How to Stop Hiring the Wrong People in Five Simple Steps

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Standardized interviews, questionnaires, complex scoring systems, background checks, drug tests and personality assessments — Corporate America has certainly engineered what should be a fool-proof process to help companies avoid hiring the wrong person.

Despite all of these processes and platforms, companies can still miss red flags in the hiring process, in fact, 66 percent of U.S. employers have been affected by a bad hire in the last year. And hiring errors come at a cost: a bad hire can cost a company as much as $50,000.

Luckily, picking up on warning signals is not difficult provided you practice keen observation and listening skills throughout the interview. Remember that a warning signal is not a 100 percent confirmation that there is a problem. Always consider any of the fairly defensible explanations that may have led to an interview blunder, such as an innocent misunderstandings or a classic case of nerves.

By understanding the nature and causes of these warning signals, and taking the necessary time to look into what they mean, you can get to the heart of the matter and avoid jumping to conclusions.

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Here are some of the most common indicators that a candidate isn’t right for your organization and how to deal with them:

The Signal: Fuzzy answers

  • What Happens: The interviewer asks about a specific skill or industry tool and the candidate responds with either: “I may have seen that before,” or “I am pretty sure this is how it works.”
  • What It Means: The candidate is not 100 percent confident in his answer and does not have the personal and professional experience you are asking for. If the candidate did possess these skills, he would have answered with definitive words such as, “I do,” “I know” or “I have.”
  • What to Do: Prompt him to clarify his response by asking, “Have you actually done this before or used this tool in the past?” Specifically ask him to cite a concrete example of how he’s successfully used the tools in his past work

The Signal: Bashing a former employer

  • What Happens: When the candidate is asked about his current or last employer, he provides you with negative feedback in the form of harsh criticisms, such as “my boss was the worst,” or “I hate my current job.”
  • What It Means: By sharing this type of harmful information, the candidate has questionable judgment and may have difficulty framing negative situations in a more professionally objective way.
  • What to Do: In this situation, try to empathize with the candidate (since some employment situations can be very difficult) and challenge him to tell you what was good about this job. This provides the candidate with a chance to recast their response in a more positive and professional manner.

The Signal: Too much group attribution

  • What Happens: The interviewer asks the candidate about a specific project and his response includes frequent use of the words “we” and “my team,” without ever personally owning responsibility for any tasks.
  • What It Means: He likely was not the person actually driving the project and, in some instances, may not have even been involved directly in any way.
  • What to Do: Dissect any over-usages of plural references and ask the candidate to explain what he was specifically responsible for, which will provide a clearer division of labor within the team.

The Signal: Late for the interview

  • What Happens: The candidate shows up more than fifteen minutes late for his interview and does not acknowledge it.
  • What It Means: He got lost finding the office, he may have had difficulty with parking or building access, or he simply does not care that he’s late for the interview.
  • What to Do: Always address this issue in a light manner, such as, “Did you have difficulty finding us today?” This will test the candidate’s reaction and determine if this was an accident or apathy.

The Signal: Spinning a weakness as a strength

  • What Happens: When the interview asks about professional weaknesses, the candidate responds with, “My biggest weakness is that I work too hard” or “My biggest weakness is I pay too much attention to detail.”
  • What It Means: He is not being honest about what real tasks he needs to work on and what skills need improvement.
  • What to Do: Instead of asking the candidate what he thinks his biggest weakness is, ask him instead what their boss or coworkers would say his biggest area of weakness is. This approach will entice the interviewee to provide a more honest response. Ask them for the name of this person. This can also trigger a more authentic response.

Although a candidate may look great on paper, it’s critical to keep an eye on these warning signals during the interview phase. Doing so will allow to make the smartest decisions when hiring new employees.

Beth Gilfeather is CEO of Seven Step RPO, a recruitment process outsourcing firm based in Boston. Gilfeather founded the company in 2007 to provide hiring-intensive businesses with a more cost-effective, flexible and proven recruitment solution. She has more than 20 years of recruiting expertise and her areas of specialty include team building, process design & optimization, recruitment sales, recruitment training and operational delivery.


12 Comments on “How to Stop Hiring the Wrong People in Five Simple Steps

  1. This is very thought provoking, although it seems that a point made in the introduction, “Remember that a warning signal is not a 100 percent confirmation that there is a problem,” seems to get overlooked after reading through the whole piece. Being presented five times with a “What it Means” for each of the steps kind of drives home the opposite of “warning signals.” Saying it “means” this or that is a bit too concrete for me since each could mean a host of different things…

    For example, someone that uses “we” or “us” in their interview responses can easily be someone that is a great team player – even if they actually are the “star” of the team.

    The “what to do” instances for each step are spot on…and great advice for any type of interview. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  2. Very good practical article! Agree 100%! These are fundamentally “secrets” for a great interview!!

  3. The Signal: Bashing a former employer

    What to do? Really help recast the answer? How about avoid that bad hire. If someone cannot manage the relationship with the previous emlpoyer.. that is your clear signal to skip on that hire. This article is pointless.

  4. Can the practice of asking a candidate what their weaknesses are just stop? Are there really qualified candidates out there who haven’t practiced “spinning a weakness into a strength” ad nauseum? This question is a waste of everyone’s times and if anything, highlights the lack of interviewing skills by the person asking the questions.

  5. This article makes the interview process sound like an interrogation by a North Korean security official who will determine which prison camp to put the poor “candidate” into. Nothing the candidate says ever seems adequate. It seems to me that the best thing for the candidate being asked these questions is to apply for a job elsewhere. The best candidate will seem to be the one who doesn’t need a job. So-called HR professionals make enormous “leaps of faith” by drawing inferences that are unjustifiable. There is no “science” here and no “professionalism,” but only ignorance wrapped in arrogance.

      1. In companies where the HR people are strong, the employees are usually subjected to misleading statements and lies. HR should be like a clerk job with no decision-making by the liars in HR at all. I can say this now, because I am 71 years old, a pensioner, a millionaire, and will never have to be subjected to the arrogant fools and psychopaths in HR again. Most of the really powerful HR people are like hired assassins.

  6. Ah yes, you can totally judge whether somebody can do the job just by questions and first impressions, expecting honest answers while punishing people when people actually give such answers. What are you, a hypocritical psychic sadist without common sense?

    Anyway, feel free to the blame the free market when you can’t hire the second coming of Jesus at minimum wage. We know how big a joke you hirers actually are, we just ain’t telling you yet because we got bills to pay and food to put on the table.

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