Don’t Just Trust Your Gut: Avoid These Hiring Mistakes

posted on August 26th 2016 in News


As a former Recruiter, long time HR professional, and someone who’s grown teams from scratch, it’s impossible to say how many people I’ve interviewed. Fun memories include a candidate named Early Smith who told me she was “always late,” and a one who showed up at our Soho loft office wearing roller-blades without a spare pair of shoes. Neither one got the job.

There are obvious Hires and No Hires, but the trick is making the right decision when you’re on the fence. Hiring is still mostly art and part science, and there’s no such thing as a perfect track record. Many organizations believe if they don’t make a few hiring mistakes, they’re not taking enough risks. Still, interviewing experience and training combined with a well thought out hiring process does lead to a higher rate of success. Here are some habits of people it pays not to hire.

Habit of Interrupting:

After a long search, I found an HR candidate with all the right skills, passion, and energy. He was interviewed by both the HR team and key business leaders. Each interviewer give a “Hire” recommendation in our written feedback. But when we got together as a group, we realized that his pattern of interrupting showed up in every interview. Interrupting can be an annoying habit, indicative of bad manners, and it grated on our nerves. But more importantly, we worried about the candidate’s ability to listen to employees which is extremely important in an HR role. As a hiring team, our ability to have an open discussion and change our initial votes led us to turn him down and choose someone who was a much better fit.

Lessons Learned:
Always debrief as a group, and be flexible enough to change your vote based on other interviewers’ feedback.
Looks for patterns; these behaviors that will definitely show up on the job.

Subtle Negativity:

Good candidates won’t be overtly negative, but some do fall into a trap of criticizing past employers, bosses, or coworkers. Listen closely, and learn to read between the lines. Ask questions like why they left, what frustrates them, and how they resolve conflicts at work. Listen for the sub-text. What irritates this candidate, and is he or she easily annoyed? How does their frustration show up at work? Sometimes just talking about a frustrating situation will get a candidate riled up. Are they collaborative and solutions oriented, or do they think they’re always right and want to win at any cost?

Lessons Learned:
Remember that candidates are on their very best behavior during an interview. If they’re being negative now, it’s only going to increase as they get more comfortable.
Negative behavior is not just a personality trait – these answers show poor judgment and a lack of restraint.

Fractious Negotiation:

Negotiating pay, benefits, and time off is the most intense part of any hiring process for both the candidate and the hiring manager. Pay is so tied up in our identity and self-worth, things can get tricky fast. In my early recruiting days, I had an offer out to a senior executive. He verbally accepted, but before returning the signed offer letter he began leaving voicemails with questions asking for extra time off and unusual perks. The odd thing? He left all his messages between 1-3AM and never picked up his phone or returned my calls during business hours. Based on my recommendation, we rescinded the offer via email. Wouldn’t you know the candidate called immediately when he got my note? But it was too late.

Lessons Learned:
Pay attention to a candidate’s behavior throughout the entire hiring process.
Until both parties have signed, the deal isn’t closed. Don’t be rash, but if things go sideways it’s better to avoid a bad hire before he or she joins the organization.

Lukewarm References:

Most large companies don’t give references anymore and prospective employers have to settle for “off the record” feedback or an Employment Verification line that’s limited to title and salary confirmation. I’ve seen candidates list references whose feedback wasn’t all that positive, or who didn’t know their work well enough to provide detailed feedback. When a candidate fails to provide strong references, it usually means they don’t have enough.

Lessons Learned:
References matter; find out what you can in advance and always make offers contingent on the reference check.
Don’t assume all references are good. If you ask detailed questions and probe for worthwhile feedback, you’ll get it.

How you feel during the interview is how you’ll feel working with the candidate. Did you leave the conversation feeling energized, confused, bored, or inspired? However you felt, take note.

Mikaela Kiner

Mikaela is a native Seattleite who’s spent the last fifteen years in HR leadership roles at iconic Northwest companies including Microsoft, Amazon, PopCap Games and Redfin. She has an MS in HR Management with a certificate in Organizational Development and is an ICF credentialed coach. Mikaela delivers results by building trust and engaging her clients in creative problem solving. Clients appreciate her strategic thinking and hands on execution.