Six ways to avoid a bad hire

MT EXPERT: Develop your own staff and get them on board as you sniff out new blood, says Shaun Thomson.

by Shaun Thomson
Last Updated: 28 Nov 2014

We’ve all worked with someone that was so poorly suited for their role you wondered if Ashton Kutcher would jump out from behind the water-cooler and tell you that it was actually one big joke. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a business in the UK that doesn’t have a member of staff they wish they could just get rid of, no questions asked.

Expensive, time wasting and demoralising, the key is identifying a bad hire before they even start. The problem with them won’t always be performance related either - it could be their personality doesn’t fit well with the team. But be under no illusion, these individuals can be toxic for a business.

The fact is, with employment as a six-year low, the number of bad hires businesses make is only set to increase.  We are fast moving into a candidate’s market and the power that businesses once wielded at the height of the recession, when we all felt lucky to be employed, is diminishing day by day. Brits are finally feeling confident enough to shop around for better roles, which means more vacancies that businesses that are desperate to fill. In other words, a bad hire bubble is on the way.

But how are these people slipping through the recruitment net and what can be done to stop that?

1. Love your staff

The easiest way to avoid bad hires is to avoid having to hire in the first place. That means rewarding and developing existing staff, so they don’t get itchy feet. But it doesn’t necessarily mean increasing pay – it is well evidenced that staff rarely leave for money; they leave because they don’t feel valued.

With that in mind, it’s imperative to have effective communication with staff. This can include monthly one-on-ones with line managers and senior executive mentoring, which make your employees feel their efforts are recognised and worthwhile.

It is also important to have a clear development path for everyone in the business. That should have information on where an employee wants to be in the short, mid and long-term and how the business is supporting them in these ambitions, with clear objectives and milestones to reward improvements.

2. Promote internally

When vacancies do arise, the first place you should go is to existing staff. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, you know the applicant and how their strengths and weaknesses are suited for the role. Secondly, it will have a positive impact on morale if staff can see the business prioritising and developing existing staff. The role that will then need to be filled is the more junior position, minimising the risk to, and impact on, the business.

3. Always be interviewing

It stands to reason that when a business is desperate to fill a role they will inevitably make concessions on quality, which is usually how a bad hire slips in. This can be mitigated by having a bank of great applicants on standby, which have already been vetted and are keen to join the company.

It can be time-intensive to interview interested candidates when there isn’t a vacancy, but it can be done in a more informal way. And there’s a chance you may find a candidate whose skills are so impressive that you create a role especially for them.

4. Involve everyone

Typically, a bad hire is someone who doesn’t integrate well with an existing team dynamic and whose personality irks their colleagues. That’s why it makes sense to give the team an opportunity to meet their potential new colleague before an offer is made.

That way, issues can be flagged before it’s too late. Plus, by getting the team’s buy in, they will feel more complicit in the hire and so are far more likely to ‘try and make it work.

5. Go pscyho

In interviews, it is very hard to distinguish between candidates that say they can do a job well and those that will actually do a job well in practice. We have all been indoctrinated to say what we think an interviewer wants to hear. Couple that with an ex-employer’s fear of giving a bad reference, and you are pretty much flying blind, relying on gut instinct, which can be far from reliable.

That’s why businesses should undertake psychometric tests for all roles.  They will give insight into what probing questions should be asked in final interviews. They will also outline the attitude and personality of a candidate, which should always be a priority. After all, skills can be taught, but a change in attitude is considerably more difficult to achieve.

6. Put them on probation

On average, a business will conduct two interviews before offering a role and then put the successful applicant on a three-month probation. But if the process is rushed, the impact of any resulting bad hire will far outweigh the time that should have been taken to recruit them in the first place.

For any job, a company should conduct a minimum of three interviews. The probation period should then be six months. Most people can hide their true colours for three months if you throw some holiday in. But with six months you can be absolutely sure that you have a star in the making. If not, you can still say goodbye with minimal aggravation.

Shaun Thomson is UK CEO of business development consultancy Sandler Training

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