CSD: Hiring Mistakes We’ve All Made

Discussion
Jan 20, 2010

By
Mel Kleiman

Through
a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of
an article from Convenience
Store Decisions
magazine.

Did
you ever hire an eagle, only to have the person turn out to be a turkey?
The reasons apparent eagles turn out to be total turkeys can usually
be attributed to a few common hiring mistakes.

1. Not Knowing
What You’re Looking For:
You
can’t hit the target when you don’t know what it looks like. Define what
you’re looking for by writing a job analysis that spells out the mental
and physical capacities, attitudes, personality and skills you need.

2. Not
Thinking Outside the Box:
One
overlooked source of candidates these days is all the good people who’ve
left the company or were recently downsized. The grass isn’t always greener
on the other side and they may want to come back. It’s worth a call.

3. It’s
Too Easy to Get the Job:
Do
you simply collect resumes and applications and hire the person who interviews
best? By taking the path of least resistance, you’re saying you just
need a body to fill the position. If you don’t value the position, can
you expect the person you hire to think any more highly of the job than
you do?

4. Not
Separating the Wheat from the Chaff:
It’s
been proven that if you make a hiring decision based solely on an interview,
you might as well have flipped a coin. There are many validated tests
on the market that can identify the capacities, attitudes, personality
traits and skills your stores need most. The real beauty of testing is
that it uses the applicant’s time, not yours.

5. Talking
Too Much:
I
have witnessed far too many interviews where the applicant sits smiling
and nodding her head, while the interviewer goes on and on about the
company, his job, his department — even his family. As a rule of thumb,
you should make sure the applicant does at least 80 perccent of the talking.

6. Never
Mind the Applicant. How Competent Is the Interviewer?:
Have
you ever noticed how much shelf space is given to how-to-find-a-job books
at the bookstore? I can usually count 50 titles as compared to the one
there might be on how to conduct a productive interview. This is because
the applicants are buying the books and studying; the interviewers aren’t.
Interviewing is a skill and interviewers need to be trained.

The
Hawthorne effect holds that “anything you pay attention to improves.” When
you focus on your hiring process and take the steps outlined above, you’ll
make better hiring decisions. Better hiring decisions will improve the
performance and profitability of the entire company.

Discussion
Questions: What do you think of the hiring mistakes mentioned in the
article? Are there others you can think of? Which do you think you
have been most guilty of?

Join the Discussion!

22 Comments on "CSD: Hiring Mistakes We’ve All Made"

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David Zahn
Guest

While ALL of the suggested reasons for hiring mistakes occurring are sound and do contribute to poor matches of talent to opportunity, the largest failure is perhaps not at the hiring stage at all–but at the training and management phases of the relationship.

If there is no orientation or on-boarding, how can the new hire recognize what the company values, what it expects, processes, etc?

If there is no management effort given to providing direction, guidance, and availability to answer questions, etc–is the new hire at fault?

If there is inconsistent evaluation/no ongoing evaluation and monitoring of output/behavior/results, etc–can the new hire be accountable for that?

If the rewards do not meet or match the “promised or promoted” incentives offered during the interviewing, isn’t it reasonable to expect that the new hire will be less successful in aligning behavior to expectations?

Hiring the “right” employee is no guarantee of success if the other pieces are not in place.

David Biernbaum
BrainTrust
There are a lot of reasons for why “eagles” become “turkeys” in the hiring process. I do agree that the most prevalent reason this happens is because the employer, be it a retailer or a manufacturer, is not honest with itself about what they are looking for: Entrepreneurs in particular tend to make very poor hiring decisions. They tend either to hire close friends or relatives that are experienced in some other business not within the domain of the consumer goods retail business. The learning curve is too great and the employee is at the disadvantage of being over-matched by competitors who are far more experienced within the field. Some employers think it “wants” an “eagle” but in truth the owner, manager, or supervisor is very “hands-on” and really would be better suited to hire a follower, soldier, or implementer. Many hiring employers rely too much on “references,” however, they fail to check references on the “references.” Why would you put all your faith in a total stranger that you know even less about than the candidate? Makes no sense. Besides, most “references” are biased. Take a different route. References are not always the best approach.
Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I devote a whole section on hiring in my new book http://www.retaildoc.com/guide and one of the most overlooked keys is when you ask a hiring question, do you know what the “A” answer really is? How about the “F”? If you don’t, the applicant probably doesn’t either so create questions that both can clearly know what will get the job.

