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7 Common Hiring Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

In Hiring Strategy — by Riia O'Donnell

229HThe pressure is on to get that seat filled. The hiring manager is calling you daily, the coworkers taking up the slack are at breaking point, and you really want to get it done. But finding the wrong candidate is worse than finding none at all – it means having to start over again in a few months. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the cost of a bad hiring decision can be as much as 30 percent of an employee’s annual salary. That’s a whopping $24,000 in lost expenses for an $80,000 position. Don’t let the pressure put you in a situation to choose too hastily. Take the time to avoid these common hiring mistakes and get the right fit the first time.

 1. Failure to Prepare

Painters live by the credo “It’s all in the prep,” and so should recruiters. Before you place that ad, make sure you know what (not who) you’re hiring. That starts with a current and accurate job description that outlines the work, not the worker. Meet with the manager to plan strategy and together, review the job description to get the perfect fit. “When was the last time the JD was reviewed?” you ask. You cringe when they answer, “What JD?” or “No idea.” But the time you take now to get it current is time well spent.

Getting the duties right gives you the power to get the hire right. What are the most important responsibilities of the job? What do they do daily, weekly, monthly, annually? What experience, skills or degree is required? What physical requirements need to be met? Having that information is key. In my years as a recruiter I frequently flexed my HR muscles and told managers I couldn’t post their position until the job description was current. Even if they balked, most admitted the hour we spent in prep ultimately helped them hire the right candidate – who usually became a long-term, valued employee.

 

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Once the description is up-to-date, ask the manager for characteristics they believe a candidate will need to be successful in the slot. Is meticulous attention to detail necessary? Is the team very laid back and looking for someone who will fit in? Is a positive attitude needed to work with difficult customers? These qualities are not easy to spot on a resume, but can be sought during the interview process, helping you find just the right fit. It’s all about the prep!

2. Casting a Narrow Net

You post your jobs in the same old spots and guess what? The same candidates apply over and over again. It might be time to cast a wider net. While some jobs do require local candidates (like police and firefighters), most really do not. Casting a wider net gives you a broader applicant pool. And more choices are always better than fewer. Opening the door to a larger variety of candidates can also help you diversify your staff with a wider range of skills, experience, and points of view.

Candidates today are rarely looking in the local paper for a job. Using your website to post openings is great, but only if people happen upon your page at the right time. You need other sites to drive traffic to yours, to your Facebook page, your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, all at the right time. Using a resume feeding system is just what you need to broaden your options when hiring for one specific opening, or for bringing in volume when you’re hiring en masse.

Looking for highly skilled employees? Post in the trade magazines they read. Looking for entry-level applicants? Reach out to community groups, or agencies that work with the disabled community, the homeless, or other persons in need. By developing a relationship with those groups for all your trainable positions, you can strengthen your pipeline and feel great about it.

3. Resisting Technology

Are you still taking your clothes down to the river to wash them on the rocks? Do you drape your unmentionables over shrubbery to dry? Of course not: There’s a better way and you’d be silly not to use it. The same applies with screening candidates. Sifting through that mountain of resumes is positively prehistoric. Printing every email you receive wastes time and resources. You know exactly what you’re looking for. The next step should be sifting through the top candidates, not reading resume after resume that “doesn’t meet your requirements, but is very interested in learning.”

 

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Using applicant tracking systems not only casts a wide net to bring in applicants, by driving traffic directly to your posting, but it screens for the top candidates immediately. Instead of schlepping home a briefcase full of resumes to read (we’ve all done it), you’re moving directly to scheduling phone and in-person interviews and getting that position filled. Not just smart – cost-effective, and easier on your back, too.

4. Skipping the Phone Interview

Pre-interviews, like a 10-minute phone call, are key to optimizing your time. The resume looks great, but can’t tell always tell you critical information. They may indicate they have an “excellent command of the English language” for that call center spot, but only a phone interview can assure it’s true. The need for a bilingual candidate can only be verified by phone. Some candidates won’t include crucial information, like salary history, unless they get a phone call; others might no longer be available or interested. While the phone interview may be a step candidates don’t prefer, it’s very helpful to recruiters when trying to optimize the actual face to face interview time you spend on each hire.

