Hiring is something like the ugly stepchild at most organizations. Most leaders prefer to spend as little time as possible on it, even if they intuitively understand that people are their most important asset. Given this effort to spend as little time as possible on hiring, leaders tend to act fast—but when we move quickly, we tend to make mistakes. This rule is no less salient in hiring than in any other endeavor. And, unfortunately, mistakes in hiring are costly and hurt morale.
To help you avoid costly hiring mistakes, here are ten common mistakes that you should be aware of when you’re hiring for your organization.
It’s not that thing you “have to do” but would rather avoid—at least, it shouldn’t be. One reason for this disdain is that hiring is both high stakes and yet so unlike the rest of your work. It is unpredictable, hard to measure, and there’s no such thing as the perfect candidate—so how can you even get excited about hiring?
Don’t make this fundamental mistake, though. Slow down and see this time as an investment in acquiring your most important asset: your newest top employee fighting for your mission.
Focus on what you need to make the process a success, which could mean hiring a recruiting firm, interviewing current staff about the position, or reviewing how this position is currently set up—and if there’s a smarter and better approach. In other words, assess and confirm (or adjust) the role of this position at the organization. This position, like all positions, does not exist in isolation.
Also, know the market you’re working with in order to have healthy expectations about availability of talent and what it will cost to get them.
Know what type of investor you are. Are you high stakes and high returns? Or do play the markets safe and steady? Your level of risk aversion will affect how you hire.
Oftentimes, leaders who want a “sure thing” end up overemphasizing skill set or experience over culture. If you’re a low-risk type of person, focus on culture fit and then identifying additional training to fill the gaps in experience. If you’re a high stakes investor, the sky is the limit, but be sure to put into writing clear expectations with timelines—then set your new hire loose for success. Knowing what type of investor you are helps you approach hiring in a way that works for you.
Hire the right person for both the company and the position. At the same time, though, don’t become so myopic that you miss who is sitting right in front of you. Candidates must be able to do the job, but you should get to know them as people and how this particular person would go about being successful in this role. Not everyone finds success in the same positions the same way.
The greatest mistake I made was hiring someone who was simply hungry for the job. I failed to see that the candidate wasn’t humble. Ideally, you hire someone who is both a good employee and good interviewer, but sometimes your best talent will be just okay at interviewing. The last mistake you want to make is the one I made. Many methodologies outline what qualities top talent demonstrates, but The Table Group says it well: smart, hungry, and humble. If you miss any one of those, you get a “skilled politician, lovable slacker, or accidental mess-maker.” No thanks!
Hiring should include a position audit, accurate (and reasonable) description, recruitment and marketing, interviewing and assessments, and references and social media checks, followed by onboarding, training, and a 30-day review and evaluation. You don’t want to cut corners on this.
Seeing the entire process contextualizes the investment you are making, and it prevents sloppy decision-making or a low ROI. No matter the position, every leader should be able to clearly articulate how each role advances the mission and how this particular person in this position will be onboarded, trained, and evaluated. Contrary to my opinion, the process doesn’t end with the signed offer letter.
It can sound disingenuous, but being a leader is not all it’s cracked up to be. Leaders are often called upon to make decisions with inadequate information or in areas that they are not experienced. Moreover, the wrong decision reflects poorly on you and impacts, well, everything. The temptations are either to overly centralize decision-making or to overly de-centralize or enmesh decision-making, ensuring that no one is responsible or accountable.
Whatever the case, ensure that there is accountability. Make hiring decisions clean, and don’t conflate input or advice with decision-making. Lastly, get input from people who know what they’re talking about and without slowing down the process.
If only! It may make some aspects of your job easier, of course, but we should view hiring not only from a solutions-standpoint (i.e., “Now this problem is fixed. Phew!”), but also from an opportunity-standpoint (“How will this allow us to do better or more?”). If a new hire takes some things off your plate, that frees you up to do more for your mission—not less.
None of these mistakes are avoidable if there is little investment in hiring.
Moreover, chronic turnover and urgent hiring communicate a lack of planning. Leaders should invest in their staffing the way they invest in other areas of their operations, not as an afterthought. Part of strategic planning is considering the human resources it will take to achieve outlined goals, and when that doesn’t happen, neither your people nor your mission are set up for success, resulting in toxic turnover and endless obstacles to advancing your mission in a meaningful way. Don’t skimp on your greatest investment.
The mistakes we make depend on our own strengths and weaknesses. What could you improve upon when it comes to hiring?
Nothing brings the human person back to reality quite like having to deal with other people. We’re imperfect and yet capable of achieving some pretty remarkable things together. The bad taste for hiring as an important investment and process is doing everyone—employees, employers, and even beneficiaries of your mission—a disservice. It’s time to re-envision hiring for what it truly is: identifying and engaging people (your most valuable asset) into your organization—and then doing something great together.
Feel free to reach out to me if you'd like to discuss how to attract, identify, and retain top talent at your organization all while avoiding the most common mistakes! You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.