Stupid Hiring Mistakes to Avoid in 2012

Despite the 8.6 percent unemployment rate, many companies searching for their next manager or executive have but one complaint: I cannot find the right person for my company; there is no good talent out there.

In reality, nearly all these companies are making one (or more) of 12 stupid hiring mistakes that all but guarantee they will not find the “A-Level” managers and executives that they need.

1. Waiting.
It is time to face reality. Your unmotivated “B” and “C” players will not suddenly become valued performers. Your operationally strong leaders are not going to become marketing, sales and growth focused any time soon. And your growth strategies will sputter without the new talent and “fresh eyes” to implement.

In short, it is time to change the people and upgrade your team. Your continued waiting and inertia is slowly killing your business. Especially with all the great talent available, the time to act is now.

2. Not networking.
By most measures, 70 pecent of all managerial jobs are filled by networking. If you are not out and about (at least one time a month) networking and meeting people in your geographic area and industry, then you are relying on others to find the right people. Networking broadens your perspective, enabling you to see the talent that is out there. You will also get to know more people who can refer you to other good talent.

3. Delegating all the work.
As a leader, you need to be actively involved in finding and vetting your next manager or executive. Yes, it takes time and a lot of work; but, it is essential. By completely outsourcing the initial screening and weeding out of candidates to either an executive recruiter or your human resources staff, you are giving them the job of making the decision. An old maxim in decision theory applies here: He who frames the decision makes the decision.

Of course, it will take time and effort to go through all the leads and resumes. But, who is truly qualified to separate the wheat from the chaff and find that next top-performer? You are!

4. Outsourcing to the inexperienced and unqualified.
Even when you are actively involved, you may need help. There are times when some of the hiring load will need to be delegated to your human resources team. And your network may be so limited or you may be so far behind the eight ball that you will need to bring in an experienced executive recruiter. But, go for experience. Only outsource to human resources and recruiting professionals that truly understand people and have personal experience in being an executive or manager.

But, you need to stay active and engaged in the hiring process! When using either your human resources team or recruiters, be sure to ask for more potential candidates (10–20) than they would traditionally give you. And ask them specifically for a wild card group of three to four candidates that may not meet all the criteria but are absolutely the best of the bunch in terms of accomplishments and possible fit.

5. Staying in the closet.
In the job search world, it is a truism that at most 30 percent of all jobs (especially at the senior levels) are visible: want ads, internet postings, company jobs boards, retained recruiter assignments, and other activities where the data about the job is available for many people to see it. The rest of the jobs (the other 70 percent) are “hidden.” For companies not named Apple or Google, that is insane!

By staying in the closet, you remain out of sight to nearly all potential candidates, especially those that are currently employed but looking for new opportunities. This increasingly large pool of potential candidates will never even know that there is an opportunity. Yes, some positions need to be kept confidential; but there are ways to make job opportunities visible while keeping the confidentiality.

6. Eliminating the best at the beginning.
Once companies begin searching for their next manager or executive, the focus shifts to eliminating rather than to finding those with the most potential. Some stupid elimination mistakes to avoid:

  • Overly strict pre-requisites: These usually require tremendous experience in doing exactly the job that is being considered. Beware: the best candidates will avoid such positions because they offer so little potential growth and advancement.
  • Keyword vetting: This all but guarantees that you will end up with the candidates who have most doctored their resumes and backgrounds to fit the “keyword system.”
  • Only looking at the first resumes that come in: By only looking at the first resumes that come in, you will all but guarantee that talented but passive job searchers (those already with a job) will miss out, as will talented but active job searchers who are likely out networking (instead of being glued to the job boards).

To find the best among that mile-high stack of resumes, require something different from the candidates. Some companies ask for a “triple tweet” cover letter that is limited to about 420 characters or 70 words. These can be digested in the magic 7–10 seconds that are needed to catch your attention. Other companies require a one-page resume. Since most resumes are two pages (or more), this requires the candidates to do some work before applying. With such steps, the screening and reviews can be done quickly, and it winnows out many of the unqualified “lookey loos” who will not take the time to comply with your requests.

