My Worst Hire

Don’t let the title fool you, I’ve made more than one mistake in my hiring career.

When I became a manager five years ago I remember one of my mentors telling me that I would make multiple hiring mistakes in my career and not to be too hard on myself when I hired someone who wasn’t up to par. I remember thinking this was impossible, that I had great judgment of character and that there wasn’t any way I would hire a loser like my managers had done previously only to have to fire months later.

I was wrong. Hiring is without a doubt one of the hardest and most important tasks to accomplish as a manager. In my company, I’m judged by the people I hire. Human capital is a grade that is taken seriously and I’m only allowed to hire a few idiots in a given year before I become the King of Idiots.

My worst hire, we’ll call her Nancy (her real name will go unpublished). Nancy came to me as a referral from a current employee. Her resume looked polished, she had good experience, and she sounded sharp on the phone. I met with her one day while she was in town (she lived out of the market at the time) and my hour with her seemed phenomenal. Even to the point where I called my co-manager in to meet with her briefly because I felt like I had found a solid candidate.

Nancy was sharp dressed in a black suit this particular day, hair was done, and overall she fit the look for the position we were seeking. I asked for a list of references which she provided promptly and I began calling. Within a few phone calls it was evident that Nancy was a solid candidate for any role I had and that she would fit my organization well just like the organizations she had fit in the years past.

To really cover my grounds, I had my boss spend a few minutes on the phone with her. After her stamp of approval, I was ready, and I made the offer and we hired!

Big mistake. The key here is I made a few mistakes during the process. Here they are:

1. Nancy was living out of market at the time

Why was this an issue? I only had the chance to spend one hour of face to face meeting time with Nancy before I pulled the trigger on hiring her. This allowed for me to only see her in one professional setting which was our office conference room. I never interacted with her in public at a restaurant and I didn’t get a chance to watch her navigate a room of my current staff for them to read her up and down. I never introduced her to anyone, it was a simple walk in and walk out and if I recall, my assistant showed her the door when I left the conference room that day.

In hindsight, I learned to always make sure I have multiple points of reference with a candidate. Take them to lunch, meet them for coffee, introduce them to multiple people in the company, and always put them in situations that cause them to interact with others so they can’t hide any odd social cues they may be sitting on.

2. Don’t trust references

Nancy’s references were impeccable. Everyone gave this glowing review as if she was the best they ever had. They said she was a hard worker, fit in with peers and worked with a smile. Which some of this was true, but I failed to find out the truth behind the environments she was working in and what her customer interactions were like. The truth is her previous peers loved her but my job was much different and while asking these references I failed to make the connection. The ingest learning lesson here though is to not trust three of the candidates closest friends from their previous jobs. Seek out your own references, go online and find their former bosses that they may not have listed and call the, directly. Ask the people that are least expecting a call and then see what the outcome is.

3. Don’t move too fast

Simple rule here. Slow down, breathe, ask your colleagues their thoughts, and look at their resume again. Each time I have moved too fast I have hired wrong. We can fall in love with a candidate quickly and forget to see their flaws. With Nancy, I was ready to hire too fast and I never stopped to really ask questions. Had I of slowed down, I most likely would not have pulled the trigger because a few more minutes with this candidate and I may have seen it.

Follow these simple rules for a better hiring plan.

P.S.- I fired Nancy in less than six months.

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