Top 10 Mistakes Employers Make in the Recruiting and Hiring Process

Feb 1, 2008

We have been here since 1952 and have been through literally thousands of hiring processes. We are asked about the biggest and most frequent mistakes that hiring authorities make in the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring process. Here they are:

1. Not having a clear idea of what they are looking for – that everyone understands. Hiring authorities aren’t specific enough about the duties, skills, and competencies they need. They confuse amount of experience with competency: “8 to 10 years of experience” – does that mean that someone with six years of experience can’t do the job? Or what about the candidate who has had one year of experience 10 times? Putting any kind of numbers of years of experience limits them. What is important?

Employers would be better off defining the functions they want done very specifically, and then finding someone who can do it. This may mean someone who has done it well before or someone who has the potential to do it well. The specifics need to be written by the hiring authority who has the “pain,” i.e., the person who needs the help and is going to be responsible for the new employee.

Concocting “wish lists” of super-human attributes, combined with unrealistically low pay scales relative to expectations of the experience needed, will create havoc in a talent search. Hazy, ambiguous descriptions along with generalities like “good written and oral communication skills” don’t help either. Know your target.

2. Having an unrealistic idea of what kind of candidates might be available and the money it may take to hire them. Just because everyone would like to hire Superman or Wonder Woman, that doesn’t mean they are available or will go to work at your company. There is no perfect candidate, and waiting for one is as unrealistic as searching for one.

The only way to become realistic about what the market might bear is to interview enough candidates to know what is available and the commensurate earnings expected. It may take quite a few interviews. The number of quality candidates is drastically lower than it was even two years ago. Our clients are often shocked that the salaries they are locked into won’t allow them to hire the quality or experience they wish for.

And just because you believe that your company is wonderful, it doesn’t mean: (1) everyone wants to go to work there, (2) they will accept any amount you offer, and (3) there aren’t four or five other firms like yours trying to hire the same candidates.

3. Having too many people involved in the interviewing process . . . and the wrong ones. More than a number of studies have shown that hiring is just as successful when one person, the one with the “pain” (i.e., the direct manager), is the only person involved in the hiring process as opposed to more than one. In fact, other studies have shown that once the number of people in the interviewing and hiring process exceeds three, the probability of a bad hire is greater. The reason so many people are usually involved in the interviewing and hiring process is that people, naturally, want to spread the risk. So if it turns out to be a poor hire, people can justify their decision with “Well, you interviewed him too!” Few people have the courage to interview and hire alone and take the responsibility one way or the other, even though better hiring decisions would probably be made.

. . . and the wrong ones. Relying on people to screen, interview, or have a say in the hiring who have no personal, working benefit from the potential new hire’s performance (i.e., their position is in jeopardy if a poor hire is made) is a big mistake. Most managers will claim that hiring good people is the second or third most important function they have, right behind making a profit. We can never figure out why, if this is so, hiring authorities will delegate screening or interviewing of candidates to people, although wonderful people, who have no direct experience, knowledge, or “skin” in the position to be filled. “But I don’t have time to look at résumés and interview all those people,” is what we hear. Well, if hiring is one of a manager’s most important functions, he or she should take the time and make the effort to do the whole job from start to finish. How can they afford not to?

4. Process takes too long. The average manager thinks that it takes about 30 days to fill a vacant position. Try the truth: between 90 and 120! Why? Because folks drag things out that should be simple – not easy, but simple. When the hiring process takes too long, good candidates are lost to more decisive companies, managers look inept at hiring, and it gets harder and harder to fill the vacancy. Managers, again, don’t give this the priority status needed – shown by action, not lip service. Time kills! The “shelf life” of quality candidates is shorter and shorter.

5. Poor interviewing techniques. If hiring authorities would simply write out a simple (or complicated) list of questions and ask every candidate the same questions, record the answers, and compare the responses – quickly – hiring decisions would be easy to make.

“Tell me about yourself” is the first question down the wrong road. Most employers start with that, ask random questions to “get to know the candidate,” make notes on the résumés, and then three weeks later try to compare the candidates. They often spend hours with candidates and don’t remember the differences between them.

A structured, disciplined interview technique that is applied to every candidate in exactly the same manner is the only real way to compare candidates. It is so simple and yet so seldom practiced. (We have samples of structured interviews for the asking.)

6. Interviewing or not interviewing a candidate on the basis of a résumé! Forty percent of hiring a person is based on personality and chemistry! Then why do people rely on résumés instead of interviews? Because they don’t know how to use a résumé.

I can’t tell you how many phenomenal candidates get eliminated because of a résumé and how many poor performers get interviewed because of a well-written résumé. “But I can’t interview every résumé I get!” OK, right. But if a candidate even looks like a possibility of being a good one, at least pick up the phone and spend 15 or 20 minutes with him or her. Or, better yet, spend 30 minutes face to face with them. Get a quick take on who they are and what they can do. Do this with a number of candidates. You can then thoroughly interview the ones that are the best for your situation. This method is quick and efficient, but it takes discipline – no more than 30 minutes on the first one!

Hiring authorities and screeners put way too much emphasis on what is on a résumé. They try to judge the total quality of a candidate by a résumé. A résumé is a “go by.” It should simply define a candidate as a “possibility”- and a broad possibility at that. The interviews have to be the qualifiers.

People who “qualify” a candidate and decide how he or she is going to perform should read Tony Romo’s résumé a nobody; or Kurt Warner’s – a bagger at a grocery store; or Abe Lincoln’s – many failures. Don’t rely on résumés!

