This 5-Point Scale will Help Your Team Hire Better & Avoid Bias

Robert Merrill
Oct 15 · 5 min read

This five point scale helps you know if you have a hire, a no-hire, or (critically) if you need to go back for more.

Photo by Micaela Parente on Unsplash

There are many ways to rate candidates in your interview process. However, as part of a standardized interview feedback framework, I find the five point scale to work the best in helping you understand what to do with your candidates.

Count them as stars, checkboxes, points or whatever you like. The point is, I strongly encourage FIVE options for reviewers to rate a candidate. More than this leads to ambiguity. Less than this creates false positives and negatives (I will explain below)

What does the five point scale mean?

When asked, here is how I describe the meanings of these five scores.

5 — Strong Yes — I will advocate for hire

4 — Yes — should hire

3 — Maybe — More testing needed

2 — No — should not hire

1 — Strong NO — I will advocate against hiring.

A humorous way to explain this is to say a one-star rating means you will leave the company if they hire this person, and a five-star rating means you will leave the company if they don’t hire this person.

That kind of stress on the intensity of the one and five star positions puts it in perspective. I believe you should have a rare number of 1 or 5 star ratings. Most people, by definition, are NOT absolute rock-stars or absolute train-wrecks. Most people should fall between ratings 2 and 4.

Humans Need the Crucial “Maybe” Rating — Embrace it!

Any recruiter who listens to the feedback in her debrief meetings will often hear a few common phrases. Astute and cautious interviewers who deeply consider their responses to their interviews will occasionally reply with things like:

  • I am not sure I got enough information on this piece to give a good rating.
  • I don’t think I had enough time to cover…
  • I didn’t get enough signal on…
  • I think it might be worth someone else digging in on this also…
  • I wish I could give a half-point rating on this one…
  • Can I give this person a ‘no-plus’?… I mean, I don’t have enough information to say ‘yes’, so I guess I have to say ‘no’.
  • Well, I wasn’t quite sure about this person, but it seems like everyone else likes them, so I will say ‘yes’ as well.

Do you see what happens?

If the thing they are on the fence about is one of your two or three critical job requirements, you should allow them to be a maybe and you should take action to dig deeper into the confusion and find clarity one way or another (hint: doing this deeper dive without the candidate involved is likely a fools errand rich with bias and starving for actual truths).

Allowing For Maybe is Crucial to Preventing False Responses

The crucial “maybe — more-testing-needed” rating allows a safe place for thoughtful reviewers to couch their concerns without unduly or prematurely rating someone out of the process or, perhaps even worse, unfairly biasing them into the process because they don’t want to be the naysayer on the team and bring someone down or miss out.

Wait — How does this avoid bias, exactly?

Allowing for a “maybe — more-testing-needed” rating enables reviewers to call out things they are concerned about without sticking their neck out too far in front of the group.

Bullying can often happen in the workplace. Illustration: Simon Pemberton

I am a people-watcher. I have always been fascinated by how people are in groups that are different from how they might act alone.

In a bizarrely lord-of-the-flies kind of way, interview debriefs can often be a highly intense opportunity for the tribe to preen its own social feathers.

Whenever I have seen a runaway brotastic-hiring-trainwreck in progress, there is usually one, often quiet person on the panel who sees this coming and attempts (vocally at first, and less frequently over time) to call it out to the group. They need a safe place to share this information. If that individual is not heard (read: listened to and validated) verbally, and their only recourse is a “no” rating on the written feedback, they will feel social pressure against doing that.

Inevitably, social constructs as they are, the opposing feedback in the group will either be frowned upon and wholesale ignored, the person will comply with the group giving meaningless feedback, or the person will ask to be removed from future interviewing (or the team will not invite them).

Preemptive Responses to Counterpoints

People will say that you can’t have a maybe in interviews because you want to force people to pick one side or the other (and people love being forced into things so much)

Some will claim that this drives the bar higher because only the “clearest yes” candidates will survive to the final selection rounds.

I believe that both of these opinions are flawed in the simple explanation that, should an interviewer not find any reasons not to hire a person, but can not yet find enough reasons to hire them, the company should

  • keep digging deeper and more thoughtfully with that candidate and
  • also find additional candidates to compare against this one.

In a word, we should not be so scared of “maybe” responses in interviews. If the interviewer is clear on what they are interviewing for, has a trusted/consistent rubric they follow for structured interview questions and is thoughtful and meaningful about how they give feedback, the maybe is an opportunity to find more about, and perhaps even hire, a potentially incredible candidate that may have fit outside the traditional (ahem: biased) norms of the role.

What do you think?


Hire Smart or Manage Tough

Robert Merrill

Written by

Helps you hire smarter, faster, and better. Let’s get to work.; Twitter: @AskRobMerrill; People First Leadership:


Hire Smart or Manage Tough

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