Avoiding the Four Common Hiring Mistakes

To hire the right person for the job, the person who will be most likely able to do the job and do it well requires that companies look beyond the minimum qualification model.

Performance Begins with Selection

Hiring the right person for the job is a tough assignment.  It is not only challenging to do; it’s costly when we miss it.  From a selection point of view, companies commonly make four kinds of mistakes when they hire people:

  • They need a success profile against which to measure applicants.
  • They need a better interviewing system.
  • They oversell or give short shrift to explaining the job requirements and working conditions.
  • They make desperate hires.

Success Profiles 

Too often, companies need to learn what they are looking for in terms of what it takes to do the job and do it well.  That is, they need a success profile.  At best, they are working off a job description.  Still, they don’t know which job behaviors distinguish between top performers and their barely acceptable counterparts, which job behaviors, if absent, cause trouble on the job, and which job behaviors account for the most variance in productivity outcomes. 

One can’t get that kind of information from a job description, nor is it readily understood and expressed by most management.  Using job descriptions as hiring guides is best viewed as a minimum qualification model.  It describes what all or most of the job incumbents have or do. 

To hire the right person for the job, the person who will be most likely able to do the job and do it well requires that companies look beyond the minimum qualification model.

Management is sometimes surprised by how their best performers do the job efficiently and effectively.  Some of the job behaviors that management may think are essential for success on the job may be considered less important, sometimes far less important, by superior job incumbents. 

The only way companies can get this kind of information is to sit down with recognized superior performers and find out from them how they actually do their job and how they do it so well.     


Without a success profile, interviewing becomes comical.  It is little wonder that all the literature suggests that the average interview is, at best, a 50/50 proposition (Often, it is less than that since we frequently find ourselves in a situation where we have to choose between two people, neither of whom is necessarily suitable). 

The odds go up in the hands of people with some training and a well-developed behaviorally-based structured interview, but it is still very subjective.  That is because interviews are inherently subjective.  Whole industries have grown up around training people to pass interviews.  The hiring authority doesn’t know whether they are dealing with the  “real” or “trained” person.  Interviewing behavior is different from job behavior and while some people interview well, their job performance is awful and visa-versa.

What is needed is a behaviorally-based structured interview that focuses on job behaviors that account for variances in productivity outcomes among employees. 

Again, the only way to develop that is to sit down with top performers and do a job analysis to help you identify those specific job behaviors.

Overselling the Job

At some point, early in the hiring process, there needs to be clear communication with the applicant about what the job and working conditions require.  Not so surprisingly, this information again best comes from a job analysis.  Applicants do not fully understand and, in some cases, have very little understanding of what the job they are applying for requires. 

People apply for jobs as childcare providers because they “love” children.  We hope that people applying for a childcare position would love children, and loving children may be a genuine minimum qualification.  Still, more is needed to achieve a successful match between the candidate and the whole of the job requirements.  The job requires much more than loving children.  When it’s communicated to the applicant that overtime is often necessary because parents don’t always pick their children up on time, for example.  And that they will likely have to clean up vomit, fix the overflowing toilet, or deal with angry parents; they might not be so excited about applying for the job. 

The same can be said for elder care.  An affinity for older people may not outweigh changing an adult diaper.  Overselling the job to the applicant sets up false and unrealistic expectations, a sure recipe for turnover.  When telling an applicant for over-the-road driver training about being a “knight of the highway,” it’s best to tell them what that means.  Otherwise, the first time they are still out on the road after 30 days when they expected to be home every weekend, they will likely walk away from their parked truck.

Desperation Hires 

Even in the rare circumstance where a company will have a job success profile, they can find themselves in a situation where an opening needs to be filled.  The hiring authority is under pressure to fill the position and they start using the “fog a mirror” criteria for selection.  It is difficult to think of a more expensive mistake in the selection process, both short run and long run. 

Desperation hires are a particularly costly mistake when the employee is the face of your company.  They are the contact with your customer, and for your customer, the employee is your company.  Be careful of who you put in front of your client.  News of poor service travels fast.  For example, it can take years to get a new bank customer and thirty seconds for a lousy teller to lose that customer.

The hope is that training can magically transform a desperation hire into a productive employee.  Companies typically have substantial budgets for training and, by comparison, spend very little on selection.  Indeed, the amount of money spent trying to train someone to be something they are not and never will be is staggering.  Employee performance begins with selection.  Companies need to hire for the behaviors and train for the skills.

Of course, they can only hire for the behaviors if they have a success profile.  Even if you find yourself in a position where you have to hire practically everyone who comes in the door, by measuring the applicant against the job success profile, you will know what kind of person you just hired, which will have implications for the amount of supervision needed.  It is far better to leave the position temporarily vacant than to hire someone whose performance is less likely to measure up.