Ten Most Common Hiring Mistakes
(and How to Avoid Them)

Employers make lots of mistakes in the process of recruiting, interviewing and hiring new employees. Below is a list of the ten most common.

1. Too much talk, too little touring
The single biggest mistake made in an interview is spending the entire interview time talking. Talk is a waste of time by itself. Instead, take the candidate on a company tour. Introduce him to other employees. Show the candidate the tools he'll be using if he's hired. Ask him which of the tools and equipment he is familiar with and let him explain how he would use a particular piece of equipment. A job is about doing, not just about talking. Be sure the interview includes aspects that tell you something about the candidate’s ability to do.

2. Relying on an interview to evaluate a candidate
In a massive study conducted by John and Rhonda Hunter at The University of Michigan on the "Validity and Utility of Alternative Predictors of Job Performance", the usefulness of an interview in accurately predicting success on the job was analyzed. The surprising finding: The typical interview increases the likelihood of choosing the best candidate by less than 2%. In other words, if you just "flipped" a coin you would be correct 50% of the time. If you added an interview you would be right 52% of the time.

Although the interview alone is a poor tool it is still the most commonly used selection technique. Experts suggest three reasons why:

  • Most managers don't structure an interview and determine the best answers before the interview.
  • Candidates do a lot more interviewing than most managers and are more skillful at presenting a strong appearance than the average manager is at probing past the interviewees "front."
  • An interview does help evaluate personal chemistry and allow the manager to get a feel for how well they might get along and work together. And, while it is important for employees to connect with their managers and co-workers and to fit the culture, too often hiring on personal chemistry results in the interviewer hiring versions of self.

3. Letting Human Resources do the interviewing
The problem with this approach is that an HR representative, no matter how skilled or effective, does not know how each department within the company works or what exactly the department does. Only the manager of the department and those who are in that department day after day know that. Therefore, it is wise to have the department manager do the actual interviewing or at least the initial interview.

As an example, technical people tend to be somewhat shy and many are not especially good at job interviews, which may result in an unaware HR person overlooking a good candidate. Making a prospective technical candidate step through a bureaucratic process before the manager of the technical department can even talk to him may also cause you to lose a good candidate to an employer who understands his style and works with rather than against him from the onset of the recruiting effort.

Very basic screening, such as background checks and checking résumé’s to ensure adequate experience should be the focus of HR. Departmental managers and team members should be the people who make the first contact with the candidate. When the team the candidate would be working with is the source of the candidate's first impression of your company, the odds of getting a good employee are greatly increased. And there’s a bonus to this approach. The team feels they had a say in the hiring of the new employee and are far more receptive and helpful in integrating the employee into the department. Which leads us to the fourth hiring mistake.

4. Leaving your team out of the loop
Involving team members in the selection process has several benefits; meeting members of the team a job candidate would be working with and managers of departments they would be interfacing with can put the candidate at greater ease. A candidate's ability to succeed in the job (if hired) depends intimately on the way the candidate relates to the people in the organization.

Employees are almost never in environments where they are working entirely alone. Their work, behavior and attitudes are impacted by, and will impact, everyone in your department and everyone the new hire interfaces with throughout the company. Each interaction the candidate has with potential co-workers and managers will reveal aspects of the individual you may never observe any other way. Don't leave team members out of the interview loop.

It's not necessary to schedule formal interviews for the candidate with all these people. It’s best to keep it an informal “interviewing by wandering around" process. Make it easy and casual, but make sure the people you involve in this process are prepared to conduct mini-interviews and report back to you.

5. Using the wrong method for duplicating successful people
It would seem like common sense to try to duplicate the most successful employees and, under the right conditions, it absolutely is. The problem is that many organizations look only at top performers and, often, the reasons they succeed are not clear. Unless you can determine critical traits like emotional intelligence (EQ) and overall development of job specific traits, you cannot know for sure how top performers are different from average and poor performers.

An example of a useless study is one performed by a large corporation at great expense. Their goal was to discover the top five characteristics of their top salespeople. They sampled over 100 sales superstars in various regions across the country and found that the top five characteristics their superstars all had in common were 1) the belief that good salesmanship required good problem-solving skills, 2) the belief that good salesmanship required anticipating and being prepared to answer objections, 3) being a good listener 4) wearing conservative clothes and 5) knowledge of the benefits of the company’s products and services.

However, when the poorest performers at the company were queried, the same five characteristics were found to be among the most common traits reported. As it turned out, the traits reported as important by both groups were often repeated by the company’s sales managers and all understood their importance, but not all had the personal attributes to do anything more than give the valued traits lip service.

The lesson: The structure of a study (the types of questions asked) can skew the results and, if you don’t have a means for discovering and validating the critical skills for success by comparing the differences in job critical traits between top performers, average performers and weak performers, the real factors that consistently distinguish the winners from the "also rans" will not be apparent.

6. Not researching the reasons people have failed in the job. Research consistently shows that people fail in a job due to factors different from the criteria used to select them. Most managers can list the three or four common reasons why people have failed. Surprisingly, however, this information is seldom part of the process used to select new candidates. Identifying predictors of failure and building the data into the selection process can reduce hiring mistakes by as much as 25 percent. Identifying predictors of failure and predictors of success and knowing exactly how well developed these essential predictors are in candidates can reduce hiring mistakes by a whopping 65%.

