Hiring Mistakes: How to Avoid Them and What to Do If You Don’t

Have you ever hired someone who didn’t turn out to be what you expected?  Did that seemingly well-spoken, educated and experienced interviewee turn into just another “warm body” consuming valuable office air, or worse, turning off your best customers?  We call it a “cultural malignancy” when a senior level hire fails to fit with their team – affecting team members’ performance or causing key team members to leave. Ouch.

Well, it turns out you’re not the only one who’s been caught in a situation like that.  At some point, most entrepreneurs have made hiring mistakes.  Hiring can be difficult and often the people who appear the best on paper and in an interview have the most to hide.

US Department of LaboSo, while you’re not alone, you’ll still feel the pain of making a bad hire.  The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that, in addition to their salary, the average cost of a bad hire is 30% of their first year earning potential – and that’s if the hiring mistake is recognized and corrected within the first 6 months. The longer it takes you to recognize and correct your mistake, the more your costs climb and the greater the impact on your entire business.  Bad hires can also affect your workplace environment, reputation in the marketplace and really put a dent into your overall business.  Yikes.

There is some good news, however.  Hiring mistakes can be avoided!  Here’s how:

Step 1: When hiring employees, be clear about whom you’re looking for:

  • What are the outcomes I need from them in the first year?  Second year?

  • Do I need a leader – or someone who is good at following instructions?

  • Will this person be interacting with customers?

  • Will they mostly work in a team or autonomously?

  • Do I need someone innovative and creative or someone who is organized?

Step 2: Establish deal breakers for skills and experience:

What are must haves?  If you find a person who is a good fit for a job, most skills can be learned.  You won’t know if a person with 10 years experience is any better than one with 5 until they start doing the job, so be careful to judge job candidates based on these criteria.

Step 3: Customize your interviews for each job candidate:

Focus first and foremost on the behaviors/experiences that you are not sure about with that specific job candidate.  If every interview is the same, you’re not maximizing your time and may be missing something important.

Ask them to walk you through specific examples of their past behavior, instead of asking simple questions like “What’s your greatest strength/weakness.”  Dig deep!  Get them to paint you a picture of what they’re like at work.

Step 4: Use hiring tools and have others in your company interview the candidates too.

324936 toolsIn hiring, there’s a term for quick judgment, called the “halo effect.”  It refers to the impression someone leaves when they first meet that person, i.e. if that person has something in common with you, they’re attractive, you can pronounce their name, you like them, etc.  The problem with this snap judgment is that it can accidentally anchor an interviewer’s opinion about an interviewee – often inaccurately.  This is why some leading companies, like GlaxoSmithKline, are using a validated employee assessment for their sales hiring.  The twist is that they perform these predictive personality assessments BEFORE interviewing any candidates … even before they review applicants’ resumes (resumes are also inherently biased).

Another simple and effective tool is to have others at your company interview candidates, to provide their perspectives.  That way you acquire other opinions/perspective as well as support within the organization if you do hire the person.

Step 5: Check references yourself:

You’ll discover a lot doing reference checks.  It’s important that you not only ask for references, but also specify who you want to speak with – before they offer – or you’ll simply be provided with a list of their friends.

You can also remind candidates, before you start interviewing them, that you’re going to call their references about the answers they’re providing to you. This should help you keep their distortion/exaggerations down.  The Topgrading methodology has a great strategy around this.  

So … what if you’ve already made your hiring mistake … and they’re attending regular staff meetings, drinking from your water cooler and hitting on your coworkers?  Your mistake is likely hurting your business, affecting morale and losing you some sleep.  Managing difficult or poorly performing employees is probably a manager’s least favorite task.  Nevertheless, it is a necessary function and one that should be taken seriously.

The biggest hiring mistake employers make is avoiding the problem.  They stay away from the employee and place added burdens on other employees whom they trust.  This leads to a whole host of other, bigger problems, so don’t wait – act!

  1. Talk to the employee.  They may not realize their performance or behavior is unacceptable.

  2. Describe the issues objectively.  Use facts and examples to describe both what they are doing and why it isn’t acceptable and guide them to where you want to see them perform.

  3. Focus on specific positive outcomes.  Paint a picture of what behavior you want them to start exhibiting, i.e. “I need you to start doing this, because ..." 

  4. Set clear expectations.  Expectations about behavior and performance and a reasonable timeline are critical to correct the issues – depending on the person, job and deliverables, you may want to give a week or two or even a few months.

  5. Lay out next steps.  What must they do, what will you do, when/how will you reconnect.

  6. Write down everything.  Once you start dealing with a weak employee, firing them may become the only option.  Make sure you prepare yourself for that by keeping a record of all issues and interactions.  It can save you a ton of time and money later.

If you’ve tried and don’t see the improvement/changes you want, don’t hesitate to “help your employee out of your company,” as one of our partners likes to say.  The longer you wait to take action, the greater the negative impact on your business.

Finally, learn from your hiring mistake, so the next time you hire, you can avoid making it again!


Hiring a Manager?

How to Hire Manager cover resized 600

How will you ensure you’re not making a costly hiring mistake?  Hiring the right Manager is critical to your success, but it can be difficult to do.  Learn how to find and hire the best Manager!


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