Common Hiring Errors and How to Fix Them

Let’s begin by defining a hiring error: if your standards are on the lower end of the scale, a hiring error is selecting someone who then gets terminated or quits during the first 6 months on the job. If you have higher standards, it’s someone who isn’t an achiever (an “achiever” would typically be a B+ or better person – in other words, someone who delivers high-quality results on a consistent basis, deals effectively with all types of people, can take on bigger tasks, and gets promoted into larger positions).

To me, not hiring an achiever is a mistake, regardless of the role. For more common rank-and-file positions, not hiring someone who performs as well as those already in the top-third of your work-force is also an error.

Not making these common hiring errors is sure to improve your company’s overall talent levels. Using this perspective, there are some common hiring mistakes that can be reduced and virtually eliminated with some basic processes, focus and effort.

Below, I have outlined some of the most frequent errors, along with some solutions.

Common Hiring Errors and Solutions

1. Not enough quality candidates to consider. On one level this is a sourcing issue as it clearly falls in the lap of the recruiting department to find enough applicants to make an appropriate hiring decision. On the other hand, if the company has weak leadership, a non-competitive compensation plan and/or a bad reputation, it’s unlikely it will see enough good people, regardless of the strength of the recruiting department. However, if the company’s resources are reasonable, then the recruiting effort might just needs fine-tuning. You need to have a strong sourcing and recruiting strategy that drives enough top talent to the organization in order to hire enough of them to fit your needs. When the supply of talent exceeds demand, this is easy to do, but won’t be once the recovery begins. Start your future recruiting efforts now!

2. We didn’t hire the best candidate. This is a frequent hiring error that usually falls at the feet of the hiring manager. In this case, you never know about this mistake, so assigning blame for something that didn’t happen is tough to do. Perhaps it is the process used to compare candidates that is at fault. This problem is often enhanced by the informal decision-making process managers use to decide whom to hire among competing candidates. A candidate profile and candidate assessment will reduce the likelihood of this error. It is a great solution for using evidence vs. feelings to make the assessment.

3. A strong person was hired, but isn’t working out for a variety of reasons. This is a major disappointment, but usually attributed to hiring an achiever for the wrong job or lack of fit with the hiring manager. Other reasons include an inability to work with the team or some type of personality and culture clash. The job fit mistake is largely caused by not clarifying job expectations before the person was hired, resulting in selecting someone who is competent, but not motivated to do the work required. This is a serious mistake and fault should be assigned to the hiring authority. The good news is, it’s easily corrected with a little discipline. Require managers to prepare a candidate/ performance (not a job description) before beginning the hiring process. This profile summarizes the performance requirements of the job, not the skills required to do the work. Many of these can address the team, culture, and managerial fit issues, minimizing these types of mistakes, as well.

4. The position was a lateral move for the candidate. This is a variation of the “good person, wrong job” problem above, but with a different solution. During an economic slowdown, the best people aren’t looking, and those that are have lowered their acceptance standards. During a recovery, the best people are all looking for career moves, but are often swayed by a big jump in compensation or a “grass is greener” promise. Once on the job, however, sometimes the grass turns out to be just another shade of green. Formally implementing a career decision process for candidates to use when comparing their opportunities can ensure that the person is evaluating your position as a real career move. This will not only prevent the lateral move problem, but also allow you to hire more top people for the right reasons, not compensation and other promises.

5. A weak candidate was hired due to an improper assessment. Sometimes weak people get hired because there was no one else available at the time. More often a bottom-half person gets hired because the selection process was flawed. This is attributed to three fundamental causes. One, a decision was quickly made based on first impressions, intuition, or gut feelings. Two, managers overvalued certain skills at the expense of delivering results on a consistent basis. Three, managers and those on the hiring team made a flawed judgment based on their personal needs and biases in combination with a mix of unreliable interviewing techniques.

6. Weak managers don’t hire strong candidates. Top people don’t want to work for someone who isn’t a leader or can’t be a mentor. Top candidates recognize the lack of these skills in managers from far away and are very likely to turn-down any offer your firm might make. This is another case where a candidate profile and formal assessment process can help. Also consider adding senior managers to the hiring process to elevate the weaker managers hiring skills. In this team-based style a weaker hiring managers aren’t making the decision on whom to hire alone, and the candidate has other people to seek out for career advice.

If you have more than two or three of these problems, the root cause is probably the lack of a cohesive end-to-end hiring process. In this case, implementing some of the ideas mentioned like a candidate/performance profile and a formal assessment process will have an enormous impact on improving your company’s ability to consistently hire top people across the board. Following are the steps involved.

Most are common sense. As you review the list you’ll discover that none of the ideas are profound or hard to implement. What’s hard to do is getting every manager to do them every time.

1. Don’t rely totally on skills-based job descriptions. Instead, have managers clearly define what the person will be doing on the job before the hiring process begins. As part of this include how the person’s performance will be measured.

2. Use the assessment to determine if the person has performed the tasks at the standards described. If you do this, you’ll discover that the person has exactly the skills and experience needed to be successful. This will be slightly different for everyone.

3. Don’t use job descriptions to write recruiting advertising. It’s better if you prepare career-oriented ads that focus on what the person can learn, do, and become.

4. Provide candidates with a decision tool to compare jobs based on their short- and long-term merits (e.g., job stretch, growth, team, comp, work/life balance, etc.). If you give this to them right after the phone screen, they can use it to ask questions and gather the right information to make a reasoned career decision.

5. Systematize the evaluation and comparison among candidates by using a formal evidence-based assessment process based on all job factors (e.g., technical, team, motivation, growth trend, consistency of results, problem-solving, fit, etc.). As part of this eliminate yes/no voting with a requirement that evidence is shared in an open forum.

While this list of hiring errors is not complete and the solutions proposed certainly aren’t the the only ones available, the idea of focusing on eliminating mistakes can have a profound impact on overall hiring results. If you’d like some free samples of these assessments please contact me

Thank you!

David Lammert

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