The 6 Huge Hiring Mistakes Everyone Makes

You need a top-notch team to do your best work--but you need to hire them first. Here's half a dozen common ways managers shoot themselves in the human-resources foot.

If you can recruit people who are talented, brilliant, natural leaders, it can make all the difference to your organization’s success--and your sanity as a leader. There is nothing that improves your chance of success more than having a strong, trusted team.

But even with the best intentions, you can choose badly. Particularly if you get really excited about a candidate and hire for the wrong reasons.

Here are six mistakes--some of which I've also made myself--that executives make when their misplaced enthusiasm for a candidate causes a superficial, rushed, and ultimately bad hiring decision.

1. Admire a past accomplishment too much

Very often a candidate will have an accomplishment in their past that is truly extraordinary. It’s more impressive than anything you’ve ever done and vastly overshadows the accomplishments of the other candidates. Wow! You’re Hired!

  • Don’t: Hire the candidate based on this one grand accomplishment alone.
  • Don’t: Assume this breakthrough will be repeated for you!
  • Do: Make sure they are ahead of the pack on many of the other hiring needs too.
  • Do: Make sure to get them to talk about how they will think, learn about, and do the specific things you need now--don’t assume brilliant success on the prior thing will automatically translate to brilliant success on what you need done.

Make sure you will love them just as much for other reasons---for the mainstream work they will do and for their personal contribution to your team. Don’t just hope for a repeat home run.

2. Put too much stock in advanced degrees

I know plenty of people with advanced degrees who are highly effective business leaders, but I know as many who are not. Advanced degrees alone are not proof of future business success. They are only proof that the person is capable of getting advanced degrees.

  • Don’t: Say “Wow, look at all those masters and PhDs--you must (by definition) be better than all the other candidates that don’t have all those impressive degrees”.
  • Do: Get them to talk about examples of what and how they have done the kind of things you need done.
  • Do: Get them to give examples of how they personally conceived of and led business change, growth, or transformation.

3. Too much experience

One of my first hires was a telemarketing guy who had 22 years of experience being a telemarketing guy. I was so impressed! Oops.

  • Don’t: Hire someone only because they have a huge amount of experience in the thing you need done. Remember, they might have so much experience in that job because they were never talented enough to get promoted. If you are hiring a deep expert you may be okay, but if you are hiring a leader be suspicious. You are always better off judging and hiring for smarts and future capability than past experience--because the problems and opportunities are always changing.
  • Do: Look for advancement on a resume over experience. Judge the person’s ability to solve problems, learn, grow, and lead others, not just how much experience they have.

4. Fall in love with the person

Okay, when after the interview you want to go out for drinks with the person even more than you want to work with them, make sure you are not mistaking how much you like the person as a potential friend, with making the right hiring decision.

  • Don’t: Make this decision by yourself. You’re in love. You are not thinking clearly.
  • Do: Get others’ help validating the person’s capabilities and fit for the job.

5. A great talker

Particularly in the case of sales and marketing people, remember these people are experts in selling. So they are selling themselves in their interview.

  • Don’t: Get so mesmerized by a great pitch that you think the person is a star.
  • Do: Press extra hard on examples of their success. Look for proof points that were unambiguously accomplishments of theirs alone, and check their ability to explain them at a significant level of depth.
  • Do: Ask them to describe a mistake or a failure they have overcome. A truly great candidate will always be enthusiastic to share a big lesson. A big talker will always resist showing any chip in the armor--or will give you an overly polished answer.

6. Failure to check references

This seems so obvious, but for all the rose-colored reasons listed above, I have seen executives not bother, or get too busy, or need to move too fast to check references. Then they get surprised and burned. In all the cases above, add to the DO list: check references!

A reference check adds a reality check to balance the things you fell in love with during the interviewprocess.

  • Don’t: Ever not check references. If you skip this, don’t be surprised if you get surprised!
  • Do: Always also check back channel references, not just the ones they give you.

The tricky part is that when you get a star sitting across the table from you, you indeed get pretty excited. And you get the feeling that it is a competitive situation so you will need to move quickly. Just remember, there are people who are not true stars who can get you as excited as the ones who are. Move quickly, but always dig deeper, and always check references.

Patty Azzarello is the author of Rise: 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life, available now from 10 Speed Press.

[Image: Flickr user Jes]

Add New Comment

4 Comments

  • Anne Pestel

    "A great talker: Particularly in the case of sales and marketing people..." makes me laugh a lot - even if you're totally right we are not all liars ;) Thanks for this GREAT article, let's applied it now!

  • Lynn Rinehart

    Great article.  I agree totally with what you stated.   I've applied for numerous positions and all have stated that they hired a person with more experience. Yet, when asked some of the questions like: what about a person that has stayed with one organization and worked up through and served on various committees, got the ball rolling on many company projects, and served under many different managers.  Does this not count for something?  When one is ready to make the move and feels that he/she can give more they don't get a chance because of lack of experience and in depth research by people hiring.  Those companies are losing some very valuable knowledge. That is one thing, I think younger people are afraid of the older generations' knowledge.  I think we have many people that have climbed the ladder to the top and got over promoted and are afraid of someone finding out.  So they stay away from hiring knowledgeable people that are older.  

  • Denise Iordache

    I hope every hiring manager out there will read this... I completely agree with the stance that you have to check the evolution of the candidate you are going to choose for the job. I believe is much more important to see a trend of growth in someone's resume, than to see they've worked for a very long time in the same company and the same position. 

  • Broderick Boyd

    Like the advice on not being too easily impressed by advanced degrees and years of experience. Counter-intuitive but powerful advice. Thanks.