The #1 Way to Avoid a Hiring Mistake


Text Added - Man holding Business card - poor performer - shutterstock_124567405So you hired the wrong person. You thought you were getting a smart, creative personable new hire; instead you’ve got an unmotivated slacker employee. Perhaps you feel misled by their great interview, or confused about how you could have been so wrong when your “gut” told you it was so right!

Eliminating hiring mistakes involves many things, including being clear on your goals for the position, sourcing candidates effectively, taking a team approach to interviewing candidates, and checking references. Yet one approach stands out: avoid the wrong hire by asking the right question in the interview. In particular, ask for a specific example of past performance that was similar to what the new hire would need to achieve. If you’re not asking questions that directly tie into what the new hire needs to achieve, you can be easily misled; some candidates will interview well yet be a poor fit for the job, as the skills needed to ace the interview are different.

Once you’ve asked for the example, follow-up on their answer with a number questions that get at the details of their accomplishment; you need to fully understand how they operate, including their motivation, what they’re great at, and how they will fit in. A person’s past performance is a strong predictor of future performance, and it’s exceedingly difficult for candidates to fudge detailed questions about past performance (as I’ve seen first-hand in my roles as a career coach and hiring manager).

She asked the wrong questions

I coached a hiring manager who was dealing with a problem employee in a business analysis role. The employee was clearly not up to the job; he was missing deadlines, unable to come up with key analytic insights when looking at the data, and burdening others on the team with basic questions on things he was expected to know. It was clear his heart wasn’t in it either.

When discussing the employee with me, the manager said “I had such high hopes for him. He made such a great impression in the interview, and seemed sharp. We bonded over our shared passion for the mission of our organization, and why he wanted to work here. He had really great answers to my questions ‘If you could be any animal, what would it be?’ as well as ‘what’s your greatest weakness?’ Plus he came highly recommended from a colleague at his prior employer.”

From this description of the interview, you’re probably starting to see what happened; the hiring manager was not interviewing for the goals of the job! A candidate can have wonderful answers to questions like “if you could be any animal…” or “where do you see yourself in five years,” but those questions don’t relate to the goals of the job, which in this case was delivering timely analyses. Answers to a question like “what’s your greatest weakness” are also ineffective because they can be rehearsed well in advance. I know; I help my job-search clients to rehearse answers to these questions regularly!

In this case, the hiring manager personally bonded with the employee during the interview, which of course is a positive, yet he still wasn’t a fit for the role; his abilities lay in areas that didn’t match with the goals for the position. If the hiring manager had asked for an example of past performance that was similar to what the new hire would need to achieve, along with the right followup questions, this hiring mistake wouldn’t have happened.

What she should have asked

Here’s a question the hiring manager should have asked: “To meet this job’s goals of delivering at least five campaign analyses per year, you will need to quickly and independently analyze large data sets, and then share insights and recommendations with senior management. Can you give me an example of how you achieved a similar goal involving an analysis that you completed?” A strong candidate would have had a great example to share.

Then the hiring manager would have played Sherlock Holmes and asked a lot of probing follow-up questions, like “What did you enjoy the most?” “What did you do best?” “What motivated you about this analytic project?” What was your relationship with others?” In fact there are dozens more questions along these lines that the hiring manager could ask (more on these followup questions in another post). A candidate who would not perform well in this job would reveal that fact through too many vague answers or an emphasis on things not relevant to the job’s goals.

By the way, this story ultimately had a happy ending. While the employee wasn’t suitable for the analyst role, he seemed to have a flair and preference for creative initiatives. So, instead of just firing him, my hiring manager client was farsighted enough to transition him into a marketing/creative role, where he thrived.

Great “fit,” but…

I once interviewed a candidate for a project manager position. She was very personable and smart, and I knew she would fit in well with the organizational culture. I asked her to share a project management example with me. She gave a very superficial example, one that begged for more detail.

As a follow-up, I asked her “what did you enjoy the most about this project?” She said “getting it done!” Not the best answer—someone who really thrives in a project management role would have said something related to actually managing the project. I then asked, “What did you do best?” She said, “brainstorming ideas for how the service should be marketed.” Again, she offered something that doesn’t have much to do with the project management role she would be filling. The person we ended up hiring had answers to these questions that were much more relevant to the actual role.

If you’re interested in improving your recruiting results, check out our Interviewing For SUCCESS! workshop.