Karin’s Leadership Articles

4 Surprising Reasons You’re Hiring The Wrong Candidate

by | Sep 18, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning |

You work hard to select the right candidate. Missing the mark is emotionally and financially expensive. Take a deeper look at your processes. The techniques you use to find Ms. Right, may be leaving you with Mr. Just Okay. Don’t settle for good, attract great.

4 Surprising Reasons You’re Hiring the Wrong Candidate

  1. It’s Not them, It’s You – Top-notch internal candidates do their homework. They know which leaders will challenge, develop, and grow their careers. If you don’t have candidates approaching you about opportunities before you have an opening, take a look at your leadership. Be the leader everyone wants to work for and tells their friends about. Improve you, to attract them.
  2. Too Much Help From HR – I spent the first decade of my career in HR and have recruited and hired thousands. I also know how I was measured in those roles. Diversity mix, time to hire, % with college degree. All useful considerations, but your HR team may have other motivations than hiring the best candidate for your role. If HR is pushing you to hire a candidate for the “wrong” reasons, push back. Engage your HR team as strategic partners in your success. Link their measurements of success to yours. Slow down and keep looking if necessary. Let diversity be the side effect of great talent, not the driving force.
  3. They Nail The Structured Interview – HR loves structured interviews because they keep hiring managers from asking something stupid. I find they’re a great gauge of one competency: how well the candidate’s mastered the structured interview process. You want a candidate with the right experience, not just interviewing experience. Structured interviewers get better with practice. Supplement your structured interview with deeper questions and lots of homework to verify their stories. See also How To Stink At A Behavior-Based Interview and Interviewing: 4 Ways To Set Yourself Apart.
  4. You’re Using A Robust Recruiting System – Recruiting systems make hiring managers lazy. Systems like Evolve provide rigor in identifying candidates against an ideal profile. Useful in many contexts, particularly in call centers and other entry-level hiring, such systems are helpful, but not sufficient. I’ve seen too many companies select candidates that look great on paper, who quit or are fired in the first 90 days. You can’t outsource selection to a system, or even to an HR department. Insist on being part of the hiring process.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    A study was done by a university regarding employment interviews. The conclusion was over 80% of these interviews are done incorrectly when it comes to hiring someone.

    Bias weaves it’s way into the process. i’m talking personal bias. The hiring manager makes their choice based on how they feel about the candidates.

    One way to soften the bias is to do a Job Benchmark. We ask the job, what type of person would you want in the job based on behaviors, motivators, skills, emotional intelligence, culture, etc.

    Then we assess candidates vs. the benchmark, run a gap report, and see which person comes closest to matching the job’s requirements.

    The benchmark also provides on onboarding document for the new hire showing their strengths as well as where they need to improve as it relates to the job. Pretty cool, huh?

    • letsgrowleaders

      Steve, I continue to be intrigued by that process. How does it account for the softer skills? Don’t you need to assess them in some way in the interview process?

  2. Eric Dingler

    Some of my biggest hiring mistakes have come from two things. One, rushing a decision because I thought I just had to get the position filled. Overtime I learned, I’d rather be under-staffed than wrong-staffed. And the other area I struggled in, and sometimes still do, is having an accurate job description. I’ll have a job description and think I know what I need to hire for…only to discover that what I actually need is completely different. Then, the person I hire is frustrated because I am expecting them to perform in areas and ways they never expected and have no desire to be doing.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Eric, Great to have you back. I fully agree about being understaffed versus wrong-staffed. The team will thank you too. I find my team would rather me go slow and they can help fill in the gaps, then to hire someone who won’t work well in the long run. The wrong hire exhausts everyone.

  3. Dave Bratcher

    I completely agree with Eric. Speed is something which everyone faces, but this is also the downfall of many hires. Thanks for the great road map Karin, and there is one more place #1 would apply. This is found post hire, when the performance is not at the level you had hoped. We often blame the new employee instead of ourselves. This was something I wrote a guest post about for the LGL community http://letsgrowleaders.com/2013/07/08/3-lessons-of-the-expectant-leader/

    • letsgrowleaders

      Dave, GREAT add. Glad you linked back to your excellent post.

  4. Alli Polin

    Great points, Karin!

    Two other things I learned from my time in recruiting consulting: 1) You actually DO have to like them if you’re going to be working with them day in, day out but they still need to be qualified. Best way to overcome this bias is in the first minute of the interview to put a little + or – at the bottom of your page and then let your first impression go and really listen, build rapport and see what’s there. 2) Have other people on the team interview them too. Do they get the same vibe? If not, be willing to listen to their thoughts and why too. Of course and empty seat is a lot of pressure for everyone but a bad hire is much worse than a few more weeks with no hire.

