Ten Pitfalls to Successful Hiring


August 1999

Ten Pitfalls to Successful Hiring


In our last issue, Associate Katherine Murphy provided tips on how to recruit outstanding employees. Because hiring the right people is vital to the success of any organization, we’re including tips from Claudio Fernandez-Araoz’s article “Hiring without Firing” (Harvard Business Review, July-August 199). While the article provides guidelines for hiring executives, many of the issues will be the same across all levels of employment. In the article Fernandez-Araoz develops what he calls the “Ten Deadly Traps.” He argues that these traps are easy to fall into and often foil all attempts to hire successfully.

1. The Reactive Approach

Most job openings result from a firing or resignation. Many managers make the mistake of hiring someone with the same good qualities as the person who left but without the bad qualities that that person had. The problem with this approach is that it focuses on the predecessor rather than on the requirements of the position. It also sets up the new hire for comparison with the person he is replacing, resulting in disappointment when they do not measure up to their predecessor.

2. Unrealistic Specifications

Many companies develop detailed job descriptions that candidates must meet to be considered. Many times these descriptions contain specifications that are not really required to do the job adequately. They frequently do not take into account the skills that already exist in the organization and may not need to be replicated. The result is that the pool of acceptable candidates becomes very small; many very qualified candidates may be overlooked. For example, specific requirements for tool experience and technical experience may eliminate the best potential project managers.

3. Evaluating in Absolute Terms

During interviews, many managers have a favorite set of questions that they use to evaluate candidates yet have little to do with job performance. “Where do you want to be in five years?” “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” To the people asking these questions, there are good and bad answers. The answers are opinions and have little or nothing to do with the job.

4. Accepting People at Face Value

Candidates are almost always taken at face value during interviews. Remember that the candidate may or may not be telling the truth. People want to put their best face forward. Managers should be skeptical of information obtained during an interview.

5. Believing References

Just as interviewers tend to accept candidates at their word, they also believe references. Former bosses are usually generous about reporting good things about the candidate and poor about reporting bad things. In addition, the reference is usually obtained by the candidate himself and may not be credible or may be biased.

6. The “Just Like Me” Bias

Many managers tend to give high ratings to people who are just like them. Most of the time the candidate is interviewing for a job that is different from the managers job and might be best filled by someone who is very different from the manager.

7. Delegation Gaffes

Many managers delegate the preliminary selection tasks to subordinates or human resources. They interview the finalists and pick the “winner.” This would work fine if the subordinates or human resources were as knowledgeable about the job requirements as the manager. However, the preliminary selection is often done very poorly by those who don’t know much about the job requirements and results in a poor selection of finalists.

8. Unstructured Interviews

To conduct a good interview, the interviewer should know exactly what they want to find out from the candidate. Often, the interview becomes a loose conversation that has little to do with job requirements. Common themes are sporting events, hobbies, mutual acquaintances, and so on. The session becomes a friendly chat. The interviewer may walk away from the interview with a good feeling but with little information about the candidate.

9. Ignoring Emotional Intelligence

Most companies evaluate candidates based on hard data: education, experience, IQ, and specific skills. They fail to consider the candidates’ social and emotional skills. Many times these skills make the difference between success and failure on the job.

10. Political Pressures

Some of the most spectacular hiring failures occur because people have other agendas. People like to hire friends. Someone may be hired because of his contacts at other companies. Politics are extremely common in hiring and very dangerous. CIDMIconNewsletter