The Top 10 Dumbest Hiring Mistakes Smart People Make

(from an article by Lou Adler, CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring, and a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider). 

“,,,, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll use some lame excuse to justify how you found it.”

Over the past 40 years, I’ve interviewed over 10,000 people for hundreds of different jobs, from entry-level to CEO. As part of this, I’ve debriefed over one thousand managers and tracked the subsequent performance of the people they hired and didn’t hire. Based on this, I can safely conclude these are the top 10 classic hiring mistakes:

  1. Using Presentation Skills to Predict Performance. Too many interviewers overvalue the candidate’s appearance, affability, assertiveness and how articulate the person is. These “Four A’s” don’t predict performance, all they predict is the likelihood the wrong person will be hired.
  2. Instantaneous “Judgmentitous” (aka “Cherry-picking” Syndrome). Once a yes/no hiring decision is made (often in a few minutes) the balance of the interview is used to seek out information to confirm the initial flawed decision. For those candidates in the “yes” group, the tough questions are avoided, and for those receiving a quick “no” the toughest ones are asked. The problem can be minimized by waiting at least 30 minutes before making any hint of a yes or no decision.
  3. Using Hard Skills to Predict Performance. It’s what people do with what they have that makes them successful, yet most interviewers focus more on the depth of the having rather than the quality of the doing. It’s better to first determine how these skills are used on the job, and then use the one-question interview to figure out if the person has done what needs to be done.
  4. Thinking Soft Skills are Too Soft to Matter. Collaborating with other people in other functions, meeting challenging deadlines, changing priorities, making business tradeoffs, obtaining resources, and the like, are too important to be called soft. Yet most interviewers spend too little time on how these non-technical skills drive performance.
  5. Missing the Forest for the Trees. If you’ve ever hired someone who’s partially competent, you’ve experienced this problem. Technical people focus too much on technical brilliance and not enough on how these skills are used on the job. Intuitive people rely on a narrow range of abilities, like assertiveness and intellectual horsepower, and assume global competency. The problem can be minimized by preparing a performance-based job description defining the top 4-5 things a person needs to do to be successful. Then put them in priority order and get everyone on the interviewing team to agree. Combine this with the one-question Performance-based Interview and you’re unlikely to make this mistake again.
  6. Gladiator Voting. Putting a bunch of interviewers in the same room and deciding to hire or not hire someone by adding up the yes/no votes is a recipe for hiring the wrong person. Sharing evidence around the factors that drive success is the key to an accurate assessment. Here’s a scorecard we recommend using to collect the objective evidence needed to make an accurate assessment. When there is a wide variance of opinion around each factor, you can safely assume your company’s interview process is based on something other than the candidates’s ability to do the work that needs to be done.
  7. The Safety of No. A no vote is easier to make since those that invoke it can never be proved wrong. A “no” also rewards the weakest and the most conservative interviewers, since neither has enough information to vote yes. Worse, one no vote can override 2-3 yes votes, especially if the person voting no has more authority. This is why the talent scorecard approach mentioned above is more effective.
  8. Misreading Motivation. Motivation to do the job is essential to job success. However, doing the job is not the same as motivation to get the job. Being prepared, being on time, doing company research, or responding “correctly” to the question, “why do you want this job?” are terrible predictors of real motivation. Unfortunately, too many interviewers are seduced by these superficial displays of interest. The one-question Performance-based Interview will reveal what really motivates candidates to excel.
  9. Ignoring Situational Fit. Even if you overcome all of the these relatively easily preventable hiring mistakes and measure true ability, there is one issue that is often overlooked. If the candidate isn’t highly motivated to do the actual work that needs to get done, doesn’t mesh with the hiring manager’s style, or can’t thrive in the company culture (i.e., pace, decision-making process, approach to collaboration, level of sophistication, level of support and resources available) success is problematic.
  10. Asserting the Wrong Consequent. Most people falsely assume that the best sales reps make good first impressions. With this viewpoint, many compound the error by concluding that everyone who makes a good first impression will be a good sales rep. What I’ve discovered is that the only common characteristic among the best sales people is a track record of great sales performance. When I find a great sales rep who makes less than a stellar first impression, I’ve discovered the person works harder than everyone else. You can apply this same principle to any job where there’s a belief that first impressions matter. What matters is a track record of past performance doing what you need to get done.

Don’t take shortcuts when it comes to hiring. This starts by defining what you need done. If you skip this step you’re likely to fall prey to one or more of the common hiring traps described here. As someone once told me, “if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll use some lame excuse to justify how you found it.”


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He’s also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people.

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