I once had a business owner tell me he liked to ask applicants, “Why are street manhole covers round?” I said, “Who would know that answer–do you?” He said, “No, I just like to know their thinking and if I can trip them up.” But your job is not to trip people up–your job is to help both you and the applicant score by adding to your team.

When managers do not understand what the outcome of their questions should be, you have the blind leading the blind; which explains a lot on the sales floor of many retailers these days.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
7 years 9 months ago

Realizing that interviewees have usually gone through a training program on how to respond and that they will say virtually anything to get the job is the first step. Hiring after one interview without the validation of skills, references, etc, is another huge problem. I chuckled; once I hired an assistant who said she was proficient in Excel, Word, etc. Never thought to test, only to find that in the first week she had bought a book Word for dummies and was struggling through the effort.

Just because someone has great companies on their resume doesn’t mean they were great at that company!

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
7 years 9 months ago

I have hired some turkeys in my day, and seen some hired as well. I very much like the point about getting the applicant to do at least 80% of the talking–it’s easy for it to go the other way. Also agree that the testing and interviewing process should be as rigorous as possible–better to do the hard work up front and enjoy the performance of the new hires as a result. For small companies especially, the results of a new hire can be critical.

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
7 years 9 months ago

These are all good examples. I would add the importance of making sure the new hire has clear goals and expectations. In addition, making sure that they are a cultural match. One way to deal with the cultural issue is to have the potential employee interview with one person and meet 3-4 other existing employees. I have found that some of the best feedback I get is not from the interviewer but from the other employees that meet the candidate briefly and in a slightly relaxed way.

Finally, I like to always get the input from our receptionist. She gets to see how the person behaves while waiting for the meeting. If a candidate is ever rude to the receptionist, you can be sure that they won’t work for our company.

David Livingston
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

I think the biggest mistake a lot of employers make is wasting time with resumes and interviews. Companies need to go on the hunt and find new employees, already knowing who they really want before there is an interview. I recall in the corporate world having to waste time interviewing prospects, sight unseen. That only opens a can of worms that can lead to discrimination complaints.

What some of my clients have me do is go into competitor’s stores and find employees with good attitudes and a passion for their job. Then we recruit them. A lot of retail employees, even in management, are currently being interviewed for a job and they don’t even know it. I’ve hired people that have a multitude of problems, mostly physical appearance, that would never make it through the typical interview. But because they have been vouched for by people I trust, I have hired them and its always worked out.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust
In his book “Good To Great” Jim Collins discusses making sure the right people are on the bus and in the right seat. Not only do companies need to hire the right people, but they need to place them in the right position. The right people need to compliment the organization. I agree that many people like to hire mirror images of themselves and that this is often a recipe for disaster. When building a team, I believe it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each and then ensure that the person being hired adds new strengths to the organization. Mel’s list of hiring mistakes is spot on–all of them are important. I believe that what may be most important will vary based on the position for which the person is being hired. Of those listed I think the first and last are of the greatest importance–not knowing what you are looking for and the lack of hiring skills for the interviewer. The requirements for positions vary significantly. Hiring someone who is task oriented when you really need someone with people skills destines them for failure. Having a manager conduct the hiring process with no training destines… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Culture. I have seen great credentials, backgrounds, interview hires only turn into disasters because the culture of the environment where the individual was successful was so different from the culture that existed in the hiring company.

The higher the position in the organization, the more critical this component becomes. It is no different than the culture problems experienced in mergers.

Some of these individuals were truly successful in their past positions, only to fail with the new company, yet move on to become truly successful again. Culture is a strong component. Harvard MBAs and P&G alums can not work in every environment.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
7 years 9 months ago

This is a really great list and some terrific comments, particularly the suggestions about a multi-level (boss, peer, and subordinate) interview approach to get a good preview of the cultural fit.

