Most of us have been there. The hire that seemed perfect, then turned out to be a nightmare.
If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky – a bad hire isn’t just a sunk cost. It can have long term consequences on everything from your budget to your team’s morale.
To prove that no one’s immune to regrettable hiring decisions, we asked a couple of industry experts to share their past mistakes. (And then their advice for getting hiring right.)
“I fell victim to cognitive bias.”
“We had a high-performer recommend a friend. I didn’t interview with the same rigor because I made an assumption that we’d get more of the same. But it soon became obvious he was friends with our high performer because he was a fun person – not because he was also a go-getter.”
“I didn’t spot a workplace freeloader.”
“I once hired someone for an entry-level recruiter position, only for her to spend most of her day working on her own personal website and launching her own company. Thankfully, we were on top of it pretty quickly.”
Here are a few more, incredibly common confessions…
“I hired someone because they looked ideal. On paper.”
Does this one bring back any bad memories? When you find a candidate with exemplary qualifications and experience, it’s all too easy to think your search is over.
But if they’re actually a poor communicator, or go to pieces when the pressure is on, they could still end up being a net drain on your organization.
“She chose to ignore reference feedback. (And ended up with a face full of keys.)”
Here’s a true story from a major women’s fashion retailer.
A manager insisted on hiring a candidate for the role of store manager, despite their references indicating they had some issues with maturity – and dealing with conflict. Not long after, they had a disagreement. Instead of talking it through, the new store manager got angry and threw a set of keys at her.
The moral of the story? Respect your references.
“I fell for a convincing liar.”
There’s no getting away from it – some people will bend the truth to breaking point during interview, or outright fabricate their experience. According to Freakonomics, half of employers say they’ve found a lie on a resume.
Fail to call them out, and you risk hiring someone you know very little about – so always check their background is what they say it is.
“I hired the wrong person for our organization.”
It doesn’t matter whether your workplace is target-driven and competitive, or chilled and team-focused – you want your new hires to complement that culture.
When hiring managers get this wrong, nobody wins. New recruits struggle to adapt, and their organization doesn’t see the return on its hiring investment.
How to steer clear of the hiring confessional
In the short term, hiring sins like these can put an unwelcome dent in your budgets. But the longer-term effects can be even worse.
“Every bad hire has multiple consequences. Of course there’s the expense lost on recruiting and training, but there’s also the simple low productivity of a bad hire. That’s a huge expense most people just never factor in.”
Tim Sackett, Top 10 Global HR Influencer, Recruiting Executive and Author
In the worst-case scenario, a poor hire can rapidly sour a workplace – negatively impacting team morale and damaging productivity across the board.
So, here’s some advice to make sure you don’t have to visit the hiring confessional anytime soon.
1. Check your biases
From personal prejudices (like favoring the candidate from your alma mater) to hiring procedures that discourage or exclude certain candidates – all kinds of bias can stand between a hiring manager and the right decision.
One simple step is to review the size and composition of your interview panels. As Paul from HRPositive explains, this is especially important if the candidate is a personal referral:
“Find someone that hasn’t got that connection to the interviewee, who doesn’t even know they’re somebody’s referral.”
2. Make your questions job-specific
From the questions you ask at interview, to the questions you ask candidate references, it’s important to drill into the specific skills required by the position you’re recruiting for.
For Tim, seeing what a candidate can actually do is absolutely key:
“Beyond developing talent in-house, I think the best way to avoid bad hiring decisions is to develop work sample assessments for the candidate to perform. Then add a cognitive assessment, and train your hiring managers to ask the red flag questions.”
3. Actively assess interpersonal and soft skills
Getting along with others. Behaving professionally. Taking responsibility and solving problems. Interpersonal and soft skills are absolutely crucial in almost every modern job.
The problem? You can’t effectively gauge a candidate’s interpersonal and soft skills from a resume, or even an interview – which, after all, people can learn to ace.
Your best source of information are references, ideally from a range of people who’ve worked alongside your candidate in previous roles. And getting honest feedback has become easier with the rise of online reference-checking tools. These can guarantee confidentiality and protect references against litigation.
How valuable is this extra input? Here are a few genuine comments references provided:
- “He could be effective if he was honest and not manipulative.”
- “Quick to blame others for her mistakes”
- “May take relationships to a more personal level sooner than others are comfortable doing.”
These are pretty crucial things to know about your candidates, and you won’t find them on their resumes.
4. Be honest with your candidates
Both Tim and Paul agree – it’s not just candidates who need to be honest during the hiring process. It’s your organization.
“Address any potential downsides to the job in the interview,” says Paul. “If you prep candidates for the reality, they won’t be disappointed. Talk about the place, warts and all.”
“I think knowing who you are, and being transparent about it with candidates has a huge impact on retention,” explains Tim. “Right from the start, make it clear who you are as an organization, and that they might love you – but they also might not, and that’s fine. It might not be the right place for them.”
Find out if your hiring is headed to the netherworld
Worried you’re in danger of making bad hiring decisions? Take our short quiz to assess your processes and practices, and get recommendations for minimizing hiring risk.