10 mistakes you’re making when hiring

You are making these 10 mistakes when hiring. Stop it!

1. Hiring too quickly.

The damage caused by a bad hire is far more significant than the impact of taking some extra time to make sure you’re hiring the right person. It’s worth it to leave a position open longer in order to find the right fit. But on the other hand…

2. Not moving quickly enough.

Employers who drag out the hiring process when they do have good candidates in the mix risk losing applicants to other offers. Plus, good applicants respect workplaces that can move quickly and make decisions.

3. Making hiring decisions that aren’t based on the right criteria.

For example, it’s not uncommon for interviewers to reject a candidate for being overly shy when being an extrovert has nothing to do with the job, or over-valuing industry experience rather than industry accomplishments.

4. Not distinguishing between what can be taught and what can’t.

You can teach someone to use a certain software program or understand your industry. You can’t teach someone to be organized or efficient or have a work ethic.

5. Not asking the right questions.

Interviewers often ask only superficial questions in interviews and don’t really probe beyond surface answers. For instance, think of the difference between “What were your responsibilities in that job?” and “Factor X must have been challenging. How did you plan for that?”

6. Letting candidates get away with superficial responses.

Too many interviewers simply run down their list of questions and don’t bother to probe the answers further in follow-up questions.

7. Not simulating the work.

It’s crucial to see candidates actually do the work, not just take their word for how they’d do it. If you’re not using exercises or simulations as part of your hiring process, you’re setting yourself up for a gap between how someone interviews and how they perform on the job.

8. Flakiness.

Imagine it from the candidate’s side: You say you’ll get back to them next week, but they hear nothing. The job description seems to be a work in progress that keeps changing. They arrive for their interview with Jane and learn they’ll be meeting with Bob instead. You tell them you’ll email info on benefits, but it never arrives. All these things send powerful messages about how they might be treated once they’re working with you.

9. Conducting intimidating, high-pressure interviews.

Unless the position requires the ability to perform in a hostile or pressure-filled situation, it’s more important to learn what candidates will be like to work with day to day, not what they’re like in an anxiety-producing interview. Interviewers will often learn more by being friendly and trying to put candidates at ease.

10. Not accurately portraying the job.

You might be tempted to downplay the less appealing aspects of the job, like boring work or long hours, but if you do that, you’ll end up with an employee who doesn’t want to be there. Instead, be up-front about the negatives so that candidates who won’t thrive will self-select out before you hire them.

{ 29 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    I especially love #4.

    Hire for the stuff you can’t teach – that was the advice my then boss gave me for my first hiring experience on the other side of the table.

    It’s a whole lot easier to vet specific skills then talents or attributes…but if you make the effort it does pay off.

    1. Vicki*

      #10 is so important. Not just with regard to downplaying the bad parts but simply not being complete. I accepted a job 6 months ago that seemed like a great fit during the interview. When I arrived on the first day, I discovered it was very different from what I expected… this became more and more obvious as the week progressed. It was so different, in fact, that I respectfully declined to continue after that week.

    2. Anonymous*

      Agreed on #4, after I was hired for my first job my manager confided in me that she had chosen me based on the creativity in my portfolio. She wasn’t worried about me taking time to learn the programs or office skills, because those things can be taught.

  2. Susan E*

    Another yay for #4. On #10, I agree, but with the caveat that a job seeker may discount or think that the negatives don’t matter or else not quite understanding what you mean. I always try to give examples, but that strategy isn’t always successful…

    1. Jamie*

      ITA. I think there is a direct correlation in how desperately one needs a new job and how strongly tinted the rose colored glasses are.

      1. ChristineH*

        You’re probably right, Jamie. For one job, the interviewer was upfront that the job was mostly data entry. I didn’t say it out loud, but I was getting desperate because I’d had several other promising opportunities fall through (including one rather shady interview process). So I knew in my head that the job would be boring, but I said I was willing to start anywhere. I ended up getting the job and stayed for a little over 4 years.

  3. ChristineH*

    I’ve had #1 happen to me a couple of times; both times, I was hired on the spot. I think hiring too quickly can be a sign of desperation on the part of the employer, mainly due to high turnover.

    While I completely agree that #7 is very important, I’m not sure it’s always practical, depending on the field and nature of the job. One thing about #7, though; I would think it’d be a good indicator to the candidate him/herself whether or not they’re cut out for a given type of job if they are new to the field/function. Thus, I would’ve known right then and there that my last job would’ve been way out of my comfort zone. lol.

