Bad hiring decisions hurt. They really hurt. Scariest of all, they’re even more common than you think—and may be responsible for up to 80% of employee turnover.
You try to be careful, but you’re busy. You need to get through the endless stack of resumes somehow, so you make some snap judgements and questionable cuts. That candidate mentions which sorority they were in—they’re out. This one swapped the tenses of their verbs—also out. Then, you spot one that graduated from your alma mater. You put him into the “see” pile.
Do that enough times—because of a name-brand former employer, a mega-high GPA, a few well-written resume passages—and you find yourself hiring for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with the job. You make your hire, the new person doesn’t live up to your standards, and when you think back, you can’t remember why you brought them in.
Hiring mistakes are everywhere—and they hurt more than the bottom line
So you made one bad hire. What’s the big deal, right? Unfortunately, it might be a lot bigger than you think.
Take Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. In 2010, he admitted that a poor hiring decision triggered a domino effect: a cascade of one mistake after another. Ultimately, Hsieh estimated this cost the company “well over $100 million.” That kind of money doesn’t just sting—it has the potential to cripple growth and destroy potential.
But the true cost isn’t just in dollars and cents. The effects are felt throughout the whole organization. Productivity lags. Colleagues notice. Managers take on additional responsibilities—and foist them on other employees, too. Your culture dips, as morale drops. Most of this is reversible, but why go there when you don’t have to?
One definition of madness: making the same mistakes over and over again
Everyone has a bad hiring story. We were once hiring for a marketing-savvy addition to a technical team. This person looked amazing on paper—we couldn’t believe our good fortune. They showed up for their first day on the job, and all hell broke loose.
The new hire simply did not play well with others. Within days of joining, they’d generated an atmosphere—new for our team—of suspicion and hostility. Productivity slowed to a crawl. Most aggravatingly, the new hire reveled in stirring drama, instead of doing any actual work. If they hadn’t been working in a team, they’d probably have been a great employee. But that wasn’t the job they were hired for.
This is a common problem. In fact, a working paper from Harvard Business School found that it’s more harmful to hire a toxic employee than it is helpful to hire a superstar. Ignore this, and you’ll introduce a productivity killer for your team.
Not all bad hires are difficult to work with. A colleague once hired someone that excelled in soft skills. They were just so friendly in the interview, and the recruiter knew they’d get along with everyone. And they did. What they didn’t do was the job itself, because they didn’t have the right skills.
It wasn’t that the interviewer didn’t notice. But because the candidate was such a nice person, they found themselves drawn to them, and the lack of hard skills didn’t seem as important suddenly with those great interpersonal skills on show. As a result, valuable time, effort, and money went into training (which ultimately didn’t work), when the company could have hired one of the dozen qualified candidates in the first place.
The process itself is broken—welcome to the madness!
These stories all have one thing in common. What they share is an inherently faulty hiring process. When you start with a resume and proceed to an interview, what you’re really navigating is a treacherously subjective and emotional playing field, based on faulty first impressions and unrepresentative paper.
Unconscious bias is exactly that: unconscious. It’s not that anyone sets out to reject good candidates for bad reasons...or hire someone because of their college or hobby or (gulp!) name. But when you’re sifting through a mound of resumes almost as tall as you, it’s only natural (and necessary) to act on instinct and whim.
So you find excuses to cut people (like that they refer to themselves in the third person, or live in New Jersey). And you find other excuses—just as random—to let them in. Before you know it, this can lead to a whole horde of problems, from a lack of diversity to reduced financial returns.
You see, the second your instinct tells you not to pick this candidate, your brain is already looking for superficial reasons to reject them, with or without your consent. On the other hand, when you warm to an applicant for whatever reason, you start to overlook or reason away little flaws that might actually be a serious hindrance. And because of the way our brains are wired, that emotional pull or push is very difficult to override.
It's time to fix the process and break the cycle of madness
Starting with the resume doesn’t work. When you start from a subjective position, and move right into an emotional one with the interview, mistakes are almost inevitable.
So why don’t we start from an objective position?
What the process needs is to be turned on its head. Find the best candidates objectively before letting emotional or subjective reasoning enter the equation. That’s what talent evaluation is all about—enhancing talent acquisition by helping employers zero in on the very best candidates for the job, based on objective criteria first.
This requires you to define exactly what it is you’re looking for. Rather than relying on the unspoken understanding that everyone on your team is on the same page and will know what the company needs when they see it, outline it! Clearly detailing what it takes to succeed in the role isn’t just helpful to you, it’s useful for the candidates, too.
Think about which skills, knowledge, and attributes you need, and then figure out how to test for them. If you’re measuring for these things from the start, you know the candidates you pluck from the pool are right for the job, not just attractive on paper.
By starting from this objective standpoint, you can also avoid all the little biasing details that resumes are littered with, from the candidate’s name down to their hobbies and interests. When you’re measuring for what’s necessary, there’s no room for distracting details to get in the way.
Armed with impartial data, you can whittle the list down to the best of the best before proceeding with a more subjective evaluation of their work quality. Then, when you do enter the emotional stage of the process (the interview), you can relax knowing the candidates have already proven themselves skilled and capable—leaving you free to make sure they’re a good fit for your culture and work environment.
It’s almost like working backwards, but maybe that’s because the process was backwards from the start.
This is the approach we’re taking at career.place. Our solution safeguards against mistakes by making sure no piece of the puzzle is missing—that every candidate that makes it through has the hard skills, soft skills, and personality traits they need to thrive. We streamline the process for both employers and jobseekers, leading to better hires, more productive teams, and employees who really love their jobs. For help getting your hiring process on the right track, contact us today.