During the last 32 years of my career I have been in management and that has required me to hire people. Hiring is arguably the most important, and hardest, part of being a manager. Doing it correctly makes you a hero and doing it wrong can get you fired. What are the most common hiring mistakes I have observed (sometimes through my own errors) over the last 30 years?
- Hiring the first person that you interview. No manager likes to go through the hiring process because hiring someone requires you to spend even more time on the job, and most managers already work well over 40 hours. When you’re already swamped it’s very tempting to hire the first even remotely qualified candidate that you meet. This is usually a huge mistake. Unless you get real lucky, most of the people that you hire in haste will fail, and you’ll have to do the process all over again… if you don’t get fired for having made a hiring error. Take the time to do it correctly and you will not only save time in the long run, but possibly you will save your job as well.
- Not using the same list of interview questions with every candidate. Many interviewers don’t use a standard list of questions and just ask whatever questions come into their mind during the interview. Not only do you ask better questions if they are written down ahead of time but this will ensure that you ask the same questions of every candidate. Not only does that keep you from getting in trouble by asking an illegal question, but you can evaluate the answers of every candidate versus the same set of questions.
- Selling your company instead of questioning the candidate. When I first became a manager and had to hire I spent most of the interview selling our company instead of quizzing the candidate on their qualifications. Have a list of open-ended questions, and after asking them, stop talking and listen closely to the answers, while taking notes. Better yet, tape-record each interview so that you can practice active listening instead of half listening while taking notes.
- Not having a position specification or job description to measure the candidates against. Not only do candidates like to see a list of their principal duties but having a position specification or job description allows you to tailor your questions so that you can ascertain if the candidate has the proper background to be able to meet the key responsibilities of the job.
- Not doing background checks. Due to the proliferation of the internet we are now able to get a complete background check on most candidates instantaneously. In 70’s and 80’s we had to wait two weeks or longer to get the results of a background check. Sometimes there were so many alligators nipping at my heels that I would hire people without a background check. I almost always regretted this. Have candidates sign a background check release form and checking their criminal record, credit history, and driving record not only will this keep you from hiring mistakes but, as managers have the responsibility for creating a safe workplace, it may keep you from being sued or, worse yet, going to jail. Imagine the cost to you and your company if you hired someone without a background check and they went on a killing spree in your office. Not only would you have to live with guilt (if you survived the shooting spree) but the financial liability could break you.
- Not checking references. I always ask for a minimum of three business references and three personal references. Yes, candidates tend to give you only good references but some people don’t get references that are as good as they think they will be. Plus I can tell when someone is damning a candidate with faint praise. I always have a much clearer picture of a candidate after I talk to at least six references.
- Not using testing. As I have said before, we use a variety of intelligence and psychological tests to ensure that we are trying to put a square peg in a round hole. To see a complete list of the tests and assessments we use, see my blog post of 8.23.10.
- Hiring friends. I have said many times that you never really know a friend until they report to you. I have found out, mostly the hard way, that some people that were great friends ended up being some of the worst co-workers. Not only did I have to fire them, but I also lost a friend in the process. Talk about lose-lose.
- Hiring relatives. This can be even worse than hiring friends as you can avoid friends that you have fired but you can’t avoid your relatives. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are rare. In my case, my oldest son works with me and I don’t know what I would do without him. However, before hiring him, he and I met with an industrial psychologist and talked about what each of us didn’t like that the other person did. We had two follow up sessions after my son began working with me, but after the two initial sessions we agreed we didn’t need any more. I once read that nepotism is great… provided you have smart relatives. In my case, I have a son who is smarter than me and who works harder than me. I am very fortunate because he is the rare exception.
What other hiring mistakes have you made that you are willing to own up to?
© Copyright 2011 by Jim Sobeck. All rights reserved. This information may be reproduced as long as full credit is given to the author.