    1. Anony Mouse*

      I think that you can always come up with *something* for #7, but it may not be quite as obvious as the examples given. For example, let’s say you are hiring an A/R Manager. You are not going to be like “hey, go collect on some accounts”, but you can say something like “You notice that average days outstanding on all accounts is 65 days. What are the first three things you would do?”

      1. Sophie*

        I like the idea of presenting a scenario in lieu of having the candidate actually perform something on the job. It would be difficult to replicate the work I do for someone who has not been hired, because it’s tech support at a university and there are all sorts of privacy/security policies at play, and you certainly wouldn’t want someone you’re interviewing talking to clients. Though that would be a hilarious situation.

        1. Anony Mouse*

          Right, for tech support, it makes sense to say “given this scenario, what are the first three things you’d check?”

          I think, what impressed me about the question the first time I was asked it, is the “three things” part, because if you really have a depth of knowledge in your field, you should have no problem coming up with three things off the top of your head. If it just asked “what would you do?”, I think it would be far less rigorous.

        2. ChristineH*

          The thing is, there has been a trend towards behavioral interview questions, which ask about previous instances; the thought is that past behavior predicts future behavior. So the A/R example could be, “How did you handle a pattern of past due accounts”. But I think it’s fine to pose a scenario if the applicant doesn’t have previous experience but is otherwise promising.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            You can also isolate exactly what trait/skill it is that you need the person to have, and then come up with ways to test it. It might not be doing the specific work, but a mini project that you come up with specifically to assess this — a fake technical problem to solve, or a role-play, or whatever. It could be “go through these complicated financial statements and then explain them to me in layman’s terms” or whatever it is that you need to probe on.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      The way I like to solve this, since I’m on the creative side, is to go through a fairly extensive review of the candidate’s portfolio, but not from the usual perspective of “show me your greatest hits!” I ask the candidate to tell me about the problem that the client asked the agency to solve, how the team went about solving that problem, and how that led to the finished ad (or brochure, or whatever it is s/he is showing me). One of two things happens: the candidate is able to talk confidently and knowledgeably about the thinking that went into the work as well as his or her individual contribution, or the candidate doesn’t have much to say. In the first case, I’m pretty comfortable making a hire without asking the candidate to complete any work-like projects as a test.

      With those who are new to advertising (or new to the niche area in which I work), I will give the candidate homework — either an ad that isn’t particularly well written that I ask the candidate to rewrite, or an article to summarize in three to four punchy bullet points that tell me why I would want to buy what’s being described in the article.

      1. JT*

        “I ask the candidate to tell me about the problem that the client asked the agency to solve, how the team went about solving that problem, and how that led to the finished ad (or brochure, or whatever it is s/he is showing me).”


        I had a professor who urged us to keep samples from throughout the whole creative process so we could show not just the final product but more of our thinking/decision-making as we went along.

    3. Anonymous*

      I think if a hiring manager tries really hard, they can come up with a simplified simulation for just about any job that will at least give them an idea of how the candidate(s) would work under similar circumstances. I was given a simulation with fake data (much less data than a real project would have, too), and the scope of the hypothetical project and its goals, and told to analyze the data and write up a presentation to the intended audience, all in less than an hour. This gave the hiring manager an idea of whether I could even comprehend data, analyze it succesfully within the goals of what the audience wanted to know, and write a coherent summary in a short amount of time, all skills I now use in the job (yes, I was hired at least in part based on my completion of the simulation). Sure, my actual job is more complex, more knowledge-based, etc., and in fact, they presented the simulation with the caveat that of course the data wasn’t complete, and I might have questions, but to make it fair to the others doing the simulation, too, I was just supposed to do my best without asking questions. There was a key piece of information I felt would have made the end result more accurate, so I noted that in my presentation, which impressed the hiring manager. But doing the simulation gave them an idea of how I organize my thoughts, whether I’m thorough, whether I can follow instructions, whether I can ignore things that don’t pertain, and whether I could write coherently (and with few errors) with very little time to edit (of course my cover letter and resume were impeccable, but I could have hired them done for all they knew).

