Two Reasons Why You Keep Making Mediocre Hires

The fact that you can’t afford an expensive recruitment firm is no excuse for attracting the same underwhelming job candidates.

Two Reasons Why You Keep Making Mediocre Hires
[Photo: Everett Collection via Shutterstock]

“I made a tremendous hire recently,” a colleague recently told me. I couldn’t remember the last time I heard that type of remark.


We all want to be able to say something similar, and we want “tremendous” to mean many things: right for our company, contributing to a diverse team, passionate about our mission or project, and more. But hiring people who fit that description is more often the exception than the rule, and these are the two main reasons why.

1. You’re Trying To Go It Alone

First things first: Many of us aren’t in a position to bring in expensive recruiters and hiring firms in order to source great talent for our teams. But that doesn’t mean settling for mediocre, and often similar, candidates. Partnering with associations, networks, meetup groups, or niche organizations–yes, including some you’ve never heard of–can be a huge opportunity for organizations to improve their talent pipeline. Not only that, but these types of partnerships can also attract a wider network of supporters, users, and investors.

But it takes real commitment and work. To be frank, “partnering” doesn’t mean buying advertising, sponsoring a onetime event, or unloading free stuff on a partner organization’s members. Is there a meetup group in your city that specifically supports women learning to code? Don’t just sponsor the drinks once a year (well, do that, but not just that!)–encourage your staff, especially any women already working in technical positions, to join up and get involved with the group’s members for the long term.

Is there a professional association or geographic network focused on your industry? Don’t become a member just so you can pop a JPEG of their logo on your site (again, do that too, but go further)–actually show up at events, offer to volunteer with outreach or recruitment, and share your experience and knowledge back with the community.

If you build these relationships, you can start attracting smart, qualified, and likely more diverse candidates who you may never have reached or who might not have considered working for you. What’s more, that pool of new applicants will be more self-selected: You won’t be competing with every other company that blanketed the usual job sites with a listing.

2. You’re Writing Bad Job Descriptions

Ever applied for a job (or a contract or client) only to learn that the opportunity wasn’t quite as advertised? Often that’s because the organization or hiring manager didn’t exactly know what was needed.


Look at the last job description you posted–specifically at those bulleted lists of “qualifications” or “skills” or “duties”–and compare it with what the person who now fills that role actually does day to day. Chances are you’ll see a gap there. That gap that is your opportunity.

“I made a tremendous hire recently for an ‘office manager who can do everything,’” Sara Figal, the executive director of Nashville Conflict Resolution Center, recently told me. She attributed her success to writing a job description that outlined concretely what actually needed to be done–and listing no educational requirements.

“I found a woman over 50 who can manage data with ease, deal with our CRM, do bookkeeping with QuickBooks, and send out letters with flawless grammar and punctuation,” Figal says. “It happens that she did not go to college–and it matters not a whit.”

What I hear in that example is the simple need for honesty. Being honest, clear, and direct with potential hires about what they may be signing up for means there won’t be any surprises once someone comes on board. Know your organizational and staffing goals as they actually are–don’t hire for an ideal set of needs you don’t yet have.

Creative Commons recently posted two new job openings and announced several more to follow. But it used the occasion to be surprisingly transparent about its diversity goals:

When drafting these postings, we did a final round of revisions in response to insights about how different genders approach a call for applications. Research suggests that women often choose not to apply for a position based on the requirements they don’t have, while men tend to apply regardless. Some have suggested this is a problem women should fix, which to me is about as backwards as saying women get paid systemically less for the same work because they don’t ask the right way. I think it’s a challenge for Creative Commons to address, and for me personally—ensuring we ask for everything we do need, and nothing we don’t. If we can’t hire talented, qualified women, that’s our fault, not the fault of talented, qualified women.

The “pipeline issue” isn’t someone else’s problem. There are practical steps we can take that make our organizations stronger, better connected to our communities, and contribute something of real value. The only thing is that hiring mediocre candidates is easier–especially when you don’t have the budget to bring in a team of experts.


So do your homework: Find a group, event, or network where you can show up in a real way, and the next time you’re ready to post a job opening, do yourself and your applicants a favor and be as honest and open as possible.