  5. letsgrowleaders

    Alli, Thanks so much. I fully agree with you on all fronts. I always try to have others interview as well. The last time I hired a new director, I had the other directors interview my top candidates. They saw different perspectives which led to great dialogue and a fantastic hire.

  6. Bill Benoist

    I was probably an HR department nightmare for some of the questions I would ask during an interview. (I learned more about a person by asking about favorite vegetables, rather than if they could explain the 7 layers of the OSI model to me.)

    However, in an industry (call center help desk) with a high turnover, the average tenure of my staff was well over five years. More importantly, however, our help desk was highly admired and well spoken of by many in the field.

    I know certain rules need to be followed – I appreciate that, but I also think some H/R departments keep managers held too tightly in a box.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Totally agree… of course, there was the guy I interviewed with when I was pregnant with my first son, and all he kept saying was, “how can I be sure you’ll come back after you have the baby… yada yada. I did get the job and he turned out to be a lifelong mentor and friend… but still…. very uncomfortable at best. I considered turning down the offer. Some rules are good, but I think we’ve gone too far in our structuring.

  7. Mike Anderson

    A few suggestions —

    1. Never rush to fill the spot with a warm body, I absolutely agree with Eric, it is better to be short staffed than to have a full staff of personnel that are not effective.

    2. Always have your peers participate in the interview process and listen to any concerns that they might have. I have made the mistake before of not listening to the concerns of others in my rush to fill the position and paid the price.

    3. Ask for references and call them, probe with questions about the person. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked for references and did not follow up, and again paid the price. I once hired a VP from a competing company, she had a great story about why she left only to find out later that she had been asked to leave. She failed at our company also after damage was done. Ask for references from two of each -industry peer, someone that work for them, and someone they worked for.

    4. I do not care what HR says about calling previous employers. Find someone that worked with the person at their previous employer and call them. The world is small especially in same industry, you should be able to find someone that will give you the straight scoop. I understand this goes against all rules, but so what…

    And finally, if you make a mistake in hiring, swallow your pride and move on quickly. Once in my career I lost a promotion to a senior position because I held onto a new hire leader too long after many hours of coaching and counseling. Complete failure and a ton of damage during their employ for nine months. I knew after two months it was not going to work – it was that obvious. And guess what — I did not follow any of my advice above and I paid the price..

    • letsgrowleaders

      Mike, WOW! Great list! A post in itself. I’m a big believer in serious homework as you describe.

  8. Ali Anani (@alianani15)

    Karin- You know this topic is dear to me. Wrong hiring is costly and creates disappointment. People have different “sides” of them. We tend to see the side that we are familiar with. familiarity may send us in the wrong direction.
    So many profiling techniques have been developed to view the strength and weaknesses of candidates. I recently suggested a simple method for profiling candidates and employees. This method links the main factor a candidate wishes to buy a car with his attitude to work. I know you are aware of this presentation.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Ali, Fantastic! Thanks as always for sharing your gifts and insights with the LGL community.

  9. Ali Anani (@alianani15)

    karin- your post reminded me of hiring a senior researcher. I objected strongly to hiring him. He made life difficult for many people and focused on trivial issues. He knew how to magnify them. One day someone asked him “For how long did you work in the states?”
    @0 years or so
    Where did you work
    I worked for do Chemicals
    I have never heard of it
    It is one of the gigantic companies in the USA
    So, I jumped in and asked him to spell it
    It is D O W
    You mean Dow chemicals.
    Later, it was proven that all his degrees were unreal. He fooled so many people.

    This is a real story and I am not writing it just to amuse, but also to be careful in recruitment.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Ali, thanks for sharing your scart story and your important warning.

  10. Alma Escamilla

    Great post on a topic that keeps me energized. #1 reminds me to ask prospects soon after they enter our lobby, “What do you expect from me as a Leader and Employer?” and “Where do you see yourself in two years?” Let’s begin to create Vision and a plan forward from minus Day 1. I don’t feel compelled to find the perfect candidate, but I must find those who have the propensity to be a positive contributor. “Don’t Rush” also resonates with me as a worthwhile reminder. What great comments by everyone, as usual! Have a great day all!

    • letsgrowleaders

      Alma, love that… start right in the lobby with important connection. Minus day 1…. getting off to the right start. Love it!

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