Hiring Missteps and How to Avoid Them

Have you ever made a bad hire? Me too. And while painful–for all involved–as with anything, we can learn important lessons from the missteps we make. We can also learn from the missteps of others. Over the years I’ve learned both through the research I’ve done in writing hundreds of business articles and a number of books on HR-related topics, including recruitment and hiring and, of course, from my own experiences. A reporter recently asked me for some insights about what are the biggest “hiring missteps” I’ve observed. Here’s what I shared:

The biggest mistake I’ve seen made, and one that I’ve always cautioned managers and clients about is writing the job description based on the incumbent rather than what the position requirements really are. Over time, when someone is in a position, that position often morphs to include tasks and responsibilities that the individual may enjoy and may excel at, but not necessarily is required to perform the job. That’s not a bad thing, but when it comes time to fill the position (or evaluate it from a compensation standpoint) it’s critical to focus on the position requirements. It can be difficult, if not impossible, for instance, to find someone to fill a position as a CPA who is also skilled in social media and graphic design (because the person in the position had those interests/skills).

Another misstep is inflating educational/experience requirements. Not only does this make it more challenging to fill the position, but it can create problems in terms of disparate impact — inadvertently having a negative impact on minority or other candidates who do not have the educational background/experience you’re requiring (when it is not a legitimate requirement of the position).
Falling under the spell of a very personable applicant. Most of us have “been here, done that.” A very vivacious, friendly and personable candidate charms us and we make a hiring decision based on a great personality only to find out once the candidate is on board that there is “no there, there.” Best way to avoid this problem? Develop objective, job-related hiring criteria and evaluate each candidate based on the criteria regardless of their personal charm (personal charm, of course, may be one of the criteria but it’s not likely to be the only one).
Always conduct reference checks and be particularly attuned to what is not said. A number of years ago I went through a hiring process and felt that I had “dotted and the i’s and crossed all the t’s,” including the reference checks. Unfortunately, the hire did not work out and, in hindsight, I thought of something I had overlooked. What the references didn’t say to me. None of them had been able to recall any specifics about the candidate and although they didn’t share anything negative (most likely due to concerns about liability), they also didn’t share anything positive — and that’s the part I missed. When you’re checking references, and you should, listen not only for what is said, but also for what is not said. If a candidate was exceptional, the reference is likely to share that with you. If you’re not hearing any positive feedback, warning signals should be going off!
Those are my top three – what are yours?
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