Talent acquisition functions spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars designing processes to hire top performers, innovators, and game changers. Unfortunately few of those dollars or hours are spent fixing the biggest roadblock in recruiting A-level talent: weak hiring managers. Everyone seems to intuitively know that managers are the weakest link in any hiring process but few have had the time to research the topic and to identify the specific reasons how weak managers hurt the overall hiring effort.
As part of a larger project I’m currently working on (developing a “bad manager identification” orBMI program), I have been able to compile a long list of how weak managers hurt both the speed and the quality of hire.
If you decide to initiate an effort to train managers on how to hire, these factors and their related negative impacts could be crucial in building the business case for training hiring managers and rewarding them for great hires.
The Costs of a Bad Hire
Most would agree that managers do an OK job when they are trying to fill the typical requisition. However, everything changes when you’re trying to recruit the most difficult and desirable candidates. When recruiting A-level talent, undertrained, low-skilled, egotistical, or disinterested managers can be a top factor in losing great candidates. In addition to losing top candidates, the resulting bad hires require more costly training, they take up more of their teammate’s time, make more errors, upset customers and are much more likely to require performance management. Some may accidentally be promoted into management positions, where they will repeat and perhaps exceed the recruiting mistakes made by their original hiring manager. Remember that if your company has high retention  and low firing rates, the costly damage that a bad hire can do is likely to last over many years.
What Google Does to Limit the Damage of Weak Hiring Managers
“We do everything to minimize the authority and power of the manager in making a hiring decision.”
“Managers often want to hire people who seem just like them.” So… “hiring decisions are made by a group.”
–L. Bock, Google VP of People Operations
The Top 20 Reasons Why Managers Are Unlikely To Hire Great Candidates
The top ways that hiring managers can hurt or prevent great hiring are listed below. For easy scanning, I have bullet broken them into four categories, I) general factors, II) factors related to a manager’s hiring skills, III) factors related to weak management skills, and IV) factors related to a ego and inflexibility.
I) General Factors That Prevent Great Hiring
- A-level talent will not work for weak managers — when weak managers try to hire superior talent, they cannot succeed because top candidates can spot and accurately assess a weak manager even before applying by using their extensive professional or social media networks. If a top candidate somehow gets to an interview, their ability to ask probing questions to the hiring manager will bring out answers that will cause them to immediately drop out of the hiring process.
- Weak managers probably have weak teams — the very definition of a weak manager means that they are not capable of attracting and retaining top talent. As a result, when the top candidates meet and interact with their mediocre team during the interview process, there is a high likelihood that they will be immediately discouraged. Top candidates want to work alongside the very best teammates because they want to learn from them. A-level talent will also immediately realize that they won’t be able to achieve their goals while working with this mediocre team.
- Weak managers have limited resources to offer — because of their poor performance, missed deadlines, and failed projects, weak managers are less likely to have large budgets. Top candidates will inquire about the available budget and resources in the department and they will be turned off when they learn that the resources available to them are below average.
- Weak managers are likely to be assigned low-level recruiters — some recruiting managers have a policy to assign the best recruiters to the most important jobs and the best managers. The best recruiters themselves often lobby their recruiting manager for the opportunity to work with the best hiring managers who are likely to produce high-quality hires. Even though it’s not an official policy, it is not unusual for contract recruiters or the weakest and most inexperienced recruiters to be assigned to the worst hiring managers. This may occur either as a subtle form of punishment or because these recruiters are all that are left after more senior recruiters have their choice. No matter what the reason, without the support and coaching of top recruiters, the odds of a weak manager getting a great A-level hire are almost zero. Incidentally, is also true that external executive search and third-party recruiters are unlikely to put the most effort into a search that is unlikely to succeed as a result of the roadblocks put up by a bad hiring manager.
II) Factors related to a manager’s hiring skills and capabilities
- Weak managers fail to do candidate research — many managers, in this case, both the good ones and the weak ones, fail to do adequate research into the background and the needs of top candidates. But weak managers sometimes don’t even bother to review the resume before an interview begins. This “no research” approach might be OK for most average or active candidates (because they have “easy to meet” job acceptance requirements), but A-level talent haas extremely high expectations and a detailed list of requirements that must be met (and deal-breakers that must be avoided) before they will accept the job. The very best managers proactively identify and then meet each of the major job acceptance criteria of A-level talent.
- Weak managers are bad salespeople — a weak manager is certainly capable of selling an average active candidate. However, it takes a much stronger set of sales skills and knowledge of the current market to sell the currently employed, top performers, game-changers, and innovators. Weak managers fail to conduct research and are not up-to-date on the latest recruiting sales and closing approaches. As a result, it is unlikely that weak managers will be able to close most of the best candidates.
- Weak managers are unlikely to innovate during recruiting, driving away innovators — weak managers simply don’t innovate very often. That is OK in most cases because the average hire doesn’t expect anything unusual during the hiring process. However, A-level talent and innovators will view the level of innovation and technology usage (e.g. live remote video interviews, simulations, real problem-solving contests) that they encounter during the recruiting process as an indication of the rate of innovation and technology usage in the job and the firm. In addition, if they aren’t offered the opportunity to innovate during the interview, their capabilities will be undiscovered and their frustration will likely cause them to drop out of the recruiting process.
- Failing to do benchmarking and competitive analysis may result in noncompetitive jobs and offers — you cannot recruit in isolation, so hiring managers must be up-to-date regarding the benchmark standards for top candidates in the current recruiting market. Unfortunately, weak managers are frequently unwilling to spend the necessary time required to analyze what competitors are offering and to make adjustments to ensure that “their job” is compelling and clearly superior to what the competitors are offering. Weak managers are also unlikely to monitor a competitor’s hiring cycles, so that they can focus their recruiting during times when they can avoid direct head-to-head competition with competitors that possess a strong employer brand.
