MT Expert - People: Avoid making recruitment blunders

Appointing the wrong person can be detrimental to your business. Simon Swan explains how to make sure you don't get caught out...

by Simon Swan
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2011
PM David Cameron told MPs recently that 'with hindsight' he would not have hired ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson and he is extremely sorry about the furore it has caused.'

As well as being an excellent use of the word ‘furore’, it is the closest that Dave has come to an apology since NotW’s phone hacking shenanigans hit the headlines, and it highlights the impact that hiring the wrong person can have on an organisation’s reputation.

Away from Number 10 the ramifications for making a, let’s face it, crap hiring decision are arguably less explosive. However, recruiting a bad egg can still have a very real effect on your company’s credibility, your staff’s morale, production, and not least of all, your bottom line.

The good people at Harvard Business School reckon the cost of making the wrong hire can be between three and five times the employee’s annual salary, while for specialist functions the cost can be up to ten times their yearly wedge.

Now, I’ve done the maths (so you don’t have to) and it turns out that this is a lot of money. So what can be done to eliminate the risk and avoid making a similar mistake to Cameron?

It doesn’t really matter if you’re recruiting directly, or using a third-party recruitment agency, the rules are the same and the responsibility lies with you to check out a candidate to ensure they are up to scratch.

Rule number one: candidates lie. The 2008 winner of The Apprentice, Lee McQueen, came under the spotlight when it was revealed that he had lied on his CV; he claimed to have spent two years at university when in reality he’d dropped out after just four months. Despite this, Lord Sugar hired him on a £100,000 starting salary.

'I'm very ashamed about that,' said McQueen at the time. 'It lost me some of my integrity. I got a good grilling and I deserved it, and I learnt from my mistake. It won't happen again.'

Hollywood star Robert Pattinson also lied, this time to get acting roles before he got his big break in the super-successful Twilight franchise. He claimed he’d attended Oxford University and London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) to impress casting directors. 'I did it for years,' proclaimed the British actor, somewhat too proudly.

So check and cross-reference everything in a candidate’s CV if you’re even remotely suspicious. The most common porkie pies include: modifying dates of employment, pumping-up grades and qualifications, ‘losing’ criminal records, and exaggerating previous responsibilities and/or salary history.

In addition to grilling the candidate, you need to contact their previous employers. 'References are invaluable,' said Sara Jones, my co-founder at 'Potential candidates should have a minimum of two, and if one of them isn’t from their current employer, find out why.'

Naturally, it’s important to conduct a thorough interview too. A minimum of two is the norm, even if the candidate has come via a referral or third-party recruitment agency. Prepare the bulk of your interrogation in advance, and try to prompt the candidate into revealing more about themselves and their ambitions. Grill them on your company, too. If they want to work for you they should be well versed in what exactly it is that you do.

Apologies for stating the obvious, but hiring good staff is not rocket science. That said, you would be surprised how many employers make the same lazy mistakes time and time again. Trust me, I come across them every day and help them pick up the pieces.

Hiring takes energy, time and money, plus a good deal of strategic thinking and personal judgement. But gut instinct alone isn’t enough to prevent an unsuitable or dishonest candidate slipping through the net. Remember that next time you’re recruiting. It could save you a small fortune and, at the very least, a lot of hassle and embarrassment. And no one likes hassle and embarrassment, do they Dave?

Simon Swan is a co-founder of, an intermediary online recruitment platform that acts as a gateway, connecting businesses to a network of approved recruitment agencies that agree to fill roles for a fixed fee that the employer sets. You can follow Simon on Twitter

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