Who makes the final hiring decision: HR or the CEO?

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Jacqueline English is a modern HR consultant with over 20 years of experience building foundational HR programs and strategies. Instead of band-aid solutions, she believes in helping small to midsize companies create self-sustaining programs that have a lasting, positive impact on her clients’ business and their people.

In this edition of Good Question, she shares why consistency, credibility, and integrity are critical to the startup hiring process.

Do you have a workplace question you’d like answered by an HR pro? Submit it anonymously here.


I’m in conflict with my CEO over a hiring decision. I’ve recently joined a startup as the sole HR manager. I come with 6 years of talent acquisition and management experience, though this is my first startup role. Part of my mandate is to recruit new talent and grow the team working closely with the CEO.

We’re in the middle of hiring our first key role together. Throughout the recruiting process, I carefully weeded through the applicants, selected the strongest candidates, and presented them to the CEO. After joint, in-person interviews with all of them, I felt very strongly about one candidate — only to find out that the CEO has practically made up their mind about another.

This CEO has (by their own admission) made poor hiring decisions in the past. But when I ask for clarity or re-iterate why I think my candidate is a better fit, they maintain that they trust their ‘gut’ when it comes to these kinds of decisions.

I’m worried my new boss isn’t taking into account the experience I bring to the organization and that this is setting us off on the wrong foot.

How can I stand up for myself without overstepping boundaries?


This is a tough position to be in. You’re new to the role and still feeling your way through the myriad of office politics. How well do you know your boss? How well do you understand the company culture and what types of hires do well? What is at stake if you do—or do not—push back? Your job? Your credibility? The company’s success?

It seems to me that integrity is at stake. If your boss can make hiring decisions based on a gut feeling without providing justification, what other actions might they be taking without doing their due diligence? I firmly believe that personal integrity is core to your success and career as an HR professional. This sounds like a case where re-affirming your expertise and setting clear hiring guidelines will help to build standards of integrity in this hiring decision and all those to follow.

Putting aside the personal

What I will suggest is removing both your fear and your ego before speaking to your boss.

You may have good reasons to be afraid: Will speaking up damage your relationship with the CEO? Could you lose your job over this? (Side note – if you’re afraid of being fired for speaking up, that’s a red flag and a whole other situation.)

It’s also natural to feel a bit antagonized. You were hired specifically for your expertise in this matter, not to merely be a ‘yes’ person!

I believe that it’s important to recognize those emotions. But they should not be at the forefront of your mind when you speak to your boss. Ultimately, the decision of who to hire is about doing what’s best for the team, not what is best for your role or reputation.

Ultimately, the decision of who to hire is about doing what’s best for the team, not what is best for your role or reputation.

Now, how should you actually approach to your boss? I’d say there are two important steps to be taken:

  1. First, you must address the immediate question of who to hire for this key role.
  2. Second, you need to establish a structured, standardized hiring process to ensure that future hiring decisions are made consistently and based on sound criteria.

Step 1: Address the hot mess

The ball is already in motion for this hiring decision and two candidates are on the line. For all you know, those candidates have other offers on the table. Don’t let this indecision drag on so long that you end up losing both of them.

Ask your boss if you can chat about the candidate pool for the job in question. From there, here’s how I would suggest framing the conversation:

“I know you have a gut feeling about Sally, and though I do believe instincts play a role in your success, I’d like to start building our team using a more objective process so we can remain consistent as we scale. In all of my previous experience, having a hiring process has helped me and my team make better hiring decisions.

“I think because we are not aligned at this point, we should dig deeper into these candidates to see if more data can help us reach a decision we are both satisfied with. Since this role will touch [xyz department] and [xyz department], I suggest we involve a few more people in our hiring process to get their feedback and factor that in.”

How your boss responds will be very telling. Most likely, they’ll be happy to get a third opinion. More importantly, they’ll see the level of consistency and integrity you are bringing to your role.

Step 2: Design a hiring process

Either in that same meeting or very shortly afterward, present an official hiring process to your CEO. Given your experience in talent acquisition, I’m sure hiring processes are nothing new to you. However, this being a startup, it might be new territory for them.

