6 Common Hiring Mistakes – And How You Can Avoid Them

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I’ve recently been writing about business leadership and strategy, and I began thinking about something one of my mentors taught me about being an executive.

He said, “the most important decision you make is when you choose WHO.”

Hiring top talent is the not-very-secret, secret to success. But we all make mistakes sometimes.

Here are the top six (6) mistakes I see executives make when choosing business leaders:

1. Admire a past accomplishment too much

Very often a candidate will have an accomplishment in their past that is truly extraordinary. It’s more impressive than anything you’ve ever done and far outshadows the accomplishments of the other candidates. Wow! You’re hired!

Don’t: Hire the candidate based on this one grand accomplishment alone.

Don’t: Assume this breakthrough will be repeated for you.

Do: Make sure they are ahead of the pack on many of the other hiring needs too.

Do: Make sure to get them to talk about how they will think, learn about, and do the specific things you need done — don’t assume brilliant success on the prior thing will automatically translate to brilliant success on what you need done.

2. Put too much stock in advanced degrees

I know plenty of people with advanced degrees who are highly effective business leaders, but I know as many who are not. Advanced degrees alone are not proof of future business success. They are only proof that the person is capable of getting advanced degrees.

Don’t: Say “wow, look at all those masters and PhD’s – you must be better than all the others that don’t have them.”

Do: Get them to talk about examples of how they have done things like you need done.

Do: Get them to give examples of how they personally conceived of and led business change.

3. Too much experience

One of my first hires was to hire a telemarketing guy who had 22 years of experience being a telemarketing guy. I was so impressed! Oops.

Don’t: Hire someone only because they have a huge amount of experience in the thing you need done. Maybe they have so much experience in that job because they were never good enough to get promoted! If you are hiring an expert you may be OK, but if you are hiring a leader be suspicious. You are always better off judging and hiring for smarts and future capability than past experience — because the problems and opportunities are always changing.

Do: Look for advancement on a resume over experience. See: Make Better Hires, How to Hire a Star.

4. Fall in love with the person

OK, when after the interview you want to go out for drinks with the person even more than you want to work with them, make sure you are not mistaking how much you like the person as a potential friend, with making the right hiring decision.

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Don’t: Make this decision alone.

Do: Get others’ help validating the person’s capabilities and fit for the job.

5. Fail to check references

This seems so obvious, but for all the reasons listed above, I have seen people not bother, or get too busy, or need to move too fast to check references. Then they get surprised and burned. In all the cases above, add to the DO list: check references!

Don’t: Ever NOT-check references

Do: Always check back channel references, not just the ones they give you.

6. Pass over people who are too smart

The best executives hire the best people. Then the whole organization gets stronger.

It’s only weak, ineffective leaders who hire weaker people. Then the whole organizations gets weaker. Your team needs to make you bigger, better, and more capable.

Don’t: Get scared by smart people. It’s never a losing move to hire a really smart person.

Do: Always hire the smartest people you can find. See: Are You Smarter Than Me?

What have you learned about hiring top people?

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at patty@azzarellogroup.com .


3 Comments on “6 Common Hiring Mistakes – And How You Can Avoid Them

  1. Being in the “green” field, I often get stuck in the 6th category. I wouldn’t say I’m overly smart, but I would say there are a lot of people who have not investigated far enough into the green scene to truly understand its advances. Try as I might, when you have to be interviewed by someone who is hiring a new sustainability employee that knows nothing about the field, it all goes over their head. Or worse, they think they know green and believe all of the technology “just won’t work” at their company. This often scares or intimidates them, the same as it would if I started talking to someone in IT. It’s not something I understand and I would have a hard time following them as well. But if you want to bring on the best person to write up your Sustainability Plan for your company’s future, you better bring on the smartest person you can that feels confident enough to get the job done. A meek or weak-minded individual won’t push the company hard enough to achieve real results. Go for the gold and hire the bulldog!

  2. I have to disagree with your first three “hiring mistakes” by saying:

    1. Do admire past accomplishments because they suggest a proven capability.  If this
    candidate hits home runs show some respect. I’d be more worried about a candidate who gets hits but always seems to be left on base.

    2. Put enough stock in advanced degrees.  It means this person put more sweat equity and serious cash money (these days) for that advanced degree…and extra knowledge.

    Anyone can make the case for smart people with no degrees, but those who continue to
    pursue knowledge in formal and informal ways are keepers because they embrace the concept of  “continuous learning” which is the spring board of any competitive individual or employer.

    3. There is no such thing as too much experience unless you tend to discriminate against the older employee and/or job candidate.  Valid experience is golden and the more seasoned the better because it gives the more experienced person a broader frame of reference than the neophyte.  Re:  “Sully” Sullenberger: The Pilot Who Glided Plane Into Hudson … Would you as a passenger on any airplane prefer the least experienced pilot or the most experienced pilot for you cross country flight?  Experience matters and it doesn’t dull the person who has it—it makes them smarter and more able to adjust to “problems
    and opportunities [that] are always changing.” You seem to imply the opposite.

    As for your number 4.  “Fall in love with the person”… Love is the wrong emotion to bring to a job interview.  “Like” or “respect” are appropriate–but “love” is out. This is an unprofessional place to be in–in the role of recruiter or hiring manager.  It suggest you should extricate yourself from the proceedings if you’re “falling in love” during the interview process.

    Number 5. Check references–Agree

    Number 6. Don’t pass over people who are too smart…I agree and disagree.  Certainly you should always hire smart, bright people.  But recognize the difference between “smart” and “too smart”.  The former is going to be a great contributing team member; however, the latter may prove to be a nightmare unless you are comfortable with someone who is actually “smarter” than you or your team because they will soon challenge the way you do things and will either help you make improvements or become frustrated with a slower thinking crew…and will let you know your shortcomings.

    Beware of know-it-alls–e.g., some (I include some Ivy League grads, who now consult with Boston Consulting or Anderson Consulting–when they were under the name of Anderson Consulting) are grand at showing their smarts by telling you how to get things done their way because your way is clearly flawed.

  3. Sadly, many hiring managers are intimidated by candidates smarter than they are, especially old schoolers who lack intellectual curiousity or motivation themselves.  These hiring managers hire less capable friends, associates, or family members because they don’t face the threat of more talented hires supplanting them. 

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