Employee turnover, wrongful hiring, sexual harassment, violence in the workplace, employee theft ... the list goes on. A lot can go wrong when you hire the wrong person. Theyre underqualified, litigious, controlling, insubordinate, and detrimental to an entire organization. The seeds of many a failure are planted in the hiring process. Learn to avoid these common hiring mistakes in this document by Don Phin.

"If workers are carefully selected, the problems of discipline will be negligible."
-- Johnson & Johnson Co. Employee Relations Manual, 1932

I’d like to share with you 10 common hiring mistakes that companies make. It makes no difference whether the company is large or small, or whether they’re hiring a janitor or executive. I’ve seen a convalescent home unknowingly hire a violent felon as a janitor. We’ve seen companies hire multimillion-dollar executives — that’s not what they cost the companies in salary, but how much damage they did. Don’t make the same mistakes these companies did!


When searching for a job candidate, clearly define what you’re looking for in terms of skills, character, and competency. What objective standards must they meet, what education should they have, what should their prior work experience be, and what technology should they be able to master? What will be your short- and long-term needs? How will this affect the hiring decision? In many cases, you can meet your needs more effectively through outsourcing or strategic partnering. Don’t just assume that you need a certain type of employee: Test your assumptions. Begin breakthrough management thinking with the hiring process.


Skills testing is a must. Every job has some form of objective standard. Identify it and test for it. There’s a huge difference between a secretary who types 60 words per minute with mistakes and one who types 80 words per minute without any. Unless you test an applicant’s skills, you’re taking a gamble that they can perform. It’s a bet you just might lose.


Many hiring decisions are made out of desperation. Your secretary quits and you need someone to replace them now. Your company is growing so fast that you’ll just throw in the bodies and worry about them later. It’s so hard to find programmers that anyone will do. Out of desperation, we’ve all brought someone into a relationship who we later found out couldn’t be trusted. Don’t fall prey to fear-based hiring. Again, think of alternatives. If you can’t go through the hiring process in a timely manner, hire a temporary or leased employee. Borrow an employee from another company. If you hire in haste — you might easily end up with waste.


People get lazy. Most of us don’t want to deal with the hiring process. After all, we have jobs to do. Employers have to fight this human tendency to want to do less rather than more. Managers who are desperate or lazy usually take the first person who walks through the door. If you don’t want to go through the hiring process, hire somebody else to do it for you.


A series of surveys have found that during the interview process most interviewers made the hiring decision within the first 10 minutes of the interview, and then spent the next 50 minutes justifying their decision. We buy cars the same way: We know the car we want to buy from an emotional standpoint, and then search for objective data to justify the emotional decision. We all know that “facts tell, but emotions sell.” Remember that the best con artists attract infatuation. Just because someone “looks” right for the role doesn’t’ mean that they will be. Guard against this by having co-interviews, follow-up meetings, and co-employee interviews.


Everyone carries some baggage somewhere. For some of us, the baggage is the belief that a woman can’t operate a forklift, a man can’t be a nurse, or a minority can’t be an executive. This baggage has nothing to do with reality. Orchestras were traditionally dominated by men. To remove any preconception about what makes a better musician from the hiring process, orchestras began to engage in “blind auditions” in which a curtain is literally placed in front of the performers. As a result of these auditions, women started being hired at twice the rate as before based on the quality of their sound, not the way they looked. The fact is the best and brightest aren’t going to always look and act the way that you think they should. Seeking out diversity isn’t just important to placate the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). It’s an absolute necessity in today’s competitive economy.


Just because someone thinks somebody they know is a great worker doesn’t mean that they are. Perhaps they were just in the right place at the right time. I’ve seen many occasions when a person was hired without going through a hiring process simply because someone else recommended them. To avoid this situation, use the hiring process with every job candidate.


I’m a firm believer in promoting your own people. But sometimes your best person isn’t necessarily the best person for the job. This often happens in promotions to the management level. Just because someone is good at performing a particular service, doesn’t mean that they’re good at managing other people (the Peter Principle). I’ve seen many a career go downhill after a supposed promotion. Make sure that your company goes through a complete hiring analysis when making promotions. Promoting solely from within can create inbreeding and stagnation. Fill at least one-third of your new positions from the outside.


If it’s out there in the street, it’s in the workplace. I’m often been asked to investigate a claim of harassment, theft, threatened violence, or other workplace misconduct. As part of the investigation, I always review the employee file to see what form of background check was done on the offending employee. Not surprisingly, there’s usually little or no background information collected. Employees with drug problems are never drug tested prior to hire. Security guards who conspire against their employer are never checked for criminal records. Intoxicated drivers behind 18-wheelers never have their driving records reviewed. Employees who engaged in wrongful conduct in their previous job never had their prior employer contacted. Many employers shy away from extensive background investigations because of their concern for EEOC and legislative privacy guidelines. Don’t be. Poor hiring decisions don’t result from barring EEOC-prohibited questions —they’re due to not asking other questions.


Many companies will realize they’ve made a fatal hiring mistake within the first three months of the employment relationship, yet they don’t terminate the employee. You must fire poorly performing employees. If you make a poor hiring decision, do your best to keep that person on their feet. This means that you should put them in at least the same position that you found them. Try to help them with outplacement assistance, and a small severance package, so that you don’t end up with a bitter ex-employee or, even worse, a lawsuit.


When you get the chance, review some of your turnover and poor performance problems. Ask, “How did we hire this person? What process did we go through? Did we make any of the mistakes outlined above?” Remember, if you want to hire the right employee, you have to go through a systemic process that allows you to do so. When you hire the best, you’ll enjoy high productivity, loyalty, innovation, team players, and a healthy bottom line.

Don Phin, JD, CPCM is president of, inc., a firm specializing in management, employment law, and risk management. Phin, a past president of The American Academy of Employment Law Attorneys, can be reached at (800) 234-3304, fax (619) 437-0143, e-mail, or the company Web site

Please contact us with any questions or feedback at (505) 603-5503