5. Having Too Many Cooks 

Even if you’re hiring a chef, too many cooks really do spoil the broth. Best practice: Limit the amount of candidates and interviewers to a minimum. If you’re filling a single spot, the more applicants you see the easier it is to forget who said what and how they presented themselves. And no, you can’t take pictures of them to remember who’s who – EEOC would have a field day!

For a single opening, plan to bring in the top five applicants. Decide who really needs to be involved in the interview process: when you need them, and how to keep track of their input. Your goal is to get the applicant through the chain efficiently, make sure every voice is heard, all while not wasting anyone’s time.

Many companies let HR do first interviews, sending on candidates who make the cut. Some let department heads manage their own hiring from the start. Whatever the process, it’s important to keep the numbers manageable when it comes to interviews. The hiring manager is critical, but are coworkers needed in the process? Having a panel of people involved on a first interview, some of whom don’t ask a single question, is not only a waste of resources, it can intimidate applicants and send the message that you rule by committee.

Remember, too, that if they’re not properly trained, people involved in the interview process open the door to inappropriate or even illegal questions. “Oh, how many kids do you have?” is an icebreaker for the rank and file – for the HR manager it’s a nightmare. Keep it simple and efficient.

6. Talking Rather than Listening

You’ve got the top applicants lined up for interviews. You’ve sent them the job description, hoping they’ll read it and ask smart questions about the job and the company. You’re planning a marathon interview day. Now be quiet. That’s right, be quiet. Most interviewers talk too much and ask the right questions the wrong way.

“As you saw on the job description, we need someone who has done xyz, have you?” That question elicits a yes/no answer – not exactly enlightening. Asking open-ended questions – “tell me about your experience with xyz…” requires a thoughtful answer that will not only give you insight into their background, but also gives them the opportunity to talk about and reveal themselves. If there’s an awkward silence, let it be. Tell them to take a moment to think about their answer. They will try to fill it, and you’ll get a lot more information than you otherwise would. An interviewer’s role is to ask questions that prompt a lengthy, detailed response. On average, talk about 20 percent of the time, and listen 80 percent.

7. Failing to Check References 

They look great on paper, they interviewed like they not only owned the place, but were planning on putting it on the proverbial map. Everyone along the way in the hiring process is giddy with anticipation for them to start – they’re already planning a welcome party. But are they really who they seem? Some people interview so well, you wonder if they got so good at it by doing it so often. Others don’t have the skill set to “sell” themselves, but they have the skills to perform.

 

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Whether they’re stellar applicants or wallflowers waiting to blossom, verifying they are who they say they are and have done what they say they’ve done is critical. From entry-level candidates who exaggerate about how much experience they have (or don’t), to high-level hires that inflate their achievements – “trust but verify” is HR dogma.

Many years ago, when I started out in HR as a recruiter, a mentor told me “10 years after they graduate, a person’s degree is meaningless: They’ve either been doing the work they trained for, which means their experience trumps their degree, or they haven’t, which makes their degree useless. But either way you need to verify they got it, and everything else they say they’ve done.” I can’t count how many times those words saved me from making major hiring mistakes.

Some people call it harmless fudging, others call it puffery, but in reality, it’s just plain lying. I once had a candidate for a very niche scientific position get through weeks of interviews with flying colors – he was a shoe-in. The last step was reference checking before compiling his offer letter. No problem, I thought. Until I tried to verify his education: his university not only denied he had a master’s degree, they told me he had dropped out over a decade before. When I confronted the candidate, he admitted he had lied. But more shocking was his comment, “You’re the first person who ever checked.” He’d been working in the field, pretending to have the degree, for over 10 years!

Why start a relationship with someone you can’t trust? Checking references – every single one – is necessary to make the best choice possible.

By avoiding these common hiring mistakes, and using your own instincts and savvy, you’ll hopefully launch long-term, mutually beneficial working relationships with your new hires. Good luck!