Archive for June, 2014

Seven Mistakes Hiring Companies Make

June 30, 2014

Many hiring companies seem to have missed the talent market pendulum shift. News flash: It’s no longer 2009! We are in a full-fledged candidate-driven market and a company’s competition is not just others that play in their space. It’s every other company that’s vying for the same talent. The companies that adapt to market conditions will win the talent war. As the legendary recruiter, turned talent acquisition thought leader Lou Adler states: “You can’t use a talent surplus model in a talent scarcity situation.”

As both a long-time hiring executive and recruiter, I’ve seen (and made) a fair number of hiring mistakes. Some were process shortcomings while others were misguided priorities. Whatever the case, it’s vitally important to identify them and make course corrections, aimed at improving hiring effectiveness. While there are many hiring problems that companies bring onto themselves, here are some of the most prevalent and debilitating ones I come across.


Ah yes, our good ol’ trusty Human Resources comrades. Some of them get it. They realize that it’s not all about them and their own stringent rules and processes. Ultimately, it’s about results and catering to their internal customers’ hiring needs. What better way to cater to a hiring manager’s needs than to fully involve them in formulating the candidate profile as well as truly understanding what a person needs to do to be successful in the role. Moreover, hiring managers must have a direct tie to the recruiter throughout the entirety of the hiring process. Unfortunately, many HR folks take an exclusionary stance, pushing their own agenda as both the gatekeeper and soothsayer of all things hiring.


Many of the most successful and forward-looking companies understand that for any given position, setting a rigid compensation level based on a budgeted line item in a spreadsheet represents a needless self-inflicted wound. The best companies prioritize getting the right person on the bus, and in doing so, let the market dictate what takes to acquire top talent.

The talent market is highly dynamic, meaning that compensation levels from candidate to candidate are all over the place. They will vary from week to week and candidate pool to candidate pool. Thus, setting an inflexible arbitrary compensation level is bound to be incongruous with what the market will bear. Naturally, all hiring executives need to set budgets and manage to them. That’s where external resources, like search professionals come in real handy when it’s budget-setting season as they can provide a realistic compensation range based on current market conditions. And yes, compensation includes non-cash components, such as equity and differentiating benefits – all necessary to help bolster competitiveness in a candidate-driven market.


Understandably, both hiring managers and their HR colleagues have much more on their collective plates than interviewing and hiring candidates. In many high-growth environments, interviewing and hiring could be a full-time job. Regardless, companies should not endeavor to hire top talent unless they are willing and able to commit the time and priority to make it happen.

All too often, I’ve been approached by companies desperate to hire for what is deemed a critical position. And as usual, they’re months behind on their hiring timeline. After completing the candidate development phase of my search, I present several strong, well-qualified and engaged candidates. But then, when the rubber needs to meet the road, schedules become too full and calls and emails go without response, resulting in interviewing delays and multiple rescheduling. What do you think this says to the candidate? “This company doesn’t have their act together.” “I guess this is not a critically important hire afterall.”


Simply put, many companies make hiring decisions based on candidates who can get the job (i.e., polished interviewees who say precisely what interviewers want to hear) instead of those who can do the job. They ask their very clever (and sometimes tricky) interview questions, looking to hear the “right” answer. Instead of treating the interview like a game show, interviewers would be better served to focus on performance-based criteria, such as behavioral and real-world situational interviewing. By the way, sometimes the most talented and qualified people are not necessarily the most polished interviewees, especially if they haven’t been out there interviewing much over the last several years.


It is far too easy for hiring companies to base their decisions on tangible elements in candidates’ backgrounds. Examples include educational pedigree, number of years in each position, specific domain experience (e.g., worked for a company in the same space, marketed/sold to the same target audience, coded the same type of software, etc.), and big (or small) company experience. While some of these factors may bear relevancy for a given role, they do not encompass the universe of hiring criteria. In addition, some of these areas – such as software and target market, can be taught.

One of the biggest mistakes I see hiring companies make is hiring based on tangibles, only to end up firing for the lack of intangibles. As a hiring executive, I quickly learned to prioritize hiring based on the attributes I couldn’t teach: passion, drive, inquisitiveness, coachability/self-development, aptitude, positive mental attitude, and self-awareness. More times than not, this led to the greatest hires.


As an adjunct to intangibles, many hiring companies will not consider candidates who took the road less ventured. Many of the top talent took a circuitous path to greatness. Perhaps they took a chance with some early-stage start-ups that only lasted a year each. Or maybe they started in a technical role, but discovered along the way that they were more effective in sales than the salespeople they were supporting. These highly talented “non-traditional” candidates aren’t even given a chance by many hiring companies. Big mistake.


Granted, candidates must keep their sales hats on throughout the interview process to make the case for their value and fit. But again, this is not 2009 anymore. Companies that act as though they are the only high-growth, innovative place where people are clamoring to join are simply delusional. The interview is a two-way street and in these current times, it is difficult enough just to engage with top talent. By and large, companies do a masterful job at marketing to their prospective customer base to generate revenue and market share growth. Yet, they tend to do a lackluster job at selling to the very candidates who could help drive further growth and favorably impact the shape and direction of the company’s future.

No doubt, there are plenty of other mistakes hiring companies make. And candidates are not without fault, either. I’m amazed by all the great talent out there, many of whom do such a disservice by not positioning and promoting themselves in the most flattering light possible. It’s as though they’re leaving it up to hiring companies to discover the diamond in the rough.

Ultimately, a hiring company that is behind the curve on attaining their hiring objectives (i.e., most every company out there), would be best served to do a deep dive assessment on their current hiring practices. Perhaps consider bringing in an objective third party who can evaluate with a fresh perspective and cast a light on every facet of the hiring process – warts and all. With a constructive and open approach, mistakes become opportunities.


Action items:

1. What are your hiring objectives, associated hiring timeline goals and employee retention figures? What is the delta between your goals and actuals?

2. How well are the new hires working out long term and why did the ones who left or were terminated not work out?

3. Take an honest look at your hiring practices and compile a list of processes, mindsets and tendencies that might be inhibiting desired results. Start working on these issues internally or with the help of an objective third party resource.