Remember, this is what you were hired for: to use your skills and experience to steer the hiring process so you can help your CEO to build a winning team.

Don’t be afraid to write up and implement a process as long as it is simple, straightforward, and will help the company make better decisions, faster.

Don’t be afraid to write up and implement a process as long as it is simple, straightforward, and will help the company make better decisions, faster.

Here’s a standard process I’ve helped to implement at other startups and small companies:


  1. Write a job posting. Writing a clear and concise job posting is just as important for candidates as it is for you. That’s because the act of writing the job posting will force you (and your CEO) to put into writing exactly what skills and competencies will make a great hire.
  2. Define the hiring team. encourage the CEO to look beyond just themselves and you and to involve other individuals who should be key to the decision making. Make sure you outline who will participate, what value their feedback will bring to the decision making, and at what stage the CEO will get involved. Using recruiting software lets you determine a custom interview funnel and invite hiring collaborators to leave comments and reviews at the appropriate stage.
  3. Determine who makes the final call. This step alone will prevent you from ever being in the same position again. Before you even begin accepting applicants, decide internally who owns the final decision. Is it the CEO? The future hire’s manager? You?

Candidate Review:

  1. Email screen. Once you’ve posted the job and received a good number of applicants, it’s time to narrow them down. Personally, I like this approach*:
    → Narrow down all applicants to your top 10, based on the skills they’ve presented in their resumes.
    → Send the top 10 candidates a follow-up email with 3-5 screening questions pertinent to the role.
    → Based on their answers, narrow your top 10 down even further to your top 5* These numbers are just examples and will depend on how many applicants you’ve received and how quickly you need to fill the role.
  2. Phone screen. Always do a quick phone screen, always!I have saved so many hours this way. Candidates appreciate it as they can make sure there is alignment before coming in face-to-face. You may also uncover inconsistencies in your job posting, giving you a chance to add important details or clarify with the hiring team.
  3. Face-to-face #1. Determine who needs to participate in the first in-person interview. My suggestion is usually HR and the person who will manage this position, but this will depend on the role and what makes sense in your business. After the first round of interviews, narrow down to your top 2 or 3 candidates who will move on to Face-to-face #2.
  4. Face-to-face #2 (with the CEO). At this stage, you should feel confident that any remaining candidate would be successful in the role. Your job is to select the candidate who is the most aligned with your company’s needs, vision, and values. Bring in the CEO and, if applicable, another hiring collaborator (such as a member of the same team or manager from another department that this person will have to work with).

Making the decision:

  1. Reference Checks. As much as I don’t love this administrative element to my role, I believe it is important to personally call the candidates’ references and probe for any additional information.
  2. Make an offer. Finally, with the clear job posting, input from hiring collaborators, and multi-stage interview process, you’ll have a clear winner. Time to make a job offer!

Each of these steps will bring more clarity and consistency to your hiring decisions, putting both you and your CEO in a better position to build a winning team.

Final thoughts

As I mentioned at the beginning, this is a tough situation. But, if handled well, it can be a great opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge, expertise, and commitment to integrity.

Again, remember your experience and why you were hired: to grow the team with the knowledge and skills you possess, to be a confidant to your CEO, and to actively steer the hiring process to build a winning team. You’ve got this!

As a final thought, while I do firmly believe you should speak up and try to establish better guidelines for hiring and communication with your CEO, there are some warning signs you should not ignore:

If at the mere mention of establishing a hiring process your boss gets defensive or uncomfortable, you may need to reassess what kind of work culture this is and if it’s the right place for an HR person with your level of expertise.

If your boss is absolutely unwilling to discuss their hiring decision, there may be a much deeper issue with their ability to lead, communicate, and grow a team. Perhaps for now, you could let this one go. You can always choose your battles—just don’t give up on integrity.

You can always choose your battles—just don’t give up on integrity.


Thank you, Jacqueline! Jacqueline English Consulting provides HR services in Toronto and the surrounding area.

If you have an HR question you’d like answered by an HR pro, submit it anonymously here.

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