How to Avoid Common Hiring Mistakes

Everyone wants to get great employees. Hiring the right people grows a company, creates a sustainable culture, and allows an organization to execute its vision. The path to success, however, usually comes from a string of hiring mistakes. One of the biggest mistakes organizations make occurs when they don’t thoroughly evaluate the factors that created a bad hire in the first place. Usually, terminating an employee brings a level of stress such that the debriefing is “wow, I’m so glad they’re gone” and “what took us so long?” These responses affirm the wisdom of the decision, but they don’t yield additional information about any human or process variables that infiltrated the hiring process. 

I have seen countless executives make hiring mistakes during my 20 years of executive leadership coaching and all the great ones saw their mistakes as learning opportunities. Here are some common hiring mistakes and how you can avoid them. 

The Sparkly Resumes are Irresistible.

Picture of resume in orange folder with sparkles on it.

There are many potential new hires that look incredible on paper. They work at a top-tier firm, have a degree from one of the best universities, and have an unbeatable skill set. You found your new employee and the resume confirms it. The problem with this mindset is you have biased yourself towards this candidate before you really even know them. Even if people show a long-term history of employment at a great company, the length of time is not an indicator of work ethic and proficiency.  Subpar talent often stays simply because a manager doesn’t want to fire, the organization doesn’t want to make waves, or it believes that the person is irreplaceable. When leaders become biased based on a resume, it is easy to miss negative signs related to socialization, drive, and character. Employing an unprofessional person who destroys moral can be just as harmful to your company as hiring someone who lacks the skills to do a job.

Executives who want to avoid creating front-end bias should avoid hyping a prospect before the actual interview. When we expect someone to be great, we are predisposed to seeing the information that confirms our expectations. This is called confirmatory bias. We focus on the items that fit our expectations and miss the information that provides a more accurate picture. The credentials are the start of the process, not the conclusion.  Have the candidate interview multiple members of your team individually and in groups. This will allow you to get different opinions on a potential new hire. The other members of your team may see something you don’t.

Team and Cultural Fits Do Not Guarantee Skill Fits

In addition to over-anchoring on credentials and resumes, many executives overfocus on team fit. Many executives will hire an employee based on their personality and fit with the team. They think if the prospect already has the culture they can teach the skill set. It is beneficial to hire people that can easily socialize, but that skill set becomes unimportant when you realize they can’t manage their work, make deadlines, or solve problems during a crisis.

Avoid hiring unqualified people by asking yourself two important questions.

  1. What are the essential skills you need for this role?
  2. What are the essential work habits you need for this role?

Have other team members test the candidate on technical jargon. If the prospective employee says they know something on their resume, do a task assessment of that skill to confirm it. Technical conversations and task assessments help people to avoid hiring someone simply due to personal liking. 

One of the ways to avoid weighing a candidate too heavily on personal liking is to interview them more. A great way to counteract all bias is to doubt ourselves a bit. If I really like a person, I will often ask more questions, to ensure that I haven’t foreclosed a decision prematurely due to our personal chemistry.

Slowing down and ensuring a candidate has the skills to do the job will help your company in the long run. Take your time and seek help from the people you trust to give their thoughts on a new hire. 

Emergency Hires Will Create Later Chaos

The unexpected exit of a long-term employee or significant business growth can leave many executives scrambling to hire new people. Hiring someone out of desperation for workers often leads to worse outcomes than being understaffed. The prevailing thought is “we just need a body.” If that is true, go for it. However, be aware that hasty decisions, especially in higher-level positions, will increase your legal risk from an employment lawsuit and can decimate team morale. A team that is unhappy due to a bad leader will have increased conflict, increased employee turnover, and production delays. 

Obviously, waiting for the right hire has its downsides as well, so weigh the risk/reward as much as possible. In my experience, the downsides of emergency hires usually outweigh the positives. If you must hire someone who is not a great fit, ensure a clear path that allows for a transition. This is when hiring someone on a short-term or contract basis can help to fill the immediate need without adding additional risk and turn-over.

Decrease Emergency Hires with Succession Planning

One of the ways to avoid emergency hiring is to create succession plans for all of your senior positions. This succession plan identifies capable people who can do the work until you find a long-term replacement. The interim person can fill in the knowledge gaps as you bring a new hire to speed.

Creating a succession plan requires you to assess your team members and see which executive positions they may be able to fill in case of an emergency opening. In my experience, many employees are eager for a chance to learn new skills. The cross-training involved in creating a succession plan can increase employee loyalty, and motivation since the employee is learning executive skills. It is a mutually beneficial scenario for both parties. 

Reverse-Engineer Bad Hires

While people can avoid many mistakes by attending to the above information, the most important discipline to integrate is that of reverse-engineering the decision-making process. Why did we like this candidate? What caught our attention? Did we ignore any flags? Humans hire humans and even with the help of artificial intelligence and hiring assessments, each of us has our own blindspots and vulnerabilities. One can best avoid bad hires by reverse-engineering the individual and team processes that occurred for each hire. While this requires dedicated time at first, leaders will be able to do it more quickly and efficiently with practice. There are patterns of mistakes, even if it feels like the answer to “what failed?” is different each time. Once those patterns are identified, it’s easier to resolve them and deal with any outlying factors.

Bringing on great employees is essential to the success of your organization; however, ever sometimes the wrong person will slip through despite your best efforts. Don’t lose heart. Learn from the mistakes, try again, and keep your eye on the reality that great hires will make all of the effort worthwhile.