An example of how essential traits can be missed can be seen in the data on competitive sales averages. According to the data, it takes six sales contacts on average for potential customers to buy from a new salesperson. The average failed salesperson gives up after three contacts. So while some of their salestechniques may be adequate, if the tendency to give up too easily and too soon is never evaluated or discovered, a primary failure factor goes undiscovered.

7. Inadequate reference checks
In too many companies, reference checks are entirely inadequate. HR usually conducts them, using a carefully orchestrated, one-sided protocol. Yes, there are legal issues, and these must be addressed. But it's the hiring manager who should conduct these checks, after being taught how to do it right.

A reference call from one manager to another is very different from a call from an HR rep. Managers can delve into more detail, and they have both the expertise and the prerogative to pursue lines of questioning that HR lacks. Peers are more likely to be open and blunt with one another.

There's one critical question that comes across as much more profound when the hiring manager asks it, at the end of the reference call: "If you could have Joe work on your team again, would you hire him?" While the answer matters, it's the hesitation or the enthusiasm of the respondent that's critical. Manager to manager, this one question can reveal more than any other kind of reference check.

8. Failure to provide adequate information about the company
The typical job candidate arrives at the job interview knowing only what's printed in the want ad, and what your HR representative told her. What a great way to evaluate a prospective employee -- make it as much a "blind date" as possible! It is in a hiring manager's best interest to help job candidates prepare for the interview to the extent the candidate is interested in doing so. In fact, a candidate's interest or lack of interest in the company information you offer can tell you a great deal about the work ethic of the candidate.

Time and again, people who have just started a job share tales of woe. "The job isn't what I was told. There is no cooperation between departments. Sales aren't what they said they were.” Where such unpleasant discoveries await a new hire, it often isn’t long before he is interviewing for another job with another company.

What kind of information should you provide? That's up to you. But consider this: a candidate who makes good use of whatever resources you bestow prior to the interview will likely make as good use of the tools your department provides once she's on the job. It's a very telling test.

Here are some suggestions for prep materials. Prior to bringing the candidate in for an interview, offer her non-confidential information about:

  • your products and technologies
  • relevant but not-so-obvious web pages that might be useful
  • the problems and challenges your team is facing
  • industry issues that impact your business
  • the tools your team uses
  • methods you employ in project management competitors and vendors you deal with
  • articles about your company that illuminate how you run the business
  • historical information about your products and your company's growth
  • organizational information about how various departments work together
  • financial and profitability data, if your company is public (maybe even if it's not)
  • the names and telephone numbers of members of your staff

Treat the job interview as an open-book test, and give the candidate the book before the interview. Let her talk with you on the phone; let her talk to some of your team members; let her ask questions in advance. If you offer and she doesn't bother, you've learned something important. If she takes advantage of the information, imagine how fruitful the interview could be. You could talk about things that really matter -- like how the candidate can use what she has learned to make your business more profitable

9. Overly narrow job skills requirements
On the surface, this does not appear to be a problem. It appears to be an asset, which is why it is on the ten most common list. This problem usually occurs because a manager is in a rush to fill an open position. Usually, when a manager needs to add staff, it's because a project is behind schedule or a greater workload has created unanticipated problems. The manager needs help right now and doesn't want to have to baby-sit whoever is hired. They believe they can avoid that problem by hiring someone with the specific skills required for the job.

If you need specific expertise right now, the odds that you will find it as quickly as necessary are minimal, especially in a tight market. And the cost of leaving the work undone until you find exactly the person you want grows by the minute.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t clearly define the work you need to have done. You most certainly should. Just don't make the mistake of defining who can do the work in overly-narrow ways. There is great value in hiring talented workers and giving them the latitude to learn while they work.

Good people are thinking, problem-solving machines. They analyze, learn and quickly marshal their skills, abilities and knowledge to tackle and do the job at hand. It is skills and abilities, not specific knowledge of a technique or a tool that you are paying for when you hire a good worker. A good worker can quickly learn the specifics and master almost any tool you hand him. He might even introduce you to a few tools you didn’t know existed. A little guidance and a stack of manuals go a long way in teaching specific skills. Trying to teach problem-solving skills or a strong work ethic is another story.

10. Unreasonably long job offer process
If your company does not have a streamlined, fast-track job offer process, create one! A very common complaint among job hunters is that promised job offers take weeks to come through. Don’t schedule then cancel interviews, suggest that an offer is coming or make promises you cannot keep. It’s a good way to lose a lot of potentially great employees because the good ones won’t wait around.

Most companies are very aware that, if they drop the ball with one of their customers, it might cost them the customer, revenue and profit, so they go out of their way to be a responsible vendor. Yet, when it comes to hiring the people that ultimately determine how happy the customer is going to be, the process is not given anywhere near as much care as sales and customer service. When you are concerning yourself with the customer, but not the employees that ensure customer satisfaction, you are essentially slitting one wrist while bandaging the other. And, make no mistake, every single employee in your company impacts your ability to serve your customers.

Eliminate one blunder at a time
If your company is making some of these mistakes when hiring, don't plan on changing the system overnight. Eliminate one blunder at a time and enjoy the payoff as you continue to improve the process.

Adapted from Ask The Headhunter®.com

Article by Sherry Buffington, Ph.D.

Sherry Buffington, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of the Dallas based training, consulting and coaching firm, Star Performance Systems, which specializes in helping individuals succeed and organizations increase their productivity and profits by maximizing the potential of their people.