Hiring the Wrong Person

No one hits a home run every time. Similarly, no one always makes a good hire. The process of selecting a person is challenging because, no matter how good a resume looks, nor how well someone interviews, not to mention what references say, there’s a component of the unknown. Plus luck. That makes it nearly impossible to anticipate if everything will line up beautifully, allowing the new hire to flourish.

Even though Susan was hired by Miguel, a seasoned manager, it wasn’t clear in the interview that she was going to be impossible to get along with. Unfortunately, that was the case. Smart and knowledgeable, her downfall was monopolizing conversations, bragging at every opportunity to senior management about the enormity of her contribution to the firm and, perhaps worst of all, interrupting her boss in meetings. Susan drove colleagues crazy. Indeed, they avoided asking her questions. Once, when conducting a job interview for a subordinate, Susan spoke for about 90% of the time. It wasn’t good.

At one point, Susan announced that she had received a job offer and was resigning. Talk about an ideal opportunity for Miguel to say goodbye! Unfortunately, while loath to keep her, timing was bad. He felt pressure. There were other gaps in the department; Miguel couldn’t find a replacement swiftly enough. A counter offer was made. She accepted. Things got worse. Susan was unbearable. And more expensive.

Time passed. Again Susan announced she had a job offer. This time, no counter was offered. No matter how challenging it might be to find someone who could do her work, keeping her wasn’t an option. That was a nearly perfect opportunity to see Susan clean her desk. Fortunately, Miguel was wise enough to learn from his mistake and accept her resignation, the second time.

Miguel was in a challenging situation. Susan was enormously frustrating for him, and the rest of the team. Periodically, he would encourage her to be aware of others, to no avail. If he could’ve, Miguel would have accepted her first resignation. Unfortunately, he felt Susan’s absence would have made him too vulnerable. Fortunately, she found a second opportunity at a time when Miguel’s team was strong enough to march on without her.

Glitzy academic credentials can be the downfall for many hiring managers. Recently promoted to a senior position, Jack interviewed many for a deputy role. After speaking with at least a few candidates twice, Jack selected one with impeccable academic credentials. And, the candidate reminded him of a previous hire, someone who seemed introverted and, under his guidance, evolved into a home run. Jack expected a similar performance. No such luck.

Sam wasn’t planning on blossoming. His academic credentials didn’t make a difference. He lacked an appetite for work. As a manager, he struck out.

Jack, working harder than ever in his own new, more senior capacity, couldn’t tolerate Sam’s approach. At one point, Sam announced to him that he wouldn’t work harder. That concept was foreign to Jack. A consultant told him to speak with Sam, ask him to evaluate his contribution, explain to him that he’s incompatible and establish a schedule for his departure. Once determined, Jack was instructed by the consultant to update his team on Sam’s pending exit and move on. Expend no more time, nor energy. Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, said the consultant. And with everyone at the firm watching, doing so sooner vs. later, allowed Jack to demonstrate that he accepted his mistake and was moving forward.

Paying attention to impressions when a manager wants to only pay attention to a candidate’s price tag, is a common error. Hank conducted interviews with six candidates. Afterwards, he determined all could fill the role but two were most attractive. One, Nicole, was especially appealing because of her low compensation package. Yet Hank sensed in the interview that Nicole wasn’t happy and he was concerned how that could impact the team. Still, her price tag was an aphrodisiac. The other finalist, Brian, wasn’t significantly more expensive and his personality was pleasant. Hank did some off-the-record reference checking. This confirmed his concerns about Nicole. Best of all, Brian’s a home run.

Managers who take the time to do informal background checks are seldom regretful. Those who neglect to, often make mistakes. Anyone in the industry who knows Grace, is familiar with her reputation. She’s miserable. Even the most pleasant people will tell you that. After two weeks at her current role, a colleague, Tim, called Grace’s former co-worker, Stanley. “All of us can’t stand her, and it’s been two weeks,” said Tim. “Everyone knows what she’s like,” said Stanley. Tim knew to call Stanley after the fact, but why didn’t he call before making an offer? Unlike Hank, Tim hadn’t made the off the record reference checks before hiring. He struck out.

Accepting a resume at face value is common. Managers, or background checks, have been known to stumble upon inaccuracies. James received a resume through the Internet. He shared it with a consultant. James had some interest. And some concerns. The consultant suggested that before interviewing, James have the candidate, Mike, write up the reasons for his various job changes. The writing was solid. An interview was held. Throughout the meeting, James sensed something odd. Later, he investigated to see if Mike was in good standing with the bar. For this, James was rewarded. He stumbled upon profiles of Mike that included more jobs than the resume shared. James spoke with the consultant about the inconsistencies. Mike, who was otherwise capable of performing the job, was no longer under consideration. If someone omits anything from a resume, don’t expect him/her to be honest.

Be alert.

  1. Don’t be fooled. Beware of tripping over snazzy diplomas.
  2. Don’t fall head over heels over low compensation packages.
  3. Don’t assume a resume is accurate. Complete off record reference checks. Or, have someone do them.
  4. Have various interactions with the candidate: in writing, on the phone and in person. This gives you a better sense of someone.
  5. Ask questions that require a candidate to reveal how they think. Ask for examples, so candidates explain what they do/don’t know.
  6. Try to get an idea of what the candidate does outside of the office. If a candidate doesn’t answer a question, revisit the question. If they still don’t answer it, ask them why they can’t be precise.
  7. Focus on what someone has the capacity to learn, not just what they know.
  8. Pay attention to who someone is as a person, as that’s more important than anything.

With luck, you may hit a home run.