- Weak managers don’t know how to manage competing offers  — if the A-level candidate is currently employed, there is a high probability they will get a counteroffer from their existing boss. Even if they’re not employed, top candidates are likely to get one or more offers from other firms. Unfortunately, weak managers are often inflexible and are not willing to even make a counteroffer. Those that are willing to make one, often lack the skills necessary to successfully negotiate with the candidate and their own compensation department. The end result is that candidates who are in the highest demand will be lost.
- Managers who are not up-to-date in their field frequently write poor position descriptions — weak managers are often behind the times in the latest tools, technologies, best practices, and approaches in their technical field. As a result, the job descriptions and the position announcements that these managers help to create or that they approve will signal immediately to exceptional candidates that this job will not be exciting or challenging. As a result they will not even apply for the position.
- Weak technical skills may lead to poor candidate screening — weak managers who are behind in their technical field will also make errors during resume screening. When they are asked to screen through a stack of “finalists” resumes who are presented to them by the recruiter, they may make serious errors in the ranking of top candidates. As a result of their low knowledge level, some of the top candidates may never be invited in for interview. Obviously their weak technical skills and knowledge will also come through during the interview.
III) Factors related to weak management skills and capabilities
- Weak managers are poor decision-makers — managers who make numerous poor decisions would have to be labeled as weak managers. It’s highly likely that a manager that uses a poor decision-making process for business decisions will also use a flawed approach to make hiring decisions. The net result will be that the best candidates may be screened out early or they will not be selected as the finalist.
- Weak managers are slow decision-makers — weak managers are often indecisive. Even if a manager uses a good decision-making process, if they are slow at making the final decision in hiring, it won’t matter because the best candidates will be gone weeks before they can make a final decision.
- A poorly managed interview processes signals weak management — weak managers often develop and execute weak interview processes. Unfortunately, top candidates will project your ability to manage them based on how well you manage their interview process. If the interview starts late, include weak interviewers, are disorganized, or they include inappropriate, illogical, or illegal questions, the candidate will likely assume that the manager who owned the process is a weak manager.
- Poor feedback during the hiring process indicates poor feedback on the job — if a manager is weak at communicating and providing feedback during the hiring process, most top candidates will assume that those weaknesses will also exist after they accept the job. Therefore you are likely to lose any candidates who receive mixed messages and slow or no feedback.
- Weak managers are more likely to be biased and to generalize – in some cases, managers produce poor business results because they use their own biases and generalizations to make judgments. Weak managers are less likely to understand the value of diversity  and in all too many cases, they end up hiring people that look and act “just like them.” This may result in candidate slates with low diversity and below average diversity hires.
IV) Factors related to a ego or inflexibility
- “C” level managers won’t attempt to hire “A” level talent — Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, is a supporter of the premise that weak managers seldom hire A-level talent. They often don’t even try to hire superior talent out of fear that the new talent might challenge them or even take their job. Hiring talent with skill levels below them may increase their sense of security.
- Weak managers may overreach in their job requirements — weak managers are often unwilling or incapable of training and developing new hires. So in the cases where a hiring manager is willing to seek out superior talent, they often set the minimum job requirements or specs (skills, education, and experience) unreasonably high so that they will not need to train, coach, or mentor the new hire. Unfortunately, setting unreasonable job requirements will reduce the available talent pool, so few qualified candidates may be available at the salary the company can offer. At the very least this “overreaching so that they will need to coach” will make the recruiter have to look much further, and that alone will delay hiring. These unreasonable job specs may also result in an unfilled position.
- Weak managers may insist that the job remain unchanged — weak managers are often inflexible, unwilling to change, or to make an exception for any individual. This can be a problem because top performers, game-changers, and innovators already know that they are in high demand. And as a result, it is not unusual for this type of candidate to begin the interviewing process with an expectation that the job duties and the assignments will be negotiable. And as a result, they expect the job will be at least partially be tailored to their specific interests and needs. The arrogance of the hiring manager may cause them to refuse to even consider a change in the job. They might also refuse to even consider a change because they fear the possibility of having to explain to their current workers why this individual received something that they did not get.
- Weak managers may be incapable of making high salary offers — currently employed top performers, game-changers, and innovators almost always demand top salaries. Some weak managers are insecure and they certainly don’t want any team member making close to what they get paid. Others are simply not capable of successfully negotiating with compensation, so they never even try to get the highest salary offer. Even if they are capable, they often make no attempt to get the highest offer because once again they fear having to explain to current team members why this new hire is starting at such a high rate of pay. As a result, a level talent will frequently refuse to even consider what they view as a lowball offer.
Once you get over the shock of learning how much damage weak managers can do to hiring, you need to take action. The most logical first step is to provide every new hiring manager with hiring training and support information. That training would also be offered to the hiring managers with the weakest track record in recruiting.
As a second step, recruiting management should also consider implementing a service level agreement that spells out the specific expectations for both the recruiting function and the hiring manager. Hiring managers that don’t meet their SLA requirements would be provided no corporate help and they would be required to cough up the money to pay for a third-party recruiter.
A third action step, if you have the courage, is to prioritize your hiring managers based on their track record. Those hiring managers who earned the lowest priority would go to the bottom of the requisition queue and they would get the lowest priority in resources and recruiter assignments. Taken together, the shock of receiving slow service, having the least-experienced recruiters, or having to pay for third-party help may be enough shock to get these weak managers to follow the rules and to repeat the course covering great hiring.
One last thought: Why not take a trip over to HR and demand that it implements a “bad manager identification program.” If a weak manager is destroying your chances for recruiting A-level talent, imagine what damage they are also doing in the areas of productivity, retention, and innovation!