What’s the best defense against a bad employee? Never hiring one in the first place.
According to the results of a CareerBuilder.com survey, “a bad hire costs much more than the average cost-per-hire,” with a new hire costing an estimated average of $1,000-$5,000, and a bad hire more than $25,000.
Not only do companies lose the time and money spent to recruit and train bad hires, but they suffer from effects the bad hire has on the rest of the company as well. Bad hires often cause issues with co-workers and customers due to poor work quality, poor attitudes, and poor deadline adherence. If a “bad apple” can spoil the whole bunch, imagine what two or three bad apples could do to your business.
While there’s unfortunately no 100% guaranteed hiring method, there are several common hiring mistakes you can easily take steps to avoid.
1. Not Knowing What You Really Want
The first step necessary to an excellent hiring decision is the one employers are most likely to mismanage—defining the job.
Yamatzy De León-Mettee of HR Department Unlimited explains, “Before you can expect to find the right person for a position, it is essential to first analyze the position thoroughly, and then consider what type of person would be most successful.”
Whether you’re trying to hire an on-site or office worker, not knowing exactly what you need will throw a giant wrench into your hiring process and lead to you wasting time on too many inadequate applicants. To avoid this, make sure to do the following:
Nail down exactly what the job requirements and responsibilities are, what skills are necessary to the position, and which qualifications are crucial. Then, think about which personality traits would contribute best to the position. A foreman with an inferiority complex won’t be able to effectively motivate site workers and an administrative assistant with the personality of a wounded grizzly is not the best person to act as the initial voice and face of your company.
Take note of your successful employees
What traits do successful employees in the same position have that contribute most to their success?
Aim high, but be realistic
It’s fine to imagine what the absolutely perfect candidate would be, but the odds of perfection walking into your office are slim to none. Make sure you’re not missing out on a great candidate in your quest for the “perfect” one.
2. Not Properly Advertising the Position
You can’t hire the best person for the job, if the best person doesn’t know it’s available.
Jayme Dill Broudy, the founder and principal of Contractor’s Business School asks: “Where's your ideal employee working today? How can you reach him?” Broudy then answers her own questions for you, listing, “Ads, agencies, trades schools, and union halls . . . (Hint: the best employees come from your network of friends, suppliers, subs, etc.)”
You should also consider advertising your job using social media, as social recruiting successes are consistently on the rise. Now this isn’t to say you should post a job on any and every site/board/etc., but you should not rely on just one path to lead you to the employee you’re looking for.
3. Interviewing Every Applicant
It sounds like common sense to interview all of the best applicants and then add a few “he’ll do” candidates as backup; however, how effective can a “he’ll do” candidate really be in the long run?
First, figure out what your absolute deal-breakers are and draw the line. Then, only interview the best applicants out of that group. Don’t waste time with the “he’ll do’s.” If none of your best candidates pan out, it’s time for another round of recruiting and interviewing—a “best” candidate is worth being short-handed for a little while longer, especially compared to the damage a “he’ll do” can cause to your company.
4. Unstructured and/or Subjective Interviews
While we’d all like to believe that “going with your gut” will always work out for the best, doing so during an interview often leads to the worst.
Don Moore, an associate professor at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business explains why interviewer impressions are often unreliable: "Interviews favor candidates who are attractive, sociable, articulate, and tall. They also favor manipulative candidates, or ones who know how to make a positive impression even in a brief interview. But those aren’t always the best job performers...It can be difficult for an interviewer to see past attractiveness and flattery to predict how a person will actually perform once hired."
It’s human nature to assume that a person you’ve taken a liking to will perform well—we all do it (it’s referred to as the Halo Effect), but you need to strive for more objectivity. Try the following:
Have an interview plan
The structure of each interview should be the same. Don’t interview off the cuff and don’t give any interviewees special/inferior treatment. As part of the plan, you should also use a consistent scoring system; this will make post-interview objective comparisons easier.
Do your homework
While each interview should be structured the same way, the individual portions should be tailored to each interviewee. Canned interview questions receive canned responses. Consider asking questions specific to the candidate’s noted strengths and weaknesses. Also consider using behavioral or scenario-based questions. These allow a candidate’s personality to more readily reveal itself.
Keep interview questions open-ended
Open-ended questions force the candidate to do most of the talking. There’s really no need for you to say much at all. Your job advertisement has already achieved the selling of your company and the position (or the interviewee wouldn’t be here) and should you like the candidate, you can always woo him or her later when offering the job.
Press candidates for specifics
If you ask an interviewee what he or she would do if an irate customer called in demanding a discount and she replies, “calm the customer down and see what we could work out,” ask her how she would calm the customer down. What would she say? How would she plan to go about working things out? Anyone can sound like she has all the right answers when offering vague and general responses, but quality candidates will actually have all the answers.
Have multiple interviewers
Even when we try our best, we can’t manage total objectivity. Tap current employees or peers, preferably those fairly different from yourself but with opinions you still respect, to either sit in on an interview or give a completely separate one. Comparing notes will offer you a more realistic picture of the applicant.
5. Not Having a “Well-defined Hiring Process”
If it seems like the answers to almost every mistake on this list involve planning, that’s because they do. You wouldn’t build a highway or any other super important structure without planning each and every step, so why would you build a business that way? Jayme Dill Broudy offers the following analogy:
When you invest $50,000 in a new truck, you probably shop around and think long and hard before signing the check. A $30/hour employee who stays for five years, however, is a $300,000 investment. How much research are you putting into that?
You wouldn't spend $300,000 on a piece of equipment without collecting a lot of data, asking lots of questions and minimizing the risk . . . .
The more you invest up front in defining what you want, sourcing solid candidates and screening them carefully, the more likely you'll hire the good ones. More work for you in the short run? You bet. Huge payoff in the long run? Absolutely!”
Start simply and write out steps of the process:
1. Define the job
2. Find Candidates
3. Select Candidates for Interviews
4. Initial Phone Interviews
5. In-person Interviews
6. Check References
7. Make the offer
Once you’ve figured out the initial steps that work best for your company, you can fill in the details (what the job definition is, where/how you plan to find candidates, etc.), most of which we’ve gone over already in this article!