We’ve all done it: hired someone who proved to be a huge distraction, emotional drain and expensive diversion for our company.
A single bad hire has a way of making a department’s functioning seemingly grind to a halt and while destroying morale.
I’ve seen extremely promising new hires enter the organization and somehow become someone other than the person you interviewed.
They can suddenly show these troublesome characteristics:
Not possessing the required skills for the job
Lack of motivation to put in required work
Let’s be honest. As a manager, making a bad hire can be embarrassing. But most people understand that some portion of new hires, no matter how promising, don’t work out. Over time, I’ve learned to de-risk the hiring process by following some simple steps.
Map Your Company’s Growth: It pays to work with stakeholders to plan where we want the company to go and how we intend to get there. What lines of business are we going to invest in? What functions are needed? From there, we can create a clear picture of the organization, positions needed, and skills inherent in those positions. A key part of this is also being intentional about the enabling culture. For example, if we plan to have a matrixed organization, we want an emphasis on collaboration. After this preparatory work is done, we know what types of individuals we need. I’d recommend making this an ongoing process, revisited every time you’re replacing someone or adding an existing position.
Polish Your Job Description: I’ve seen busy hiring managers fly through this important step. The job description is critical for both internal and external use, so it pays to be prescriptive about what you want the person to do, what skills they need to possess and what qualifications and experience they need. I’d suggest taking time to ensure the skills and experience line up with the job’s title. A “specialist” or “manager” job description will look very different from that of a “Senior Director.” The job description is not only a recruitment tool, it’s there to benchmark performance for the new hire.
Research Compensation: We all know where to look to find the expected range for salary and benefits. I have learned to push for the higher end of the range, since the better, higher-impact candidates will normally have options both before or after you hire them. An extra $5,000 is a small price to pay to get a major contributor in the door, feeling good about their move.
Get Ready to Screen Lots of Candidates: How often have you posted a job, gotten a crush of applications, only to find they all come in while you’re busy with other things? This is a time to either make time on your calendar to screen resumes, or assign someone competent for the task. And, since there’s no hope of remembering all of the resumes and screening conversations, I’d recommend setting up a screening spreadsheet that allows you to quickly sort candidates by skill level, experience and attitude. It does pay to take time for this step. You never know when an excellent candidate will pop up.
Post Your Job Like It’s an Advertisement: Make sure the job description reads clearly and is written in such a way as to attract the best candidates. Emphasize the company’s mission, culture and benefits. You want winners to feel like they’re joining a winning team. They will be coming to the company website. Does it paint a compelling picture of the company?
Stick to a Structure For the Interview Process: I normally structure the interview process in several stages. This will allow you to experience the applicant’s behavior and consistency over a period of time. The first step is the initial screening, often done by an HR person. This can be 15 minutes per conversation. Sometimes I’ll then ask for a 500-word summary of why they are interested in the position and how they’d approach it. I’ve also used online personality assessment tools at this stage as well. The second step is a hiring manager interview with a couple key team members. This is where you find out about the applicant’s background and can get an early gauge on cultural fit. You can observe how they interact with your team, and get their impressions afterwards. Thirdly, I normally have a small group doing a live skills-based conversation. “You are an expert in search engine optimization, right? Where do I click in the SEMRush screen to evaluate competitive keywords?” Specificity. After that, I involve higher-level individuals to get their take. Finally, it’s the offer conversation. Having multiple steps will give you opportunities to observe the individual and get group input.
Watch & Listen During the Interviews: Most people know how to give a good first impression. I normally take a very disarming approach during interviews to allow the applicant to relax and show their true selves. I’ll often act very empathetic when they talk about previous positions they’ve left abruptly, which often yields helpful clues into the person’s ability to take direction and work with others. Using behavioral questions (“Tell me about a time when….”) will give you a window into the person’s approach to situations. And when it’s time to ask them what questions they may have, you’d be surprised what you’ll learn there. Have they researched your company? Are they team-oriented or only interested in what you can do for them? I’ve also learned over time that when people are late to an interview, fail to show up or appear inappropriate over Zoom, that’s a huge red flag. Move on. Finally, I’m a fan of doing face-to-face interviews when possible. You always pick up information and intuition that wouldn’t present itself in a remote setting.
Always Check References: You may feel very bought-in to a candidate and be tempted to skip this step. Trust me - don't do it! You’ll want to be thorough about your reference checks and and not just talk to one person. Try to talk to a mix of former supervisors and colleagues. It’s rare that someone says anything negative about a candidate during these conversations, but you can easily read between the lines with some active listening. Try to get a clear, honest picture of why they left their last position.
Don’t Make an Impulsive Hiring Decision: It’s often tempting to let emotion bleed into the decision-making, and inject urgency where there is none. If your star candidate says they need a decision now because they have another offer, it might be best to let them walk. Ideally, you’ve selected someone who is such a great fit, your company is the one they want, putting you in the driver’s seat. Talk with other stakeholders and team members thoughtfully about a skills fit, cultural fit and observed behaviors.
Onboard for Success - or Cut Bait Quickly: When your new team member begins, you’ll want to review the job description and set expectations quickly. That includes setting up a regular check-in process. Many new employees will want to see what their limits are. If they are a corner-cutter, they’ll want to know if you call them out on it. And if they’re a worrier, you’ll want to give them the reassurance that they can relax and focus on the task at hand. Sometimes, no matter how well you follow the process, you will make a bad hire. Everyone will know it and will be watching to see what you do as a measure of your leadership. This happened to me recently, and I had to let this combative, Jekyll & Hyde individual know that after one week, they were not moving forward.
I believe hiring is one of the most important things an organization will do. How well you do it determines the organization’s culture and capability.
In my experience, a little planning and structure goes a long way.