Avoiding Rookie Hiring Mistakes

They say that “to err is human.” Indeed. Even after more than twenty years in human resources, I recently found myself guilty of some rookie hiring mistakes. Here’s my story, offered as encouragement to help others avoid similar errors.


I was helping a senior manager hire for a frontline supervisory role. When I tell you that the prior supervisor, though highly competent and a hard worker, had a contentious relationship with customers, wasn’t able to analyze or streamline processes, and couldn’t help but see the glass as half empty, I’m sure that you could predict every mistake we made in trying to find his replacement.

Hiring Mistakes

  •  Throwing out the baby with the bathwater — We were right to focus on the candidate’s customer service skills and general workplace attitude, given the shortcomings of the prior supervisor. We were wrong to focus on these aspects to the exclusion of the core skill needed in the job—competence in the subject matter.Unfortunately, this is a common error: trying to hire the opposite of the prior person and forgetting about all of the good skills they did bring to the job.
  • Seeing what you want to see—When your assessment of the candidate’s answers is more hopeful than it is realistic, this is an indication that you’re “reaching”—and we were. In addition to being personable, we wanted the candidate to be a hands-on, nuts-and-bolts, let’s-fix-these-processes guy … so that’s what we saw.  In retrospect, there was nothing in his answers that showed him to be a nuts-and-bolts guy, at all.(Side story: I once hired a candidate for a chef’s role even after she failed to provide a sample menu because she “couldn’t think of any meals.”  Yes, that was a pretty big red flag to ignore!  I saw what I wanted to see … and nothing else).
  • Having only one candidate—We had been recruiting for the position for several months, with very little to show for it, despite using a variety of sourcing techniques. When we came across a candidate who was (finally) at least in the ballpark in terms of experience, we were thrilled—and we pushed him through the process. When you have only one candidate, it’s very easy to fool yourself into ignoring obvious deficiencies.  (See the “cook” story above–she was also the only candidate). 

The End of the Story
We hired the candidate. He was a very nice guy. He tried hard. He fit in well with his co-workers. And … he didn’t come close to working out. We soon came to a mutual understanding that this wasn’t the position for him, and he departed. In the end, I’m sure it will all work out for the best (it always does), as he is freed up to pursue a position that plays to his strengths and we’ll find someone who better meets our needs. We live to try another day … hopefully, this time, without falling prey to rookie mistakes.

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