5 Regrets to Avoid Before You Hire

If you’ve hired more than a handful of people, you probably know that terrible sinking feeling when you start to realize that your new hire might not be the right person for the job. The costs of making the wrong hire are big ones; you’ll generally end up spending large amounts of time and energy rectifying the problem – not to mention the opportunity cost of not having the right person in the role while you’re fixing it. And you’ll likely start asking yourself, “What could we have done differently to avoid this?”

While hiring will never be an exact science, there are ways to minimize hiring regrets, and avoid the finger pointing from your coworkers.

Here are five regrets that you can avoid having by taking the right precautions before ever making a job offer.

Regret #1: “We didn’t check references.”

Some managers skip reference checks because they figure that no one ever really says anything bad in a reference call. But this thinking has two major flaws: First, yes, people do indeed say negative things in a reference check. (I once learned from a reference that the candidate had been fired for theft and fraud – from a reference the candidate himself put on his list!) Second, reference-checking shouldn’t just be about hearing “yes, she’s great” or “no, don’t hire her.” After all, a candidate might be a great employee in general, but you might learn from references that she doesn’t have the particular qualities you’re seeking for that particular position. Plus, references can give you nuanced information about a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, what kind of management they work best with, where they might need additional support, and other information that can help you make a good decision.

Regret #2: “We didn’t test the candidate’s skills.”

Would a football coach hire a player without seeing him play? No, of course not. He’d want to see him in action – just as you should see candidates in action before even thinking about offering someone a job. Using exercises and work simulations can give you a huge amount of insight into how someone will actually perform on the job. For instance, if you need someone who can write quickly under pressure, you might give your top candidates a set of talking points and give them 30 minutes to draft a press release. Or if you need a finance analyst who can explain financial matters in simple terms, you might send candidates your financial statements ahead of time and ask them to explain them back to you in plain language during the interview. Seeing is believing – so make sure you see before bringing anyone on to your staff.

Regret #3: “We didn’t pay enough attention to soft skills.”

It’s easy to be seduced by an impressive candidate’s resume, but the greatest experience and skills in the world doesn’t always make up for an inability to get along with coworkers, lack of work ethic, or terrible communication skills. Don’t get so focused on impressive resume bullets that you forget to consider what it’s going to be like to work with the candidate day in and day out.

Regret #4: “We focused on how much we liked her as a person and not enough on skills.”

Remember: You’re not hiring a friend. You’re hiring someone to get a particular piece of work done – to meet certain goals. You might really click with someone as a person and think they’d be great to have around in the office, but that’s not a reason to hire. It’s crucial to put that personal preference for someone aside and really hone in on whether they have the skills to excel at the work you need done. If you fear you might have a bias about a candidate because of a personal rapport with them, try getting colleagues’ viewpoints on your top candidates to help give a reality-check to your assessment.

Regret #5: “We ignored red flags because we wanted to hire her.”

Ask any manager who’s made a bad hire whether there were red flags during the hiring process, and you’ll nearly always hear “yes.” But managers sometimes ignore these flags or rationalize them away – often because they urgently need to fill an empty position. But no matter how urgently you need to fill a vacancy, you’re nearly always better off keeping the position open and searching for the right person than hiring someone who isn’t quite right. You’ll spend far more time and energy dealing with the consequences of a bad hire than you’ll save by filling the position quickly.














Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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