debrief is ultimately the one responsible for the debrief decision. The panelists help inform the decision, and the hiring manager should lean heavily on them for perspective. In the debrief meeting, the whole group should weigh the complete set of evidence recorded on the scorecard to decide whether or not to advance the candidate to the next round of the interview plan.

Some ground rules for debriefing:

  • Schedule your debrief as soon as possible after the final event in an interview round. Do your best to complete it within 24 hours.
  • Use the debrief to focus on if a candidate is qualified to advance to the next round in the hiring process, not how they stack up against other candidates. You may have to compare candidates later, but that’s not the goal now.
  • Use written evidence and scores to guide the discussion and decision. Remind participants to review the scorecard before the debrief.
  • If at this point it doesn’t seem like the job description and interview plan have captured what’s most important for the role, revisit the job description and interview plan for the next round of hiring.
  • Focus discussion on outliers. Review the written feedback and scores that stand out from the pack, and ask for additional input from the panelists who gave it. They may have a unique perspective that needs to be brought in.

Watch out for bias

Cognitive biases can creep into the interview and decision-making process. Make sure the interview team is aware of and feels empowered to push back on them. Common biases include:

  • Anchoring and confirmation bias. This means weighing one data point too heavily (e.g., “they dress nice so they must be ok”) or ignoring evidence that conflicts with a first impression.
  • Like-me bias and in-group favoritism. Or endorsing people we socially identify with, like the legally protected distinctions such as race, gender, and religion.

These and many other cognitive biases can lead to an overly positive or negative impression. Knowing they exist and designing a job-related, structured hiring process is one of the best defenses for hiring bias.

What if we need to compare between candidates?

What if you have more candidates “pass” your interview process than you have jobs?

This is an excellent problem to have! If you want the freedom of not hiring the first qualified applicant through your hiring process, you should run a cohort-based hiring plan. With cohort-based hiring, you make explicit in the application that you will accept applicants up to a specific date before making decisions. To do this, plan a finalists round after your interviews/assessments are complete. If you have multiple finalists at the end, use a separate debrief between the hiring manager and any other key stakeholders to decide who should receive an offer. As ever, keep this subject matter job- and team-related as you debate the relative merits of the finalists.

Note that you should hire the first qualified individual who applies for the role unless you have a clear, cohort-based approach to hiring. If you nix a qualified candidate who belongs to a legally protected class and you haven’t specified a date through which you’ll accept applicants, you could be liable for employment discrimination.

How does WhoCo do it?

The key is to see the whole picture, and if you’re hiring with WhoCo, this is very easy. WhoCo scorecards compile all of the feedback and scores from each panelist across all of the interviews. A debrief helps you pause and make sense of it all.

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