By definition, an interview is an event, which can never provide a foolproof view of how well a candidate will perform over time. Making the matriculation a success is the key element. This needs to involve a clearly communicated probationary period which includes a buddy/mentor assignment for a new employee, scheduled follow up interviews to surface issues, and clearly defined and measurable goals for the first 2-3 months. Doing this gives the new employee every chance to fit into the company culture and demonstrate their competency. If, after this probationary period, the new hire is not a good fit, the company needs to take the appropriate action. The only thing worse than bad interviewing is failure to act on new hires that don’t fit.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

All of these answers are correct, but not knowing what you’re looking for is a big problem. Organizations have a habit of plugging a qualified person into a slot without then providing sufficient direction and defining informed expectations.

I’m always interested in those retail companies that cycle through CIOs every 15 months or so. What the heck are they looking for?

Jean Forney
Guest
Jean Forney
7 years 9 months ago
Qualifying a potential new hire by checking off technical skills on a job description just doesn’t do it. Basing the viability of a candidate exclusively on the resume may result in a missed opportunity! Employers who are biased about a candidate’s skills based on the company they work for is short sighted…believe in the theory that there can be some great talent at mediocre companies and there can be mediocre talent at great companies. Should the criteria for a really great CEO be past employment with GE? #1, turn the resume over, and ask questions that get at who the person is and what they were really able to achieve in the past: What are you most proud of personally and professionally and why? Tell me about your most significant accomplishment–why is it and how was it done? What criteria do you use when evaluating a future employer? #2, ask questions that get at where they feel the trends in the business are, both in consumer behavior and competitive behavior; if they had complete autonomy to run the business, how they would better compete; examples of being ahead of the curve vs. being a “me too.” #3, in the Supermarket… Read more »
Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

Great suggestions, all. I’d also be checking people out on LinkedIn and even Facebook. You learn a lot that way, and find friends of friends. It’s a small world. I’ve been burned by people giving glowing references to real turkeys, so I take references with a hefty grain of salt. I once worked for a company that insisted on psychological tests before hires, and I mistrusted those tests. But I hired in haste once, and the person I hired flunked the psychological test after I’d made the hire. Was I ever sorry! So I’m now a believer in those tests. Took one myself (I’d been a part of the company before they began testing) at my own request, and it nailed me perfectly–the good, bad and ugly.

Brian Anderson
Guest
Brian Anderson
7 years 9 months ago
Selecting great people is one of the top five leadership actions a company must take to produce great results for the organization. Organizations that have a talent mind at the CEO level and champion that at all levels experience better results. There are many selection and interviewing methodologies I will share several. 1. Have a target job description, include must haves, and define competencies. 2. Make sure you have set date for hiring. Being proactive is critical, always be looking for talent, even when the team is getting results. 3. Make sure all included in the interviewing process are on the same page. Critical 4. Assure the interviewing team understands how to conduct an effective interview. Great candidates are overlooked daily by unqualified employees overseeing the process. I have used the Achiever model for 15+ yrs; its focus is to identify the Big-6. 5. Create win-win interviews. 6. Listen to learn. Empathic listening in an interview can be tiring. 7. Assign a selection team. 8. Use assessment tools as added resource, (i.e.) DiSC- candidate High -D, High -I, indicates leadership and people skills. 9. Lastly, hire slow, a bad hire depending on the role and position can set a team… Read more »
Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

Remember when there were “secretaries” through whom all written correspondence (email didn’t exist) passed? It was their job to take hen scratching from salespeople and executives and turn it into coherent, grammatically-correct, formatted business prose. Then and only then did it get sent to a customer. Of course, I’m way too young to remember all of this but I’ve heard (ha).

These days, rambling, inappropriate, grammatically incorrect, slang-filled slop gets popped off to customers without a thought, primarily through email. (Retailers tell me that this immediately undermines confidence in suppliers, by the way). That’s why I advise my clients to obtain a substantial writing example from every potential hire, preferably solicited via email as a spontaneous request after a successful interview (“Tell me about _____ and if you could get that back to me via email within the hour, that would be great”). All kinds of skills can be taught or enhanced post-hire; basic grammar and professional communication don’t fall into that category in my experience.

Sandy Miller
Guest
Sandy Miller
7 years 9 months ago

All good points. We have been and are doing active recruiting of top tier talent. We ask the person to tell us what they know about Miller Zell. If he/she answers this well (and if they don’t, it likely will be a brief interview) we discuss how they can be of value to Miller Zell. If this goes well, we describe our rather structured way we help them understand our company as a route to outlining the opportunity for their growth.

