Bar Raisers & Quality Control Mechanisms

For some companies, hiring mistakes are just too costly, so they need a mechanism to ensure a fair, consistent, high hiring bar is leveraged across all hires, with an eye on quality, diversity, and speed. Enter Bar Raisers. The Bar Raiser program was co-developed by our founder, John Vlastelica, in 1999 when he led tech recruiting at Amazon. Today, it’s scaled at Amazon to hundreds of thousands of hiring decisions across the globe, and is getting traction as a mechanism for quality control and real-time hiring coaching inside all kinds of interesting companies.

New people hiring new people is one of the biggest risks to your culture. You need to have a well-articulated hiring bar specific to your org.

What is a Bar Raiser?

A Bar Raiser is an interviewer and hiring decision meeting facilitator who is brought into the hiring process to be an objective third party. They are not the hiring manager or recruiter. They are a well respected interviewer and talent champion from outside of the hiring manager’s team.

What makes a great Bar Raiser?

Their focus is on making a great company-hire. They are not optimizing for the short-term needs of this opening, but, instead, are asking themselves if this candidate meets or raises the bar for this type of role and will be a great long-term hire.

They are also a coach and mentor, looking to raise the bar not just on the hires made, but also on the overall hiring process. They partner closely with the recruiter to ensure the process is fair, based on objective criteria, and that each interviewing team is aiming high – above the 50th percentile – so that the hiring bar goes up, not down, over time. They give feedback on feedback, helping to make each interviewer better at interviewing, making tradeoffs, avoiding bad hires, avoiding missing out on good hires, and championing diversity.

A Bar Raiser generally asks these questions to determine if the candidate should be hired:

  • Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they’re entering? Are they above the 50th percentile for this role in our company?
  • Is this person a superstar along at least one dimension?
  • How will this person make this team and our company better?
  • Are we missing out on someone good (avoiding a false negative hiring decision)?

At companies we’ve worked with, Bar Raisers don’t need to be technical/skill experts for every role they interview for. Instead, their focus is more on cognitive abilities and the ability to demonstrate the behaviors needed to succeed in the company.  They pay particular attention to things that might be dealbreakers – things that are not very trainable, but are key to success at the company.  These might include behaviors like adaptability and grit, growth mindset/learning agility, and collaboration.

They also have veto power over the final hiring decision. This gives teeth to the Bar Raiser. They can prevent the hiring manager – who is not their boss – from hiring someone.  But their goal is to rarely use their veto power.  Ideally, they are so good at advising that their veto power isn’t needed.

Pros and Cons of a Bar Raiser Program

Considering a program like Bar Raisers?  Want to know more about the pros and cons of programs like Amazon Bar Raisers and Google Hiring Committees?

In this recorded webinar, John Vlastelica walks you through the pros and cons of three decision-making interview models: bar raisers (used by Amazon), hiring committees (used by Google), and pipeline (used by university recruiting teams). John co-built and scaled the Amazon bar raisers program when he was Amazon’s head of tech recruiting, and as a consultant, he has helped companies put quality control mechanisms – like bar raisers and hiring committees models – in place.

If you’re considering a program like this – which, by the way, is not for every company, and is not easy to copy-paste into an existing interviewing process – we should talk. We’ve helped companies define their hiring bars, design and implement interview training and Bar Raiser programs. And we’ve trained recruiters to be Talent Advisors and play a much bigger role in the hiring decision making process. Contact us if you’d like to discuss how we can help you raise the bar on who you hire and how you hire.

The origin of Amazon Bar Raisers

Dave Schappell – a 10 year veteran of Amazon, who led the product management teams that launched Amazon Marketplace and AWS – interviewed our founder, John Vlastelica, as part of a podcast series focused on the early inventions and scaling at Amazon.

If you want to hear about the problems Bar Raisers was trying to solve, how Bar Raisers were selected, how Bar Raisers scaled, check out this engaging interview.

From Dave: John’s contributions to Amazon’s recruiting organization laid the groundwork for massive hiring growth, and the Bar Raisers program is still used today. This episode is packed full of information about the Bar Raisers program, John’s experiences as a foundational member of Amazon’s recruiting organization, and practical, strategic insights that entrepreneurs and talent acquisition professionals can use today.

Listen to the one-hour episode:

Learn more about how Amazon talks about their Bar Raisers and Bar Raiser program here:

What can I do to raise the bar on who we hire and how we hire?

Of course, finding and engaging top talent is key. But it’s not enough to be great at sourcing – you also need to do work pre-sourcing and mid-funnel to ensure you define the bar and interview and select talent that meets your high hiring bar.

