Posted on Jan 10, 2018

Often, bad hiring decisions don’t become apparent for weeks or months. Then, it might take much longer to rectify hiring mistakes, whether that means a termination or resolving the performance issues. Here are some of the most commonly reported hiring mistakes, and some tips for avoiding them.

Consider the Consequences

Perhaps the biggest error is moving too quickly. A rushed hiring process usually means cutting corners — not searching broadly enough for the best candidate and short-circuiting the candidate assessment process. If you need to move quickly, just devote more time to the process (and enlist support) instead of trying to streamline it.

One way to motivate yourself not to rush a hiring decision is to think about the impact that a poor hire can have. Depending on the individual’s shortcomings, the effects of a poor performer can ripple throughout your whole organization.

For example, a new employee’s bad attitude can spread like a virus. Also, when a worker isn’t carrying his or her own weight, for whatever reason, those left to pick up the slack can become resentful. Finally, consider how much of your time or a supervisor’s time can be sapped trying to rehabilitate an underperforming employee or to bring an underqualified hire up to speed.

Getting in a hurry to fill a vacancy may lead you to only interview job candidates who respond to help-wanted ads. Often, however, the best fit for the job is someone who isn’t looking for work and, therefore, won’t see your ad. If finding qualified applicants is a problem, consider turning your employees into recruiters by asking them to recommend good candidates they may know. You might motivate them to do so by offering a reward if the recommendation leads to a new hire.

Cast a Wide Net

Once you have applications that look promising, conduct reference checks — don’t waste this opportunity by taking this step too lightly! It’s true that, when asked to give job references, many companies aren’t willing to give more than basic employment information, such as when the person in question worked for them. This isn’t surprising, given the litigious culture we live in. Former employees who are given negative references sometimes head to court claiming unfair treatment. Likewise, a company that fails to provide critical information (such as a history of violence in the workplace) could also end up in the hot seat.

With this reluctance in mind, you’ll have to be more persistent to get real information. If the references provided to you are skimpy or you can’t get a return call, tell the applicant you need more contacts, possibly including personal references. Also, if the applicant was a supervisor, try to talk to people that he or she supervised.

Grill References Thoroughly

When you talk to references, in addition to verifying basic facts, use open-ended questions rather than inquiries that can be answered with a simple yes or no. For example, you can ask:

  • How would you describe the candidate’s job performance?
  • How did the candidate deal with high-pressure situations?
  • How did he or she solve problems?
  • How did the candidate work in terms of cooperation with coworkers?

Also, characterize the responsibilities and qualifications that the candidate listed on his or her resume, and ask the reference if they accurately describe the applicant. Resume-padding is rampant.

Finally, listen for the silence that can speak volumes. As noted earlier, fear of litigation often prevents people from giving useful information, such as “the former employee had a poor work attendance record.” Within reason, you should take note if the reference neglects to say something flattering when given the opportunity, or seems to dodge a question. Consider whether he or she is masking a negative response.

Suppose, for instance, you say, “Tell me about John’s leadership skills.” If the answer you get is something along the lines of, “Here at Acme Co., we encourage all of our employees to develop leadership skills,” you might reasonably surmise that John’s leadership skills aren’t exemplary.

Look for Flaws

Many books have been written on how to interview job candidates. Here are just three tips for rooting out characteristics you’d want to avoid in an employee:

  • Poor attitude. A negative, cynical complainer might hide those traits when talking to you. However, the more of your people the job candidate encounters, the greater the chances that you’ll get a hint of that personality type. Give candidates a chance to meet separately with some people they would work with. That’s a helpful opportunity for the applicants to learn more about your organization. It also gives you additional lenses through which to view them, as other employees provide feedback. It’s a good idea to also ask for feedback from others who weren’t part of the interview, for example, the receptionist. Often applicants are less guarded around people they see as uninvolved in the hiring process.
  • Over-the-top ambition. Although you probably want to hire employees who hope to climb the ranks, watch for signs that the candidate is only interested in finding a job as a short-term stepping stone. Insights can be gleaned from such standard questions as, “Where do you see yourself in three (or five or ten) years?”
  • Dependency. Some employees are needy and require more support and direction from supervisors than you’d hope or expect. How can you spot such people before hiring them? You may be able to gauge a person’s ability to confront a challenge independently by asking him or her to describe a previous work situation. For instance, you might say: “Tell me about a time when you had to solve a problem with your job by yourself, and how you did it.”

As an employer, you hope that your employees are not only able to work through problems on their own, but also capable of applying what they learn to future issues. This same step should apply to how you fine-tune your hiring process. Take note of what works well and use that to create a hiring procedures checklist that will help as you continue to build your organization. Consistently adhering to an experience-tested process helps prevent costly hiring mistakes.