Five most common hiring mistakes

Hiring a new or replacement employee is one of the most difficult decisions we have to make as managers. It also happens to be one of the most strategic and costly decisions as well. There are many ways to improve your chances of hiring well, but the simplest is to avoid the most common hiring mistakes that managers often make. Here are the top five hiring mistakes:

No. 1: Superficial interview questions

Asking good questions is a learned art. Although the best hiring processes involve multiple ways to assess a candidates fit and behavior, the interview is still a hallmark of the majority of processes. And where do most of us come up with our interview questions? Janet Boydell, Barry Deutsch and Brad Remillard, authors of best-selling You’re Not the Person I Hired, found that the vast majority of hiring managers ask similar questions to the ones they were asked when they were originally interviewed years ago. Probably not a good source.

Superficial hiring questions are typically canned questions that most candidates know are coming and require little revelation of true behavior or character: What are your strengths? Tell us about yourself? Are you a good team player? Why do you want this job? On the other hand, thoughtful, rigorous questions take time to formulate and customize to the specific position. Effective interview questions investigate a candidate’s past behavior by asking questions in the form of “Give me an example of a time when you …” They uncover correlations between the company’s and the candidate’s values. They put more emphasis on character than on experience.

No. 2: No formal hiring process

Let’s be honest. How many times have you walked into an interview unprepared, assuming you’ll know what to do and the questions to ask? If there is one key to overcoming most of the hiring mistakes that managers make, it is by developing a rigorous and disciplined hiring process. This kind of process has two major components: a detailed step-by-step process, and written forms and questions prepared in advance.

Although each hiring experience may have its unique aspects, most follow a consistent process. Best-practice information on hiring found in many books and websites can form the basis of your step-by-step process. But once you settle on a process after trial-and-error, it needs to be written down in the form of a checklist or procedure so that each hire follows a complete course of action.

No. 3: Not following your hiring process

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for many companies to have a detailed hiring process in place (often created by the HR department) that few follow. There are many reasons — most weak at best — for why hiring supervisors often go their own way when it comes to interviewing and hiring an employee. They may either believe they have a better process, or “This particular hire is unique,” or “I just don’t have time to follow the process.” Whatever the excuse, “going rouge” is almost never a good idea.

No. 4: Ignoring character and values

There’s an HR adage that has proven to be true generation after generation: people are usually hired for experience and fired for character. With today’s emphasis on resume screening and superficial interviews, about the only information a hiring supervisor can glean from a candidate are the facts of past experience and skills. Talent, skills and experience are important, but after the hiring is done, real people show up with their own values, morals, and motivations.

No. 5: Settling for “best of lot”

Finally, the fifth most common hiring mistake is to settle for the best candidate of the available pool, or “best of lot.” Hiring supervisors are generally anxious to fill an open position since ever day that passes means more work for someone else on the team. And so when 20 people apply for a position, it seems obvious that one of the “lot” must be right for the job. Not necessarily so. In fact, one of the most courageous — and often unpopular — decisions a supervisor can make is to hire no one and start the search process all over. Managers need to keep a clear mind about the minimum requirements for the job in terms of character, skills and experience, and not settle for anything less. When all three come together in a candidate, it’s a beautiful thing.

Kent Wilson (PhD) is a business practitioner and nonprofit leadership specialist. After running companies for 30 years, he now serves as an executive coach with Vistage International and the Nonprofit Leadership Exchange in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at