10 Hiring Mistakes You Must Stop Making Right Now

Most recruiters I know are guilty of at least one of the hiring mistakes below. It’s not their fault, either: these bad habits have become the norm in today’s recruiting world.

Nobody’s perfect. Fortunately, the fixes are easier than you think. A few simple tweaks here and there can make a huge difference in the quality of your hires.

Read on to see if you’re guilty of any of these common mistakes and learn how to fix them quickly and effectively.

  • hiring mistakes

1. Your job description is all about the “skills” and “experiences” required, instead of the work that needs to be done

Most job descriptions are preoccupied with sets of skills and years of requirements, like this:

  • Must have 5+ years of logistics and supply chain management experience in high-volume consumer durables, plus 3 years of supervisory experience.

This tactic seems like a good way to screen out unqualified candidates: someone with that experience is more likely to be a good fit. But it’s actually a roundabout way to get to the real question you care about: “can they do the job?”

Instead of focusing on qualifications that suggest competence, go straight to what the job actually entails. A performance-based job description defines the position through a half-dozen performance objectives, like this:

  • Complete the detailed project plan for the new automated warehouse in 120 days

Not only is this more engaging and informative, it’s also more accurate. Traditional descriptions unfortunately weed out non-traditional candidates who can do the work, but have a different set of skills and experiences. Performance-based descriptions get to the heart of the job and open the door to more diverse applicants.

2. You run candidates through a series of 30-minute surface-level interviews, instead of diving deeper with a panel

Short, 30-minute one-on-one interviews waste everyone’s time. You barely get past pleasantries, which forces recruiters to lean on their first impression biases. Even if you have several of these quick interviews, you’re just retreading the same surface-level stuff. Quantity doesn’t equal quality: imagine how little you’d get from giving a candidate 100 interviews if each one was only a minute long.

Instead of a shallow one-on-one, give your promising candidates a 90-minute panel interview with multiple people at once. Not only does this give you time to drill down past the pleasantries, but it also minimizes bias, since interviewers can check each other’s subjective impressions for a more objective consensus.

3. You accept yes-or-no votes from the hiring team, instead of focusing on specific factors

When it comes time to decide a candidate’s fate—reject, move forward, or hire—many teams confer with a quick thumbs-up, thumbs-down vote, gladiator-style.

The problem is that it’s rarely that simple. The biggest thumb, i.e., the highest-ranked hiring manager, almost always wins. Voting like this is way too susceptible to groupthink: it’s always safer to vote no or just go along with what the leader says.

Instead, assign each member of the hiring team a specific factor to assses, like ability, fit, and motivation. And don’t just take their assessment point-blank: each team member should be able to share evidence that supports their assessment. That way you’ll get a clearer, fact-based picture of the candidate.

4. You rely on biased first impressions made within the first 30 minutes, instead of collecting evidence for a more measured decision

First impressions easily become self-fulfilling prophecies: if you decide you like a candidate within the first few minutes, you’ll see everything they say through that lens. When you go with your gut, you’re making an important decision based on biased emotions.

Instead, follow a semi-scripted plan to ask objective interview questions and intentionally try to challenge your first impressions. If you find that you’re really excited about a candidate the moment they walk in, try convincing yourself of their faults. If you instantly want to reject a candidate, try giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Above all, don’t rush to any decisions. You want to use the interview to collect evidence to support a hiring decision—you don’t want to actually make the hiring decision in the moment.

5. You focus on whether a candidate checks the right boxes, instead of looking at their achievements

At the earliest interview stages, it’s easy for recruiters to focus on eliminating people—and the quickest way is seeing if a candidate checks off a pre-ordained box, like X years of experience.

But you might end up cutting out the best hire—the most effective employees often have less experience than their peers, since they rise faster.

Instead of making sure candidates check all the boxes, ask them one revealing question: “What would you consider the most significant accomplishment of your career?”

By digging into real, concrete experiences, you’ll learn a lot more about a candidate than you would relying on oversimplified criteria.

6. You spend tons of time on employer branding, instead of branding the job itself

There’s no doubt that employer branding is worthwhile, especially for younger candidates. But when it comes to top-tier passive candidates, they’ll be much more interested in the job itself.

Talking about a generic, high-level company culture might entice candidates looking to make a lateral move, but it won’t be as magnetic for high-performers trying to make a career jump.

Instead, focus on job branding—the process of tying the job to a candidate’s intrinsic motivation to be part of something bigger. Top performers aren’t as concerned about the employer brand: they care more about their personal career track. You don’t need to be a well-known employer if you can appeal to a candidate’s deepest desires for personal achievement.

7. You alienate candidates with sterile behavioral interviews, instead of letting them tell their own story

Some people swear by behavioral interviews, those “Tell me about a time…” questions. To be fair, this method does reduce some bias, mostly because it requires recruiters to stick to a strict script.

That said, focusing solely on past behaviors isn’t the best option. It completely ignores questions of motivation and fit, which should be a key factor in any hiring decision. Perhaps the worst part of behavioral interviewing is that it makes for a terrible candidate experience: it often feels sterile, demeaning, and cold.

Instead, allow candidates to speak to their own experiences without strict prompts. Ask them to describe major accomplishments relevant to the actual job—they’ll be more eager to share and won’t feel put on the spot.

8. You bring up compensation in your very first discussion, instead of emphasizing the non-monetary benefits of a job change

There’s a time and a place to discuss salary and benefits, but bringing it up at the beginning of your first phone call isn’t a great idea. Doing so emphasizes the most transactional aspect of the job, when a great hire will be more interested in the opportunity as a whole.

