10 common hiring mistakes

Sure, I’d welcome to the team a Computer Engineer with great communications skills, but STEM grads aren’t especially known as clear communicators.

Yesterday I read an article called “What High-Quality Job Candidates Look for in a Company.”

The piece contrasts the job and company characteristics that high-quality candidates look for with those that comparatively lower quality candidates look for, with an intention to help hiring managers attract the right people.

While reading it, I started thinking about some common mistakes made by hiring managers. I jotted down a bunch (a quick count reveals 10) of mistakes that I’ve seen, experienced, or heard over the years.

As usual, not in any particular order…

And, as usual, you’re invited to share your own thoughts!

Hire quickly to avoid losing budget

The idea of a resource budget having an expiry date might make sense to an accountant, but it creates a perverse incentive to rush a decision. Rather than taking your time and finding the best candidate, you have to abbreviate the process and hire the best so far. That’s not optimal.

Divided responsibility, and no one voices their concerns

Some people try to avoid being accountable for a decision (for fear of making a wrong decision), and so they’ll invite several coworkers to assist in the interview process so that the decision is shared or more easily defended.

Alternatively, having multiple interviewers (perhaps spread out over a couple of rounds) is simply a sign of inclusion and is meant to ensure a new hire and his or her potential colleagues have met and vetted each other.

Regardless of the motivation, though, the plurality of interviewers can create a situation in which people don’t voice their concerns. Let’s say I interview someone, and it’s generally positive but I have some misgivings. However, I also know that two other folks are interviewing the candidate. I might be inclined, if I don’t want to stir the pot, to just mention the positives and ignore the negatives – under the assumption that one of the other interviewers will raise the same or a different issue.

The problem with this scenario is that sometimes every interviewer feels the same way. Everyone has a misgiving but doesn’t share it, and you hire someone despite red flags because those concerns were never voiced. A year later, when you’ve fired the person for stealing TVs from the office, everyone comes out of the woodwork with “Man, I had a weird feeling when I interviewed him!”

Hire for now, while ignoring the future

You hire someone who fits the role now, without considering two future problems:

  • The responsibilities of the role are projected to greatly expand, quite rapidly, and you ignore the reality that the candidate probably won’t be able to keep pace
  • The responsibilities of the role are going to be pretty constant for quite some time, but the candidate is extremely interested in growth

In both cases, the result is poor.

Hire for the future, while ignoring the now

Quite similar to the point above, there are two potential problems here:

  • You hire a candidate with high potential, but he or she is going to get tossed in the deep end right away and might not be able to cope
  • You hire an overqualified candidate, because the role is projected to expand in the future, but he or she is miserable from the outset…and what if the role doesn’t grow as planned?

Don’t stay true to your requirements

In the planning stage, let’s say you come up with three fundamental requirements: A, B, and C. Then, during the interview process, you really fall in love with a candidate – great personality, would fit in the team, really eager, some good qualifications – but he or she only meets requirements A and B.

There might be a temptation to talk yourself out of how important C was. Maybe you hire the candidate and it works out – he or she picks up C like a fish to water – or maybe it doesn’t work out.

Narrow thinking about qualifications/designations

OK, before you get in my grill about this one: I’m not talking about legal/professional requirements that’ll get you sued if you ignore them. With that out of the way…

I run a product marketing team, and we develop the messaging for some pretty niche, pretty technical products and technologies. The temptation, then, is to look only (or primarily) at folks from Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Software Engineering, and related STEM fields.

But here’s the thing: product marketing is, fundamentally, about communications. Sure, I’d welcome to the team a Computer Engineer with great communications skills, but (at the risk of offending folks, although I expect more people will agree than not) STEM grads aren’t especially known as clear communicators.

So then the frequent thinking is that the technical qualification is most important, and the candidate will pick up the communications stuff (it’s all so fluffy, anyway, right?) on the job. In my experience, this doesn’t work: communications skills aren’t something that most people just pick up later in life. I’m gonna stay true to my requirements that the candidate be a great communicator.

In fact, continuing with my experience, great communicators are far better at learning and communicating technology than technologists are at learning communications. In that vein, my two most recent new-to-company hires have, respectively, extensive television and stage training.

Too much weight on experience

I’ve written in the past about the debate between excitement and experience, and for that post I solicited input from a number of friends and colleagues. It’s worth a read if you haven’t seen it.

In my opinion, many hiring managers put too much faith in experience: they think it absolves them of responsibility, in some way, like “Well I had no way of knowing Jimmy wouldn’t work out, he had great experience!”

Personally, unless I’m able to really dive in deeply and validate the candidate’s actual on-the-job performance in prior roles, then I take the experience with a grain of salt. I’ve just seen and heard of too many folks who are great at surviving the system, without contributing.

For many types of role, someone’s on-the-job success is much better determined by the energy and excitement he or she brings to work than it is on the past.

I recognize, too, that some of you might be thinking, “Damn, man, earlier you talked about staying true to your requirements!” I get it, and that’s a valid criticism…so I suppose you just have to have a really good idea about what is a fundamental requirement, and what is simply an asset.

Go all-in on technical, ignore personal

You end up with a computer, and no one wants to work with him or her. There are few situations in which this is ideal.

Go all-in on personal, ignore technical

“He’s a great guy! …he just can’t do his job.”

Afraid to admit a mistake

Probably the most significant of all the things on this list.

Look, hiring isn’t easy, and sometimes despite all the well-intentioned and diligent effort that you put in, things just don’t work out in real life.

Admit it, address it (yeah, you know what that means), and try again. That’s the better (and ultimately most cost-effective) solution, and probably the all-around (including the new hire, whether that can be recognized at the time or not) happier solution, too.

Look, hiring isn’t easy, and sometimes things just don’t work out…admit it, address it, and try again.

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Posted in Careers, Management
2 comments on “10 common hiring mistakes
  1. […] my recent post on 10 Common Hiring Mistakes, I wrote about the mistake of going all-in on technical qualifications and ignoring the personal […]

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