Finally, do not narrow down your list of candidates too quickly. Select more candidates for a secondary screening stage to ensure that you do not select based only on a single piece of paper. Then, schedule 10-minute Skype interviews to hear and see potential candidates. A 10-minute video or Skype interview gives more information about the candidate than would an hour long phone screening.

7. Hiring the industry expert.
The critical factor in the success of any manager or executive is how well they lead and manage a group of people and how well they execute and actually achieve what they set out to achieve. Unfortunately, most companies are more focused on someone with “deep” industry experience. Yes, having some industry background and connections can help, but usually only in the short term. Further, smart, talented executives can learn any industry quickly. And an industry expert usually has the same blind spots about the business that you do. Most companies, especially those that are struggling or stagnant, need some outsider perspective to see what so many others in the organization cannot. In short, look to hire the best leader no matter what their industry experience!

8. Neglecting the unemployed.
There is a tremendously talented pool of candidates that are not being looked at in the least. Either subtly or overtly, many companies are excluding all candidates that do not have jobs; they prefer to deal only with the currently employed. That is a big mistake! Especially at the mid- to senior level, people find themselves without jobs for a variety of reasons, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with performance: poor cultural fit, incompatibility with a boss, company acquired, personal reasons, etc. Yes, there are lots of duds among the ranks of the unemployed. But, there are a lot of truly talented people among the unemployed who were unlucky to find themselves in a bad situation in a tough economy. Ignore them at your peril.

9. Not giving out homework.  
For all those candidates that pass your first round of screening, give them an assignment. This should be a clear and reasonable request for a follow-up from the candidate to be completed and sent to you by the following Monday. The request should be practical and, if possible, related to the position. For executives, ask them to give you a 500-word strategic or marketing assessment of the business. For sales professionals, ask them to outline a brief 10-minute sales presentation that they could then give as part of the interview.

It is eye-opening at this stage to see the number of candidates that will not complete the task. Equally, it is eye-opening to see how ill-thought out some candidates’ strategic assessments are and how poor (and dreary) some salespeople’s presentations can be. By sampling the product, you will see who really has business acumen, insight and new ideas. At the same time, you might also profit from a new perspective about your business!

10. Wimpy interviewing.
A vital step in any hiring process is the in-person interview. Any candidate worth his or her salt will have been trained in effective interviewing techniques. This means that they will answer any question using P-A-R (problem – action – result). This will, of course, lead to the interviewee sounding like a hero who happens to be the perfect cultural fit for your company. Don’t accept their PARs at face value. Drill down and be relentless asking how they did something and asking for further clarification or details. The true stars who really did what they said will come across strongly under this line of questioning. The charlatans who really did not do what they said (or who wildly inflated their stories) will wilt under the pressure.

Your goal in the interview is not to be sweet and gentle. It is to find the best candidate.

11. Not on-boarding the candidate.
Once you have selected your “A-Level” manager or executive, your mutual goal is to work together to ensure a strong introduction and transition so that the new executive can be valuable as quickly as possible. As my colleague George Bradt discusses, work with the executive or manager, and come up with an effective “on-boarding” plan. This plan needs to be written down and in place before the candidates’ first day on the job. The goal is to get the manager or executive up to speed, thus giving you “better results faster.”

12. Letting a mistake turn into a failure.
Despite everything, you may have hired the wrong person for the job and for your company. Often, you can only truly measure the individual once the person has started working. So, have a probationary/evaluation period of 30, 60, or 90 days to ensure that you have right person. Many companies have gone so far as to not bring that person onto their company insurance or give them other benefits until the probationary period is complete.

If it becomes obvious that the executive is not the person you hired and will not work out, you simply must fire them and begin the hiring process all over again. Yes, it may be embarrassing to tell your team or your boss that you made a wrong choice. But, it is far better to suffer a little embarrassment now than be stuck with a non-performing, dead-weight failure of an executive for the next several years.