addressing a new hire’s known weakness

A reader writes:

While I’m excited about two people I recently hired, nobody’s perfect and there were a few small concerns with both that came up through the hiring process. One person had a great follow-up exercise and awesome experience, but somewhat lackluster communication in person. The other person had a great interview and awesome experience, but his writing contained some mistakes.

Overall, both people wowed us, and we’re very excited to have them on board. But while the concerns we had were not enough to disqualify them from the job, they do point to some small things that we’ll want to troubleshoot from the start.

I know that the best approach is to be honest with the new hires about the potential weaknesses we’d like to work with them on improving (framed in the context of how excited we are to have them on the team, of course). My question is: When is the best time to have that conversation? On Day One? Or should we wait a few weeks, not kill their excitement buzz, and have that conversation once they’re a little more settled in?

First, kudos to you for being realistic about what is and isn’t a deal-breaker in hiring but also about the fact that these are areas you’ll want these new employees to pay attention to.

I think there are two options in this situation:

1. You can mention this to them before you offer them the job. For instance, “We think you’re an incredibly strong candidate, and there’s only one thing holding us back at this point — we noticed some mistakes in your writing, and that’s an area we’re committed to achieving perfection in. Is that something that you think you’d be willing to work with us on, or does knowing that we’re going to be sticklers in that area seem like something that would annoy you?” Most people are going to say yes, of course they’d be happy to work on it. Once that’s out of the way, you hire them, and they come in knowing that that’s going to be something they’ll need to work on.

2. You can mention it after they start — but not on their first day, as no one wants to get criticism when they’re all excited/nervous on the first day of their new job. Wait a few weeks, at which point you might have actual examples of it that you’re seeing on the job, and you can talk about those rather than even having to refer back to their interview. Or, if it’s the sort of thing that you really need to address faster than that, you could say something like, “We always scrutinize our top candidates in the hiring process to figure out where they’re going to need the most help once they start, and with you, we think it’s probably ____.” That presents it as something you do with everyone, and underscores the concept of “no one is perfect so you shouldn’t freak out about getting corrective feedback this early on.”

I still wouldn’t do it on day one though; give them a chance to settle in a bit first.

{ 5 comments… read them below }

  1. HRD*

    We would always have a probationary period for new starters. A three month period where we provide extra support, one to ones etc. but also can call it quits at the end in the rare case where things aren’t working.

    Critically during this period we would also set objectives so that the new hire knows exactly what our expectations are and also gets a sense of focus, direction and alignment with the company goals.

    In my opinion this would be a good time to discuss the feedback and build it into an objective. A “what we didn’t see in the selection process was xxx (i.e. a real focus on accuracy in written communication) and so during the next few weeks we’d like you to demonstrate this in your work”. You can then pick up on any issues during the first few months and provide support, guidance etc.

    This would normally take place in the first week, but certainly not the first day.

  2. Karen E. Brennan*

    As you mentioned nobody’s perfect. Present the situation as more of a positive opportunity for the applicant to polish their skills and that’s the way they will see it.

    I, for one, would appreciate to know upfront what I should concentrate on instead of letting it slide until later. Continuous informal feedback would be preferred to a one time formal review.

  3. Just Another HR Lady*

    I would agree with AAM and probably discuss it even before the job offer was made. i.e. Joe, we are very interested in you for the job, but we do have one concern about your XX skills. We would be asking you to attend XYZ training early on in your career with us to address the concern.

    Typically a candidate will know already if they are missing a skill or requirement. I personally would be really pleased to be offered training to overcome some skill I was missing if it would qualify me for a job that I wanted.

  4. Anonymous*

    Holy cows! I would be so devastated if I found this information out after I had been hired. Even your enthusiasm and excitement to work with me would never make up for a blow like this. (Being hired, but even before day one, knowing I’ve got a list of “Areas that need improvement”.) I would be demoralized and would start doubting my own ability to perform the job. (I’d probably start wondering why you even hired me if I was so defective.) Maybe I’m painting an extreme picture, but think about it from their perspective.
    Please, if you can, follow AAM’s advice and mention it prior to offering the job, OR better yet, wait until you have on the job examples of things that need correcting. Perhaps they will self correct once they get the job and understand what the standards are at your company.
    You will know what to look for in their behaivor/performance, but have the kindness to wait until they are proving incompetence on the job first. Correct quickly, but kindly.

    By the way, have you heard of Marcus Buckingham and the Strengths Finder Assessment?

  5. Seattle Interview Coach*

    I’d go with option #2: give feedback only if the hiring manager has concrete on-the-job examples. It seems premature to persecute before the employee has had a chance to prove himself. Furthermore, nothing dampens enthusiasm for a new job than a boss that is eager to point out a candidate’s faults — before he/she starts.

    – Lewis, AKA

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