Top Hiring Mistakes

Not Creating an Accurate Job Description

Describe the job accurately and honestly in your advertisement. If you don’t, you’ll less likely attract candidates with the qualities and abilities that you’re looking for.

A good job description is more than a simple list of duties; it should describe the role’s overall purpose, identify key areas of responsibility, and describe the specific skills needed to succeed.

Be sure not to “oversell” the position, either, leading applicants to believe that it offers more opportunities than it actually does. For example, don’t imply that there’s a likelihood of quick promotion if there isn’t. If you do, your ambitious new recruit may feel let down and leave.

Failing to Consider Recruiting From Within

Sometimes, the best candidates could be right under your nose!

It can make economic sense to fill roles internally, as it cuts the costs and time associated with advertising for external candidates. Also, an existing staff member will be familiar with your organization’s processes, values and mission. Chances are, they would get “up to speed” in a new role more quickly than an outsider would.

Promoting and training up your own people can boost their morale and productivity. And you’ll likely benefit from knowledge and experience from other parts of the business that could lead to better communication and collaboration.

Recruiting from within can also protect important knowledge that would be lost when people leave your team or organization. Our article, Succession Planning , has more on this.

Relying Too Much on the Interview.

Some managers use only an interview to evaluate potential candidates, but is it the best method?

Senior Google executive Laszlo Bock says, “Most interviews are a waste of time,” as interviewers can spend most of their time trying to confirm the impression they formed of applicants in the first 10 seconds of meeting them. And, as we discuss in our article, Effective Recruitment, a candidate may say or do anything to get the job that you’re offering.

One guard against this is to use Competency Based Interviews , but consider also supplementing these with a test or exercise to find out how candidates might perform for real. For example, you can use an Inbox/In-Tray Assessment  to reveal how good they might be at planning, organizing, prioritizing, and communicating.

Evaluating skills and behaviours through diverse means will also allow a diverse range of candidates to shine. After all, not every potentially excellent team member can present themselves at their best under artificial, nerve-wracking conditions. This is especially true if they are, for example, autistic or dyslexic, or struggling with a poor internet connection.

Using Unconscious Bias

Recruitment relies on your decision-making abilities, which means that you must avoid unconscious bias . You may unwittingly discriminate against certain candidates in favor of people who share your background, social class, ethnicity, age, or gender.

Accepting candidates regardless of any of those characteristics means that you have a larger pool of talent to draw from, improving your chances of recruiting the best person for the job.

However, as unconscious bias is by definition something that you’re not aware of, simply trying hard to escape it is unlikely to work. Instead, create systems that undermine or block its effects, such as anonymized shortlisting. At the least, be sure to invite colleagues from beyond your usual circle to contribute to selection and to constructively challenge your judgment.

Hiring People Less Qualified Than You

Some managers are afraid of taking on someone who is more confident or talented than they are, because they feel that they may be a threat to their position . But smart managers know that they need bright people to share their insights and bring their strengths to the team.

Hiring people who are better than you can improve your own skills and drive your business forward. A good example to follow is that of renowned U.S. automotive executive Lee Iacocca, who said, “I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.”

Rejecting an Overqualified Candidate

It’s tempting to reject an overqualified candidate, either for the same reason as in Mistake 5 above, or because you’re afraid that they will become bored and leave your organization for a more satisfying challenge elsewhere.

But highly experienced and talented  people may have the skills and ability to help you to develop your team – even if they don’t stay long. And to encourage them to be loyal  to your organization, think about what opportunities for development, progression or reward you might be able to offer to this exceptional person.

Waiting for the Perfect Candidate

You may have a picture of the ideal employee in your mind. But, as you wait for them to appear, you may be jeopardizing your team’s productivity by keeping it understaffed for too long. Your team members may have to pick up the extra workload  or work overtime, which can affect their morale.

Recruiters call perfect candidates “purple squirrels,” because they are so rare! Instead of waiting for someone who fits the role exactly, it’s usually best to hire someone who meets most of your key requirements, who fits or adds to your corporate culture, and who has good soft skills . They can pick up job-specific skills once they’re in place.


In contrast to those candidates who exaggerate their capabilities, some will play down their suitability for the role. They share the belief that you should wait for a perfect match and are honest enough to say they are not it!

(You can hear more about The Paula Principle , which explores the idea that most women work below their level of competence, in our Expert Interview with Tom Schuller, who coined the term.)

In this case, make your core priorities clear, demonstrate flexibility, and enable candidates to show their full potential, otherwise you might both lose out.

Rushing the Hire

OK, the perfect candidate may not exist. But that doesn’t mean you should rush to hire just anyone.

Take your time. Think about what it’s going to cost in time and money to hire and train  someone, only to find that they’re not up to the job. You could end up having to repeat the whole process.

Interview twice if you have to and, if necessary, arrange for an external contractor to cover the role until you’ve got the best person that you can.

Relying Too Much on References

How much can you trust the information on a résumé?

While applicants may have listed excellent experience and qualifications, you’ll likely want to check the truth of the details they’ve provided. One way to do this is to ask for references.

However, don’t place too much weight on references, good or bad. Someone’s positive experience at one organization does not mean that they will automatically shine at yours. And a negative reference from a previous employer does not mean that they won’t thrive on your team.

As we suggested earlier, you can find out if a candidate has the right skills for your team by setting them a test or exercise that is relevant to the role that your are advertising. You can also do things in the early weeks of an appointee’s employment with you to catch problems early. Read on to find out more.

Expecting Too Much, Too Soon From a New Recruit

Don’t assume that, thanks to your rigorous selection process, the appointee will simply “hit the ground running.”

Typically, it takes a new starter about three months  to become fully integrated into a team and to begin producing significant results. It’s understandable to want to see an impact more quickly, especially if the position has been vacant for a while, but this can mean that you don’t give them the time to “learn the ropes” properly.

During the first few weeks, it’s important to help your new recruit to familiarize themself with the organization’s and team’s goals, and to support them as they learn. Make them feel welcome  on their first day, and introduce them to the team. Let them know that they can ask questions and seek advice, and arrange regular meetings to see how they’re doing.

We recommend Onboarding With STEPS . And why not share How to Pass Your Probationary Period  with your new colleague?

Key Points

Hiring new staff can be an expensive and time-consuming process, so it’s important to get it right. You want to make sure that you recruit someone who’s the best person for the job and who fits into your organization, so that you’re not facing continual turnover.

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