So when a candidate asks what’s the money too soon, just say, the pay doesn’t matter if the job isn’t a career move. Then go on to say a career move requires a combination of job stretch, faster growth, more satisfaction and more impact.

Done properly the compensation will become a negotiating factor not one to filter the conversation. Building a relationship upfront is what good recruiting is all about and if the candidate’s compensation needs are out of your range, you still have the opportunity to get referrals.

9. You leave the Apply button as your only call-to-action, instead of inviting passive candidates to reach out more casually

90% of professionals are open to new opportunities, but you’re missing most of them if the Apply button is the only obvious way to learn about the job. That option is great for active candidates, but most passive candidates aren’t going to go through the trouble of applying.

Instead, make it clear that candidates can reach out other ways to learn more, whether that’s via email, InMail, or even giving you a call. The best candidates are often happily employed and won’t apply directly—but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t entertain a casual conversation to discuss the position and a possible move.

10. You hire people interested in the job for short-term reasons, instead of finding a candidate with long-term passion

If your new hire is only in it for the money or other short-term concerns, they probably won’t be your employee for long. Before the offer is formally extended you should ask the candidate why he/she wants. If the person’s answer is vague or revolves around convenience and compensation, there’s a good chance they’ll develop job-hopping syndrome again in short order.

Instead, look for candidates who aren’t just competent and motivated—they should also see the job as a real, long-term career move. Retention is one of the most important metrics for recruiters, and candidates plagued with short-term thinking are bound to disappoint.

We all make mistakes, but not all recruiters set out to fix them. By attending to these common pitfalls and doing your best to make sure you don’t repeat them, you can make hires who are in it for all the right reasons.

Eliminate 50% of All Hiring Mistakes by Answering One Question

Over a 10-day period last month with three large companies in Europe and two Silicon Valley mid-majors, I relearned why so many companies make unnecessary hiring mistakes. They were each looking for some form of the following competencies.

  • Humility – deferential, freedom from pride or arrogance.
  • Leadership – the act or an instance of leading.
  • Maniacal – characterized by ungovernable excitement or frenzy.
  • Communication – a process by which information is exchanged between individuals.

Yet no one, regardless of the company, agreed on what the words meant even with the dictionary definitions shown here.

I suggested the answer to the following question offered a simple solution:

How is the competency used on the job and what’s the measure of success?

Some examples from the last 10 days will highlight the idea that competencies without context and without a measuring stick are the #2 cause of all hiring mistakes. As a result of the lack of context, bias and perceptions then become the criteria for hiring. This is the #1 cause of errors. Together they represent at least 50% of all hiring mistakes.

How undefined competencies lead to hiring mistakes

One major online travel company described the foundation of their hiring success as a commitment to their five core competencies. Number one was humility. They then described their best hire in the last year was someone who demonstrated creativity, a propensity for breaking every rule of marketing, extreme self-confidence and no fear of failure. The 50 people in the room clearly saw this as someone without humility. Upon further digging, it was clear this person had exceptional leadership skills because he had the ability to inspire people to stretch themselves beyond their self-perceived limits.

A few days later, I met a VP of Sales who was hiring 12 regional directors. He wanted people who also possessed humility plus a maniacal attention to detail. I asked him what he meant by humility. He said someone who isn’t a "Lone Ranger" (his actual description was unprintable). I then asked what humility looks like on the job. He went on to say it is the need to collaborate with the internal sales support to prepare complex product demonstrations customized to meet extremely complex customer requirements. I said this sounds more like leadership and collaboration to me than humility. He wanted to agree but didn’t since others were in the room. This seemed to me to lack some humility.

When I asked the same person what maniacal looks like on the job, he said it is to keep everything in Salesforce.com totally up-to-date and to know exactly where the person stood on what it would take to achieve the monthly and quarterly sales commitments. Whether or not maniacal was the best trait describing this critical need, what was important was understanding how this trait was used on the job.

At another event, the VP of Talent at a major European company was trying to embed her previous company’s hiring process into a new and far less sophisticated company. Her big desire was to ensure each new hire was a true leader in his or her area of expertise. The problem was that leadership was academically defined. When I asked the dozen or so people in the room for their definition of leadership there was little overlap and less understanding. However, when I asked what leadership looked like on specific jobs agreement was far easier to reach. For an accounting manager’s role, it was leading the development of a new global budgeting system getting all the stakeholders to agree to a common reporting process. For a business unit leader it was to upgrade the entire internal support team to increase customer satisfaction.

A similar problem occurred at a presentation I made last week to a consulting company working on state-of-the-art military projects. They wanted to hire engineers who possessed extraordinary communication skills. Again there was no agreement on how this was defined. When I asked what strong communications looked like on the job everyone agreed is was presenting complex technical information to people at government agencies who did not have the same depth of technical insight. The purpose of these presentations was to get agreement and funding to move forward on their assigned projects.

To avoid hiring mistakes, define how required traits are actually used on the job

Competencies, behaviors and skills are important attributes to consider for hiring purposes for any job. However, they’re useless without context. The solution is simple: Define how these traits are actually used on the job.

Typically this results in 5-6 performance objectives describing the task itself, an action verb describing the role of the person and some measurable result. I call this list of Tasks – Actions – Measurable Results a performance profile or performance-based job description. By preparing one you’ll discover it’s also the best way to eliminate the top two causes of hiring mistakes: lack of context and bias caused by lack of context.