10 Hiring Mistakes to Avoid

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 19th October 2015

In a world where people spend less time in one place than ever before, we all need to be adept at hiring good people. With so much to consider, how should the contemporary manager and leader approach recruitment?

Here are 10 tips to improve your recruitment success.

10 Hiring Mistakes to Avoid

1. Placing too much focus on the ‘hard’ aspects of the CV

If you are faced with many applicants for a post, it’s tempting to try and filter to a shortlist using just the key facts contained in a CV. But think about it: when you’ve made poor recruitment decisions in the past, did the CV’s look good? Probably.

A CV can be somewhat similar to an estate agent’s description of a house – a version of the facts, but tinged with a mixture of wishful thinking, being economical with the truth, and promotional hyperbole. If CVs were a helpful representation of the truth, we could do away with all that expensive and time-consuming interviewing.

Instead of just focusing on the ‘factual’ content of the CV covering qualifications, past roles etc, look at the other content. What is the person revealing about themselves in the way they write, in the decisions they have made, and in the layout of the CV? What type of person do they seem to be? What aspects have been glossed over? What can you read ‘between the lines’?

2. Not understanding the role requirements

It’s very hard to match an applicant to a role that is vague, so make sure it’s clearly defined. Not only do you need to know what responsibilities the job entails, but what characteristics are required for success, and what attitudes and values will fit with your team.

It’s hard (but not impossible if you analyse closely enough) to get this from a CV, but a detailed covering letter might give many more clues. Think about what questions you ask applicants to address in a covering letter that would tell you if they could be a good match for the role.

3. Ignoring behavioural clues

I’ve seen many interviews that have been organised superbly, but with little or no thought to the revealing psychology of the context. You can usually learn as much, or more, from the way the applicant approaches the tasks and situation than you can from the results.

Watch the way the applicants interact with others. I remember my grandmother telling my sister, “never stay with a man who is rude to waiters and shop assistants”. 40 years later, I finally understand what she meant. In those ‘moments of truth’, a person’s underlying attitudes, values and personality are revealed, so don’t just watch their presentation or the results of the team activity, but how they behave.

4. Not treating the interview as an audition

If you were directing a film, or recruiting for an orchestra, you wouldn’t expect to hire someone by sitting and chatting, or asking them questions about being an actor or a cellist, would you? You’d ask them to perform a scene, or hear them play.

It should be no different for other roles. Try to create realistic situations where you can watch them ‘doing the job’. This is harder to plan, and it may take longer, but it will be worth it.

Include the kinds of tasks they would be doing day-to-day, or ask them to present an action-plan for their first few months in the role. In this way, you can test initiative, comprehension, commitment, organisational skills, creativity and thinking ability.

5. Not making use of the tools available

Tools for assessment, profiling and the like have been around for decades. Much of the time, they are used very badly.

If you’re going to use profiling (and you should, as it’s an invaluable guide to likely behaviour and underlying attitudes) then make sure you understand how it works, what it can tell you, and what it can’t.

Take the time to interpret the results, comparing them to the needs of the role and the culture of the team. If you have other tools, such as tests or assessments, treat them the same. Don’t let them become a tick box exercise, where you’ve delegated some of the most important aspects to a junior person who isn’t in a position to understand the significance of the information produced.

6. Not taking short-listing seriously

When you decide to eliminate someone, they are gone, probably forever. Everything they represent and could have brought to the organisation is gone too. So don’t rule someone out (or in) on the basis of a criterion that isn’t worth it.

Choosing to interview someone because they have a particular qualification such as a degree, unless it’s truly essential to the job, is rarely an intelligent decision. Choosing not to short-list someone on the same basis however, could be far worse. If you interview someone and wish you hadn’t, that’s inconvenient and a waste of time. If you exclude someone on spurious grounds, they are gone… and you might just have missed a significant opportunity.

7. Not paying attention

It’s so easy for interviewing to become a routine, tick-box exercise, just another slot in the calendar. This is a big mistake. Hiring (or not hiring) someone is one of the biggest and most significant decisions a leader can take.

By recruiting someone, you are introducing a new element to your team, changing the dynamic, and gaining the potential to do great things. You could also be poisoning the water, and de-stabilising the team. So give the process the attention it deserves. Plan and prepare like it really matters, because it does.

8. Not asking intelligent questions

OK, there may be standard checklists or forms that you ‘have’ to use. But are they pushing you to ask intelligent questions and gather the information and impressions you really need? If not, change them or add new ones.

Think about the things you really need to know, and what questions will tell you the most important things? Make sure you really listen to the answers; don’t just spend the time filling in forms or writing down scores. Evaluate and ask supplementary questions. Dig. Challenge. This is a critical conversation, so treat it like one.

9. Making a decision on too little information

If you are torn between two candidates at the final stage, is it because neither quite fits, or because they both do? If it’s the former, do you really want to appoint? Or, if you think the candidate is worth having but doesn’t quite fit the role, can you change the role to gain the benefit of their capability for the team and the organisation?

If it’s the latter, can you take them both? Can you appoint one and use the other on a freelance basis for a while, until a vacancy arises? If not, ask them to do something else as a ‘tie-break’ task. Be creative, as talent is hard to find, and easy to let slip through your fingers.

10. Not learning from others’ experiences

Look at your organisation, and even your own team, and consider the arrivals and departures of recent years. For each member of the workforce, someone went through what is probably a lengthy and time-consuming (and therefore expensive) process and at the end of it, chose to appoint that person.

If unfortunate decisions have been made, find out what kind of recruitment processes were used, and avoid making the same mistakes. Similarly, ask questions about how the best recruits were found, and incorporate successful activities into your own process.

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