Mark Burr
Guest
7 years 9 months ago

Great comments, all.

Amidst the current environment, at least regionally, hiring is a rarity in the task list of most managers. It’s so rare that in many cases, managers can be out of touch with the current processes and definitely could fall woefully short in their skills on the hiring side of the table.

Updating and improving interviewing skills would be high on the list once any form of hiring becomes once again a more regular occurrence. This should be a regular part of the HR process with definite time limits involved. For example, if a manager has not hired in a given period of time, coaching should be required. Underestimating interviewing skills could be a huge error by many when the hiring begins at any point.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
7 years 9 months ago

From my experience, I’ve observed too many interviewers probing for reasons not to hire an applicant rather than trying to draw out the exceptional skills, perspective and qualities that the applicant might be bringing to the table. This reliance on a “checklist” approach to hiring inevitably leads to mediocrity. The best hires invariably bring a very personal passion and engagement to an interview, and to a job, that’s far more important than anything on a “checklist.”

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
7 years 9 months ago
Ah, the conundrum that is retail hiring! I’ve rode the wave from hiring the next VP of operations all the way to ‘hey you, can you fog up this mirror?’ Retail hiring has got to be the toughest gig in the business. So not only is the manager in charge of all aspects of the store, you also have to put your stamp of approval on any new hires. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? The first thing the interviewer needs to do is clear their mind of the problems of the store. It may sound hokey but it does work. If you go into an interview worrying about how you are going to fill next Saturday’s closing shift, chances are you are going to make a decision you are going to regret. This gives fodder to the thinking that store managers should always be interviewing regardless of the hiring situation. I will interview anyone with a decent resume at anytime of the year. First impressions are also important (newsflash!) I start the process when the person hands in the resume. How do they look? Are they serious about working here? Was the resume handwritten on a… Read more »
Sean Slattery
Guest
Sean Slattery
7 years 9 months ago
I enjoy much of the advice in this thread. Five years ago I was thrown into a position that required a round of immediate and extensive hiring for the first time in my career. Within the year it was obvious that I had poor hiring skills and needed to improve quickly. I found my biggest weakness to be in the questions I composed. http://www.manager-tools.com (I have no affiliation with them other than being an avid listener) taught me the importance of the behavioral interview; since applying the recommendations in interviews many apparent turkeys became eagles and vice-versa. My favorite aspect of these questions is when I realize how many of the scenarios I might pose to a candidate do not have only one ‘A’ answer. Some candidates have answered with solutions we never considered; seeing their spontaneous creativity and thought (or, of course, lack of) helped us push past the snap judgments we try to refrain frommaking,but can’t help, starting all the way back with the first look at the resume. Watching them work through realistic scenarios that do happen or could happen teaches us more about the candidate’s potential value to our company than many of the other interviewing… Read more »
angiretlwire dixon
Guest
angiretlwire dixon
7 years 9 months ago

I’ve worked for a couple of major retailers that are owned by private equity firms, that seem to hire very well spoken Chief Merchandising Officers/Presidents that last for only about a year or two (due to poor comp sales results).

It surprises me that no one seems to be checking their comp sales and profitability results at their previous jobs. Usually this information can be found quite easily online by looking at annual reports, quarterly conference call transcripts, and trade magazine articles.

Let’s hope private equity firms start doing a little internet sleuthing before they hire for key retail positions.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

These are very good general rules that we have been using for years, especially the testing part. We require all of our applicants to take a general knowledge test which includes basic English skills, basic knowledge of general news, politics (who is the VP), math and science (what temperature does water boil, distance from the earth to the sun, Pi, etc.). An even more essential part is a simple typing test that we ask everyone to take, to determine their proficiency at basic typing. Our ability to type reflects on our comfort with computers and the electronic age we live in today. If you cannot type, you cannot be e-mail, IM or other Internet savvy, and online, we are what we write! Perhaps most importantly, we have regular written evaluations of our new hires to ensure that they have something which clearly reflects the company’s expectations from them (jobs do change), especially after their 90-day “probationary” period.

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