7. Not interviewing enough candidates – or interviewing way too many. Most hiring managers err on the “too few” end of the spectrum. “I want to talk to the three best candidates!” “I don’t have time to talk to everybody!” No one person other than a hiring authority can tell who is “best.” Three or four is usually too few. The “bell curve” for most professional hires is about 9 or 10 candidates. This, of course, depends on the level of job and the availability of certain types of candidates. The key is to know what kind of availability there is in the marketplace for the kind of person being sought. Our banking division, for instance, may be lucky to find three or four qualified VPs at any one time. A mid-level sales position may require 10 or 12 candidates. Even recruiting a number of quality candidates for administrative positions, which traditionally would bear many quality candidates, isn’t as easy to do in this market.

The key is to interview a range of quality candidates and know what is available. If you want to wait for superman or superwoman, I guess it’s OK. It just depends on how badly you need to hire someone. Just be sure you know, firsthand, the quality of candidates on the market. The only way to do that is to do your own interviewing of the numbers necessary and available.

The other end of the spectrum is the hiring authority who wants to interview forever, thinking unrealistically that the quality of candidates will get better the more that are interviewed and the longer it takes. All too often, we hear from hiring authorities, “We have interviewed 20, 25, or 30 candidates.” There is something wrong here. They exhaust themselves in a “process,” forgetting the result, and then complain about it. It doesn’t get a good employee. They confuse activity with productivity.

Interview the number of candidates necessary. Don’t make the mistake on either end of the spectrum.

8. Not communicating with candidates after interviews and not giving honest feedback. For some reason, hiring authorities don’t seem to mind being rude – even to candidates they are interested in hiring. Everyone is busy. The truth is that, to a candidate looking for a job, whether presently employed or not, finding a job is a very high priority. To a hiring authority, in spite of the lip service about how important hiring is, it is simply one of their functions. Hiring is a risk. Most employers don’t really like doing it. So the process often gets postponed, sloppy, and rather unprofessional.

As the market tightens, quality candidates will have many suitors. A good candidate will simply lose interest in a possibly good opportunity if they are treated rudely. We have had many candidates elect to pursue opportunities simply because they were treated with respect and courtesy.

Also, if the candidate isn’t going to be considered, he or she should be told as soon as possible. We are amazed at the number of hiring authorities who won’t return a candidate’s call, or multiple calls, just to say that they have found a more suitable candidate. We never know when that kind of lack of courtesy will come back to us. Years ago, I had a candidate who was rudely ignored by a hiring authority. A few years later, the roles were reversed. The candidate was now a hiring authority, and when I tried to get him to see my candidate, the hiring authority of a few years ago, my client laughed and said no with vengeful glee. He remembered how he had been treated. What goes around often comes around.

9. Not selling the job and the company. Although this isn’t the biggest mistake hiring authorities make, it is certainly the most prevalent one. We can never figure out why, in trying to find the best talent available, hiring authorities act as if they are doing someone a favor by granting them the privilege of an interview. They act as though they have the only job on the planet, and candidates are begging to work there. Wrong! Good candidates will have many choices. The days of the early 2000s, when there were endless numbers of candidates, are gone. The company and the hiring authorities that sell their job the best will hire the best talent. It is a candidate-driven market. We can also forget lowball offers, poor benefits, or a “take it or leave it” attitude when making an offer.

10. Not having “backup” candidates. This means continuing to interview even though a great candidate may have been found. In fact, we recommend having three great candidates in the queue.

As happens too often, a hiring authority zeroes in on one candidate, and as the interviewing process drags on (see #4), the hiring authority quits interviewing because it is a pain. They get to the end of the process, make an offer, and it isn’t accepted. The frustration of having to start all over is astounding. So the solution is to keep interviewing until someone is hired – and has started the job. We simply expect that a good candidate is going to get multiple offers.

10 (a) Not firing a new hire when the hiring is obviously a mistake. This is a tough mistake to make. Everyone wants to see a new employee make it. But too often, cutting new hires too much slack because they are new is a mistake. The numbers of failed new hires we have seen that were let go or quit six or seven months after their hiring, with the hiring authority complaining, “I saw it in the first week!” would make us all cry. It becomes disruptive to the business, it destroys the chemistry of the employees working with the new hire, and worst of all, everyone can detect it, but the hiring authority chooses to overlook it. Respect for the hiring authority diminishes, and eventually the new employee leaves or is fired.

The solution that better hiring authorities adopt is to keep new employees in line in the very beginning, even “over manage” a bit. If disregard for company policies, or poor work habits, like showing up late, missing work, having numerous “personal” problems, emerge in the first few weeks of employment, it isn’t going to get any better. Besides, the “honeymoon” isn’t even over.

There is a big difference between “rookie” mistakes and poor work habits, low integrity, bad manners, or serious personal problems that impinge on work. Even the most rigorous interviewing process and extensive reference, background, and credit checking can’t prevent this from happening.

One of the most successful hiring authorities we worked with years ago had a great philosophy. He was the most successful general manager of a nationwide insurance company. And he was that for 15 years in a row. He managed 110 people, directly and indirectly. He told me one time that he wasn’t successful because he hired better people than the other GMs around the country. The difference was that he fired people “when he first got the inkling.” He simply didn’t waste his time on people he knew weren’t going to make it.

The sense of when to fire a new employee is personal. Good managers know when to do it. Hire carefully, but fire quickly! If a bad hire is made, eliminate it quickly. The hiring authority will look like a true manager, and everyone is better off.

Tony Beshara is a legendary big biller and heavy hitter. He has been a major player in the search and placement business since 1973 and is the owner of Babich & Associates, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He authored “The Job Search Solution” and has appeared on the Dr. Phil show several times. His new book, just released, is “Acing the Interview.” It’s chock-full of information for the job seeker, and I give it a two thumbs up for everyone in our business as well. Over 450 questions (and the optimum answers) are included. Available at your local bookstore or through,, and other Internet book-selling sites at an amazingly inexpensive price.