      On the other hand, when they were hiring for my replacement, I suggested they do some simulation testing (we’ve had a couple of hires that did poorly at data entry which is a key component of the job), and my former boss had them take an online test that was only very vaguely related to the job, and required much more knowledge than a person in that position would actually need (my then-boss, the now-boss of that position who was my co-worker at the time, and I all took the test, and all scored around 70%). I don’t know how much that really told them about the candidate, and in fact, I think they only had their top candidate take it. Not sure how well she’s doing, since I’m not there anymore. :-)

      Anyway, I just wanted to illustrate that there are ways to simulate nearly any job, even if it’s with completely fake info, it just takes some time, on the hiring manager’s part, to do it right. But if you invest that time in creating the simulation, you can use it not only for all the candidates for the current position, but possibly for other positions or that same position the next time it opens up, with less tweaking than creating one from scratch would take, and the results from a GOOD simulation are invaluable.

  4. Kelly O*

    Nine is a very valid point – and in many circumstances, providing an overly aggressive or high pressure interview is going to turn off potentially great employees. I heard someone mention that they wanted to be tougher in the interview so they’d know how someone would react to a high-pressure situation. But the problem with that is this is a fairly laid-back environment/company/industry in general. So yes, maybe twice a year you have a week or two that is crazy, but otherwise, it’s calm.

    So you find someone who thrives in a high pressure, fast paced environment, and then when they show up expecting that, they find out the pace is slower. How long do you realistically expect that person to stay? (Same goes for the other way too. I’ve been in a couple of situations personally where things seemed really laid back and calm in the interview, and the workplace was insane.)

    It sort of ties in with three though – being realistic about what you’re using as criteria. No one person is going to be perfect in all situations, and trying to find that always perfect person is going to drive you and your interviewees batty.

    1. GeekChic*

      I agree with you and I’m one who has used a high pressure interview! I used them *because* the environment was consistently high stress and I wanted to turn people away who couldn’t handle it.

      The staff members I found using that technique loved the pressure and constant fast pace and thrived on the insanity plus I knew they understood what they were getting into. Any other environment and that type of interview technique would have come off as a power trip.

  5. Gallerina*

    I had a massive #7 fail at my interview today. They gave me a short test to do…but it was for a different position! I was interviewing for an Event Co-ordinator post and got given a task for Payroll.

    They didn’t realise until after I’d left and I got a panicky call from the recruiter asking me to do more tests from home. I did get the job though!

  6. KayDay*

    I generally agree that #7 (simulating the job) is a great idea, but unfortunately it can lead bad hiring managers to do #4 (not distinguishing between what can be taught and what can’t.) It’s important to make sure the test is testing what you need it to test.

  7. Interviewee*

    I’d like to add one- please, please, please, notify people that you interview that did not get the job. I’ve been through multiple rounds of interviews for a couple of different jobs where they never called me to tell me what happened. Both jobs I found out through the grapevine that someone else had been hired. I work in a pretty small field, and I must say, I have lost some respect for them. Employers, man-up and contact people who you didn’t hire!!!

    1. Terry*

      I agree. I thought that it is only common and professional courtesy to let the canidate know one way or another if he or she is hired. Even if not by mail at least via email, I don’t know maybe I am wrong…….

  8. Hopeful*

    #10 is so so very important. I recently left a job after 3 weeks because they pretty much lied about what the job would be. They stressed during the interview process that the believed that everyone should have a life outside of the office and shouldn;t stay past 5pm. In my 2nd week i was never able to leave before 7 if i was lucky. They said previous agency experience was extremely important to them, but never mentioned that they themselves didn’t run like a standard ad agency, only aspired to. There are too many inconsistencies to even go into. The thing i noticed the most on the first day was that they repeatedly described themselves as a close-knit family, but during my first week there, about half the employees didn’t acknowledge my existence. Fortunately for me another company i applied to invited me to interview and i ended up getting the job. I feel like i dodged a serious bullet.

  9. Samantha Jane Bolin*

    I work in a small office with a boss who is a transplant from another field. A couple of years ago, our AA left for ajob with more pay and benefits. I was tasked with reviewing resumes and interviewing to narrow the pool. I love open ended questions and have some good ones. He wanted me to interview someone who was recently laid off from his previous place of employment-his partners said she was good, wrote letters of recommendation (yes, they did!), so I interviewed her. It was obvious that she was not a good fit. I could easily tell she had no initiative, a phone call with her previous supervisor (not his partners-the office manager) confirmed my suspicions. So, I didn’t advance her. My top two choices turned us down, so rather than reopen the process, he hired her. Two years later he constantly complains about not having an assistant! When I remind him that she’s there, he says he can’t give her stuff to do. So, we pay her to work full time and she’s busy about 20 hours a week. Moral of the story: he was too concerned about filling the job quickly rather than correctly. I pay the price every day bc I have to do all of the thigs she can’t/won’t do. Drives me crazy.

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