Here are some resources to help you think strategically about defining and raising the bar on talent in your org, while keeping an eye on diversity:

John Vlastelica wrote this popular post on LinkedIn’s Talent Blog to address a root issue that’s preventing us from getting more talent from under-represented groups. John admits he was part of the problem earlier in his recruiting career, as he enabled a lot of “ideal, single target candidate profile” sourcing work with hiring managers. Now he wants to fix that by widening the aperture.

This is especially important if you’re hiring new talent profiles, trying to evolve your culture, and/or focusing more on diversity. Learn more here in this popular article.

It doesn’t work to base hiring decisions on intuition and “culture fit” – turns out, we’ve all got assumptions and cognitive biases that shape our decisions. To make quality hiring decisions, we need to make sure our interview process uses valid selection methods.

John Vlastelica wrote an article for the LinkedIn Talent Blog outlining two significant internal cultural barriers to diversity recruiting success. A hyper-focus on speed/time to fill and the perceived safeness of only hiring candidates from hiring manager preferred backgrounds.

“The capacity to create economic inclusion is affected by degree requirements. When you say ‘college required,’ you’re excluding 80 percent-plus of African Americans and 85 percent-plus of the Latinx population.” Check out the research and company examples here.

This data visualization tool – designed by a UK innovation firm – was built to help identify jobs most at risk for automation, but it serves another purpose. It can help you identify jobs that have workers that may be similarly-skilled to the job you’re working on, so that you can broaden your search and consider people who may be able to make an easy transition into a new job.

Hiring managers typically have strong preferences for candidates with exact-match past experience, from similar industries and companies, and resumes/profiles loaded with keyword matches, right? But what if past experience – industry, function, years of experience – is actually not a good predictor of success? Alison Beard of Harvard Business Review explores this and shares research where they found no significant correlation between past experience and future success. (P.S. Uh, oh – what does that mean for behavioral interviewing? Our team at Recruiting Toolbox teaches interviewing methodology that addresses this. Learn more here.)

Interviewing Effectiveness Diagnostic Tool

Recruiting Toolbox is engaged by amazing companies around the world to define hiring standards and build interviewing and selection capabilities of hiring managers, interviewers, and recruiters.

Leverage what we’ve learned from working with thousands of hiring managers and recruiting and HR leaders to evaluate your own interviewing and selection strategy and process with this diagnostic tool.

Free Recruiter Resource: The Hiring Manager Maturity Model

Hiring Bar, Interviewing, and Selection Best Practices

In this discussion, John discusses how to avoid false negatives, what it takes to build a program like Amazon’s bar raisers,
the core hiring pillars every talent leader should focus on, and much more.

How can we make our Hiring Managers better, and create a culture of recruiting?

Bar Raiser-like program can be really helpful after you’ve defined your bar and trained up your interviewers. But is that enough?  No. You’ll need your hiring managers to be full on talent champions – not passive participants – to get world class talent into your organization.

What is the makeup of your hiring manager community? How do you make your hiring managers better? Check out The Hiring Manager Maturity Model to evaluate your current mix and identify how to create a culture of recruiting, where everyone operates as an extension of the recruiting team.

Learn more about how Recruiting Toolbox can partner with you to define your hiring bar, build your Bar Raisers program and training, and help you scale a high hiring bar. 
Bar Raiser training overview doc cover

Do any other companies, in addition to Amazon, use Bar Raisers?

Raisin Bars

A quick internet search for company name + bar raiser will get you results showing many companies have implemented some version of bar raisers.  For many companies, the hiring manager’s manager serves as a sort of bar raiser – with veto power over who is ultimately hired.  For other companies, it’s the recruiter who plays more of a debrief facilitator, without veto power, but with a commitment to keeping the bar high in face of pressure by a hiring team to get a bum in the seat.  And some companies – including companies we’ve been hired to help – have implemented a version of bar raiser hiring decision facilitators without veto power, but with strong influencing skills who are focused on fair, equitable hiring decisions.

Here are some blogs or articles that specifically mention bar raiser-like programs and some fairly well known companies.

Many other companies use something like bar raisers in their process. For example, Adidas uses talent champions and Hello Fresh uses Iron Chefs.

Seeking a partner to help you establish and scale a high hiring bar?

Since 2005, we’ve trained over 10,000 hiring managers and interviewers from 30 countries.

We’ve worked with startups to complex, global organizations, defining hiring bars, aligning teams on what good looks like and hiring principles, embedding a culture of recruiting, and improving speed, quality, and diversity.

We’ve helped implement mechanisms – like Bar Raisers and License to Hire program – to ensure your high hiring bar scales.

We’d be happy to connect with you to learn more about your goals for establishing and scaling a high hiring bar, and answer any questions about our custom built, credibly delivered interviewing, hiring manager, and bar raiser training.