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Six Ways to Avoid Making a Bad Hire


As a recruitment manager, making a ‘bad hire’ can be a costly mistake in terms of renumeration, training and staff morale. The investment which should have gone towards the right candidate for the role is wasted and will have to be spent anew once a good ‘fit’ has finally been sourced. Consistently making poor hiring decisions can lead to widespread dysfunction within the organisation and cause existing employees to question the company culture and the capability of its managers. 

If we assume that the job specification has been properly researched, drafted, and appropriately advertised then it should attract a good selection of hopefuls. To eliminate potentially unsuitable applicants at the applications stage, look out for the following warning signs:

  1. The application is not tailored to the essential skills and experience in the job specification.

Candidates with the right credentials, who are genuinely enthusiastic about applying for the role, will have taken care to stress their suitability in the application, whether it be by their CV, a covering letter, or the application form. Details that appear to have been simply cut and pasted from another document with no effort made to tailor the application to the role criteria, indicate a candidate’s level of disinterest and point to the fact that they are sending out identical applications for multiple roles.

  1. The application contains grammatical faults and spelling errors.

A basic expectation of any application is that it will be written in correct English and free from typos. If the applicant has not taken time to check their own document, then this is a likely indicator that they may be equally lacking in attention to detail in their approach to work and when dealing with customers.

  1. Unexplained unemployment gaps on the CV or persistent changing of jobs.

Gaps in employment, be it due to parental leave, illness or a change of career should be explained on the CV or at least alert the interviewer to enquire further. Interviewers should also be wary of candidates with convoluted or unprofessional reasons as to why they left previous employments. Interviewers shouldn’t feel that they must interrogate candidates, however sufficient exploration is needed to understand a person’s qualifications and motivations for applying. A final stage interview in person is usually advisable to properly assess a candidate’s personality, integrity and ‘fit’ for the organisation. Potential warning bells can include:

  1. Failure of the candidate to prepare.

Candidates who genuinely want the job and therefore wish to leave a positive impression will have researched not only the role and department but also the organisation in detail, including its services and products. They will understand the company’s mission and key aspirations as well as the desired outlook of its workforce. A keen interviewee will also have researched the backgrounds and motivations of the people that they are due to meet at the interview.

Candidates that come across well also tend to be articulate with solid relational skills and, importantly, will have made the effort to understand the company’s dress code and present themselves smartly. It is fair to say that interviews are pressured situations, and that naturally introverted candidates may not come across as well as others, however, candidates need to be able to demonstrate they can cope under pressure, as all jobs involve a degree of stress as well as the ability to deliver. Candidates that tend to freeze up can be put at ease and encouraged to open-up by being asked follow-up questions. To help the interviewee warm up it is good practise to start with a straightforward introductory question such as ‘talk me through your career to date.’

  1. Poor communication skills

It is important to take note of a person’s body language at interview; do they make appropriate eye contact, or do they gaze around the room? Maintaining unwavering eye contact can be unnerving and perceived as a sign of aggressivity whereas failing to make proper eye contact can signify dishonesty, although is more often due to nervousness. Tilting too far forward towards the interviewer can be interpreted as overly assertive or domineering whereas taking a backwards stance and folding one’s arms can indicate aloofness and an unwillingness to engage. Above all the interviewer should feel a synergy with the interviewee; is the candidate easy to relate to and does the conversation flow well?

Importantly, does the candidate also respond to the question convincingly and in depth, with strong examples to substantiate their answers, or are they vague and thin on detail? While some questions may inevitably be harder to answer than others, the interviewer should be looking to hear strong, recent, and relevant examples which reinforce the skills and experience that they seek. Strong, prepared candidates will be able to easily recall and recount solid examples from their recent work history of how they demonstrated a given competence. They will speak in the past tense and regularly use the pronoun ‘I’ and not ‘we’. Weaker candidates will fail to place themselves at the centre of their examples and may speak in either the present tense or hypothetically in the future or conditional tense, highlighting a lack of relevant experience. Particularly disconcerting and best to avoid are candidates who give examples of how other colleagues may have prevented from them from achieving their goals or targets. Candidates should maintain a professional stance throughout any interview and use appropriate language. It goes without saying that swearing, or bad-mouthing ex-colleagues is unacceptable.

  1. Final warning signs.

Watch out for interviewees who do not ask questions at the end of an interview. Reliable, effusive, and engaged future employees will want to know more about the role and the business and will be naturally enquiring, keen to show their interest and excited about the prospect of being recruited. Candidates who levy unreasonable requests or throw up deliberate barriers or constraints late on in the recruitment process show a lack of professionalism, which may also be a portent of their behaviour to come.

The points covered here are not fool proof but can help diminish the possibility of making a poor recruitment decision.

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