How to Avoid Costly Hiring Mistakes

When is the last time you said to yourself, “how did that person get picked for the job?” It’s not uncommon for management to make poor hiring decisions when filling critical jobs. The price is high and the consequences are significant.

Having the right person in the job is essential in increasing productivity. Hiring people for critical positions is not hard. Yet, often times, management is unaware of the criteria needed to successfully fill a position. This becomes evident when there exists a lack of clarity to what is really needed in order to perform the job well.

Organizations tend to know what they need an individual to do and what competencies are required. Lower level sales and sales management jobs are fairly well defined. However, the higher up the position and the less frequently it is filled, the more unclear people are as to what is needed. Sales management jobs require a core set of skills, that we all know, need to be present.

Some of these common skills are leadership, coaching, communication, and planning. What is missing however, are the skills that may be most important to the organization at that time or how these common skills are applied. Examples of where the common skills need to be applied are when making tough decisions, working within the values or culture of the organization, dealing with ambiguity, gaining collaboration from others, or motivating people to change. When key skills, values, motives, or traits are missing, failure is likely. What creates even more confusion is the selection making process and the team’s decision making ability within this process. When individuals are hired to fill key jobs many people get involved. Of those involved, each individual has his or her own picture of what the candidate should look like. Many times they have unconsciously singled out a particular quality and focused their attention on finding the person who possessed that one quality, while failing to consider all other critical characteristics.

Managers continue to put a tremendous amount of emphasis on industry or job experience. The perception remains that demonstrating such experience is critical to becoming productive quickly and establishing credibility within a team, which are considered to be two core skills necessary to do the job well. This may be true with short term goals, but long term, it is irrelevant. Simply because an individual held a certain position at one company does not mean he or she has the ability to hold an equivalent position at your company. When employees discover the new hire can’t provide the value they need, the new hire’s credibility quickly diminishes.

Industry knowledge without the skills in which to apply them is useless. It’s this trend executive search firms and employment agencies built their businesses around.Hiring individuals for middle and upper management positions occurs less frequently than hiring for entry level positions. As a result, the individual(s) making the decisions are not experienced or skilled at identifying and selecting the right candidate for that particular job. This speaks to why so many people are puzzled when certain individuals get promoted to high level jobs. This experience and skill is developed through practice.

What do you need to do to be effective when hiring individuals for key positions? Follow these guidelines:

1.  Identify what competencies you need

  • Determine the most critical skills, knowledge, and values/motives/traits/characteristics. Be specific.
  • Narrow the list to the most critical. Make sure to have only a few skills, knowledge criteria, and values/motives/traits/characteristics. If anything, minimize the knowledge competencies since those are most easily trained.

2.  Interview for each key competency

  • Ask questions that uncover the level of ability for each competency.
  • Understand what defines the different ability levels for each competency. If you can’t assess the answer, asking the question will be of little value.
  • Use past performance-based questions. Asking what someone might do is far less of a predictor of future performance than understanding how similar situations were handled in the past.

3.  Use a decision making matrix.

  • Weigh each competency, putting more weight on those that are not trainable (i.e., values/motives/traits/characteristics).
  • Determine what score a candidate must reach in order to be selected as the right candidate.
  • Gain agreement with those involved in the decision making process to provide input on the same competencies.
  • Score all candidates on the competencies, multiplying the score against the weight.
  • Use the matrix to have objective discussions with others about a group of candidates or individuals. Explore why individuals received certain scores. Use the weight method and predetermined score of the ideal candidate to determine whether you have a quality person or need to keep looking.

Awareness of how to hire and what to hire for is critical. Having the patience to wait until the right person surfaces, the passion to hire the right person, the resilience to say no to many qualified people who look right but won’t be able to get the job done, is essential.

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