How can I avoid hiring mistakes?

by Sam on February 9, 2010

One-Minute Answer:  Hiring the wrong person is a costly blunder. The opportunity lost when another choice would have performed better depresses the bottom line. The pain of squandered resources, team disruption, and legal issues are excruciating. The unnecessary time spent on dealing with problem hires and finding their replacements can never be recalled.


Two-thirds of all new hires are regretted. Why? Because we rely on unreliable criteria to make selections among the resumes our recruiters generate. And what are two of the worse predictors of job success? Get ready for this!


Education and Experience


There is no way to know what a person has taken away from that impressive looking degree. Who’s to say that the A’s on a transcript will translate into performance on a job? And there are two kinds of applicants—those who have ten years of experience and those who have one year of experience repeated ten times.


So, as we pay less attention to conventional credentials, what criteria should take their place?



Five-Minute Answer:  Someone quipped that employees are most transparent during their exit interview and most deceptive during their employment interview. Certainly they are intensely focused on putting their best foot forward throughout their job hunt. Here’s how to examine that foot most carefully.


1.   Listen for the best answer to the question…  As General Manager Barbara McMahon planned the opening of the Pittsburgh Renaissance Hotel in 2001 she knew her most crucial hires would be in housekeeping. So she personally interviewed candidates along with the head of that department. Barbara prized one question above all others in uncovering winners. It was, “What do you like best about housekeeping?” The answer she wanted to hear was, “What the room looks like when I leave it.” What answer are you craving to hear to, “What do you like best about…”?

2.   Give a job sample test.  If you’re hiring trainers, watch them train. If you’re hiring managers, give them paperwork you’ve been dealing with for their advice. If you’re hiring architects, let them critique the plans for a current project. Barbara McMahon caused housekeeping aspirants to pass a crumpled piece of paper on the floor as they walked into her office for the interview.

3.   Check references wisely.  Get reliable data from references by creating a list of your ten most coveted qualities for the position. Read them over the phone in rapid fire as the reference rates the candidate from one to ten on each quality. For the two or three higher scores go back to ask what the person did to earn them; for the two or three lower scores, dig deep. Another reason to call references is to verify information. Consider telling the candidate whom you plan to call and ask what she thinks each person will say about her performance. This should increase honesty on your probes into the previous work situation.

4.   Leverage your stars.  Ask your top performers to refer friends for open positions. Get feedback from them after they give all interviewees an office tour or take them to lunch.

5.   Perform pre-employment testing.  A wide battery of tests is available on-line to help you make more informed decisions. They measure: (1) aptitude in math, language, typing, and reasoning; (2) cognitive ability to analyze and solve problems, to draw conclusions, to learn, and to think; (3) personality characteristics and emotional intelligence; (4) attitude toward honesty, theft, drugs, and immoral behavior; (5) psychomotor skills, coordination, and manual dexterity; (6) physical capabilities such as lifting. This is a fruitful area that can help to assess many of the criteria singled out below. Before attempting to leverage its benefits, manage its complexity, and surmount its legal implications, contact an expert.

6.   Look for culture fit.  A huge reason for the failure of new hires is their mismatch with the norms of behavior in your organization. If you have a set of core values, a team charter, or published performance expectations, do this. Tell the candidate that no one in the company performs equally well on all of the core values, team charter items, or performance expectations. Direct him to choose two or three items from the list that he expects will be easier than the rest to fulfill with distinction and justify why these two or three were chosen. Next, insist that he choose two or three that will be more of the challenge than the rest and explain those choices. These choices and their explanations are harbingers of culture fit.

7.   Look for a fire in the belly.  Does this person’s application and does her presence reveal someone with a high sense of urgency, a compelling desire to succeed, and a dedication to continuous improvement?

8.   Look for teach-ability.  One reason new employees don’t become compatible with company culture is that they’re set in their ways, they believe they have little to learn, or they “know” they’re in the right. Ask for this: “Name three things you need to get better at and tell me what your plan is for achieving each one.” Few people will impress you with their answers; hire those who do.

9.   Look for integrity.  This is a difficult quality to assess in advance of employment. Be sure to include “integrity” or “honesty” as one of the ten qualities you read off during the reference check described above. One of my favorite interview questions is, “Why is it important to do the right thing?” (“…perform honest audits?” “…be completely truthful with clients?”) The reassuring answer is, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

10.  Look for resistance to negativity.  This factor is connected to integrity. How easy is it to get the candidate to condemn others? Get a response to this: “We all find challenges from time to time working for a difficult boss or collaborating with problem peers. Describe in detail the worst such relationship you’ve ever encountered at work.” If the candidate easily trashes others, end the interview.

11.  Find a team player.  Is this candidate more eager to demonstrate his talents or to work together with others to make the company a success? Does his background show an interest in team play? Is there evidence of strong interpersonal skills? What does he reveal through his response to this: “When I assess your job performance how much of your evaluation should be based on your excellence as a mechanical engineer and how much of it should reflect your ability to work well with the other engineers?”

12.  Hire a vet!  Put a man or woman who has returned from service to his/her country at the head of the line. Military life instills leadership, tests ability to deal with adversity, values integrity, turns out team players, places a high value on work ethic, teaches conflict resolution, breeds toughness, squelches a sense of entitlement, and accustoms men and women to taking orders—not mindlessly, yet without knee-jerk counterdependence.


More?  Do you have a favorite hiring strategy or question not mentioned here? Let me know. Perhaps we’ll publish a Part II for this week’s question.


Enough Said:  “The closest to perfection a person ever comes is when he fills out a job application.”  ~Stanley Randall


Next week we’ll take a break from the work of leadership development with 20 quotes, quips, and aphorisms that lift the human spirit with their amusing take on life. Join me as early as 6AM on Wednesday just for the fun of it.

{ 2 trackbacks }

How did great leaders get that way? | Ask Sam Deep
02.23.10 at 11:35 pm
Can we create a positive culture in our company? | Ask Sam Deep
03.09.10 at 4:31 pm

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John Stahl-Wert 02.10.10 at 9:54 am

This is just terrific! You have a rare capacity to catch the heart of things, winsomely, clearly, usefully. Drucker’s #1 commitment in life–and his #1 piece of advice to others–was to “be useful.” You are!
John SW

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