How to Avoid Those Costly Hiring Mistakes

I could tell my golfing buddy wasn’t focused on his game and as we walked off the 6th green I asked him about the distraction: “Josh, it doesn’t seem like your head’s in the game today. What’s going on? You’ve got something going on at work?” His reply came quickly: “ Yeah, I made a bad hiring decision 5 months ago and now I’ve got to fire the guy I was hoping would be my successor.”

Ouch!  I’ve heard this story a few times in my career and I know all to well of the frustration, anger, disappoint and cost that comes from making a bad hiring decision.

There are lots of articles out there that tell you how to avoid messing up the hiring process but for this article I thought I’d get in touch with a few of my colleagues who are in the executive search and staffing business. They made some interesting observations and I plan to share a few of these with you, along with ways that I believe companies could increase the odds of making the right hiring decisions. Here we go!

Improve the Process:

Let’s pretend that it’s Tuesday morning and you arrive to work, turn on your computer and look at your daily schedule. You’ve got a pretty full morning and see that at 10 am you are scheduled to interview a candidate for your marketing manager position.  What a distraction! Not something you are looking forward to nor have you prepared for the meeting. Like so many interviews in the past, you’ll just have to “wing it”. 

If this is your attitude, you, the candidate and your company have already lost. Does your company have a good hiring process? Most don’t!  Here are a few things I’d suggest:

Just like a pilot has a pre-flight checklist he reviews, your hiring process will need to list all the steps you plan to follow, from writing a solid job description, posting the job opening, selecting the interviewers, scheduling the interviews and deciding on next steps after the interviews have been concluded. Someone needs to have ownership for this hiring checklist. It will usually be an HR Manager.  Well in advance of the interviews the HR Manager will need to circulate the job description and candidate’s resume. Interviewers should not be asking the same questions to the candidate so the HR manager assigns questions to each member of the interviewing team. Good questions are open-ended and ask the candidate to describe how they would solve a problem they are confronted with.

Once the interviews are completed – and ideally on the same day- all the interviewers come together to discuss the candidate(s) they have met.  As a group they agree to next steps: 2nd round of interviews, job offer or rejection.  Don’t procrastinate; get back to the candidate quickly and let them know of the company’s level of interest and next steps.  Cut or tie the rope quickly! The company creates terrible PR for itself if they leave candidates hanging.

Don’t Hire In Your Own Image:

A common mistake that we often make is that we are blinded during the interview by candidates who are like us or whom we “like”.  And, some candidates are very good at presenting their best face. So, what are you to do to avoid the “I like this candidate” trap? 

Focus on the job description, their experience, competencies and how they answer the tough questions that you have written down, or been given, well in advance of the interview.  In addition, your company should have a behavioral assessment tool that allows for a candidate’s behavioral profile to be matched to the ideal behavioral profile for the position you are trying to fill. This will also give you insight into their fitting your company’s culture.  You will also need to understand if they possess the emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social skills) necessary to be successful in the position.

On more warning: don’t hire your best friend!  More on this topic in my recent blog here.

Hire Your Best Interns:

My twin boys just finished their 2.5-month summer internships and have returned to college. They learned a lot about self-discipline (getting up at 6:30 every morning), starting at the bottom of the totem pole, corporate culture and paying taxes!  The companies had a chance to get to know my sons, their work ethic, motivation and skills.

What better way for a company to get to know possible future employees but through a well structured, challenging internship? They can last 2-6 months and sometimes a company will invite a student back for a 2nd internship a year later. And if a student did a great job for you, stay in touch with them during the course of their studies. When they are back in town for Christmas or Spring break, invite them out for lunch and see how they are doing.

But just like a good hiring process, companies need to invest time and resources into their internship program for it to achieve its purpose. Read more about well structured internships in a recent blog post here.

Having A Great On-Boarding Program:

Once you’ve found and hired the best candidate you’ll want to make sure you get them off to a great start, highly motivated and contributing to your company’s success from day one. You’ll also want to retain them in your company for as long as possible.  One of the best ways to accomplish these objectives is to make sure your company has a great on-boarding process in place.  Just like your hiring process and your internship program, your on-boarding program consists of multiple steps that need to happen.

I recently spoke to a person who just finished their first week at a new employer. They were totally frustrated because their direct boss was on vacation the entire first week. When they showed up for their first day of work, no one knew where her desk was supposed to be. No one considered having her join them for lunch, so she ate alone. It was a miserable start to what could have been a great beginning.  She told me that she was already looking for a different company!  If you want to know more about what a good on-boarding program looks like, check out my recent blog here

Invest In Professional Support:

Finding and hiring the top talent, especially in today’s market place, is a difficult undertaking. Small and mid-size companies often lack the internal expertise and resources required to succeed in this venture.  If your company could benefit from a consultant, search firm or staffing company, invest the money and get the support you need.  You know what they say: Pay now or pay later.