The Nine Most Common Hiring Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
To err in hiring is human – and very expensive. Many “standard” hiring procedures are actually common mistakes, so to choose more competent candidates, prepare to revise your hiring methods. Learn the nine hiring errors managers often make, then eliminate them from your hiring practices to help you choose only the cream of the crop.
Mistake 1: Relying only on interviews to evaluate a candidate
In a University of Michigan study titled “The Validity and Utility of Alternative Predictors of Job Performance” John and Rhonda Hunter analysed how well job interviews accurately predict success on the job. The surprising finding: The typical interview increases your chances of choosing the best candidate by less than 2 percent. In other words, flipping a coin to choose between two candidates would be only 2 percent less reliable than basing your decision on an interview.
Experts offer three reasons why interviews, while the most common selection tool, are such poor predictors of sales success:
• Most managers don’t structure an interview beforehand and determine the ideal answers to questions (develop a scoring weight).
• Candidates do much more interviewing than most managers and are more skilful at presenting themselves than many managers are at seeing through their “front.”
• An interview helps managers evaluate personal chemistry and determine how well candidates might work together with others.
Mistake 2: Using successful people as models
Duplicating success may seem like a good idea, but the reason people succeed are not clear from just measuring the characteristics of top performers. More important are the differences between top performers and low achievers. For example, a comprehensive study of more than 1,000 sales superstars from 70 companies showed that the top three characteristics shared by high achievers were (1) the belief that salesmanship required strong objection-answering skills, (2) good grooming habits, and (3) conservative dress – especially black shoes. However, a study of the weakest performers at these companies revealed that the same three characteristics were their most common traits as well. The lesson: You must “validate” critical success skills by comparing large enough samples of top performers and weak performers to find the factors that consistently distinguish the winners from the “also rans.” Otherwise, you may select well-spoken, energetic candidates who fail quickly but with style.
Mistake 3: Too many criteria
Only through a method called “validation” can you make more effective hiring decisions. The U.S. government originally used validation research to prove that employments selection practices predicted job success and weren’t discriminatory. Similar to a process insurance companies use to predict accident risk or the likelihood of health problems, validation can dramatically improve your odds of hiring the right people. Not only does it identify critical job success factors, it weights each factor’s importance. Consider these two surprising and important findings from validation research:
• The most critical factor for predicting success in any job is usually as important or more important than all other factors combined.
• The most accurate prediction of success on the job is based on no more than six to eight factors. Add any more, and you risk diluting your criteria, watering down the prediction of success, and killing selection accuracy.
To hire winners, decide on six to eight factors that separate them from losers. Ignore factors that are not validated, or you may end up hiring nice guys who finish last.
Mistake 4: Evaluating “personality” instead of job skills
Certain personality traits – high energy, honesty, a solid work ethic – seem to practically guarantee success, yet they don’t. Many consultants and distributors of pre-employment tests maintain that certain personality factors help ensure management or sales success and offer psychological theories to support that belief. However, solid statistical research from many objective sources shows little correlation between any personality factor and any specific job. Producers of competent and reputable “personality type” tests (like the Myers-Briggs) admit their tests are useful for self-awareness and training but not for hiring. Only tests of job skills or knowledge are proven to predict job success consistently. You might enjoy knowing your sales candidates have self-confidence and energy, but knowing whether they can answer objections and close sales is definitely more important.
Mistake 5: Using yourself as an example
Your own sales success might lead you to believe you can spot candidates with potential, but don’t count on it. A famous lawyer once said, “The attorney who would represent himself has a fool for a client” –a saying that also applies to managers hiring new salespeople. Many managers who reached their position by virtue of their sales success, believe they can instinctively recognise a good candidate, when they are unconsciously just using themselves as a template. When you use yourself as a model, your ego often gets in the way, and that “bias” can skew your objectivity in judging others – a fatal hiring flaw.
Mistake 6: Failure to use statistically validated testing to predict job skills most critical to success
In some companies, committees use deductive reasoning or brainstorming to identify criteria for candidate selection. This technique may encourage team building and a spirit of cooperation and participation, and may even focus the organisation on the importance of hiring the right people. Unfortunately, two main flaws make it less effective at pinpointing why candidates fail or succeed. First, the committees tend to focus on theories instead of facts – theories that suggest, for example, that high self-confidence guarantees a better employee. Second, they focus on attitude and experience instead of ability and skills. Skills are a much more significant and consistent indicator of success potential. Incentives can motivate a skilled person, but motivation and good intentions won’t improve an unskilled candidate.
To explain why managers often rely on reasoning or common sense to assess candidates’ attitude and personality, experts suggest that doing so is easier than measuring their skills. Gauging skill levels often requires carefully developed tests or on-the-job trials many managers are unwilling or unable to conduct.
Mistake 7: Not researching why people have failed in a job
Research consistently shows that people fail in a job due to factors different from the criteria used to select them. Though most managers can list the most common reasons people have failed, they seldom make the information part of the process of choosing selection criteria for new candidates. Managers who identify these “failure points” and build them into the selection process can reduce hiring mistakes by as much as 25 percent. In most competitive sales situation, for example, the average prospect buys from a new salesperson only after six contacts. The average unsuccessful salesperson gives up after three contacts. While some of that salesperson’s techniques may be adequate, the tendency to give up after three rejections was never uncovered or evaluated.
Mistake 8: Relying on general “good guy” criteria
Everyone may want to hire good people, but being a good person does not ensure success on the job. Sales success skills are now so specialised that you need specialised hiring criteria as well. A coach filling a spot on a cricket team, for example, bases qualifications on the team’s skill. At the prep-school level, the selection criteria for a player – dexterity, confidence with the ball, desire to play – are broad. As we reach the high school or university level, the criteria are more specialised, focusing on the four general skills required for success: bowling, batting, catching and fielding. At the international level, different fielding positions require such highly specialised skills (e.g. Fielding at slip or short leg,) that no coach would rely on four general cricketing skills to choose a test player. In sales, too, reserve broad, “good guy” criteria for entry level hiring. When you need a more experienced salesperson, use more specialised criteria.
Mistake 9: Bypassing the reference check
Various recruiting and placement agencies report a fairly high percentage of false information presented in resumes and job applications. As many as 15 to 20 percent of job applicants try to hide some dark chapter in their lives. For some positions, one out of three resumes submitted may contain false information. To find out who’s pulling the wool over your eyes, make the extra effort to verify the information your applicants provide. An individual who twists the facts to get a job will probably bend the rules on the job. Checking references may seem tedious, but it beats the frustration and cost of hiring someone you need to fire after two months.
With the discovery of hiring mistakes comes the opportunity to make positive change. Even if you are content with most of the people you have hired so far, remember that ongoing improvement is key to success. When you are willing to revamp your standard hiring procedures, you open the door to a stronger sales team that can lead your company in a new and more profitable direction.