New Hires and How to Increase Your Odds of Making a Good One

I’ve blogged on the subject of deceptive job candidates in the past, most recently a year ago in a post titled “Why Job Candidates Lie.”  The bottom line:  When interviewing, candidates have a vested interest in convincing you they are everything you are looking for.

The problem is that they rarely really are.  Whether they lack certain skills or capabilities critical to the position, or they have other, negative behaviors that will prevent them from succeeding, they do their best to appear to be your ideal candidate.  As a result, there are going to be times when a candidate is hired who doesn’t have what it takes to be successful.

An ounce of prevention

Of course you should do everything you can to screen out unsuitable candidates.  I’ve found the following tools to be useful in this respect:

  1. Personality profiles and similar tools, where the “right answer” isn’t obvious.
  2. Extensive reference checks (not just those provided, but from other, more independent sources).  This is my favorite preventative hiring measure.
  3. Interviews by multiple managers, all with veto power over the candidate.
  4. Gut feel – when something doesn’t seem to add up, best to move on to another candidate.

When I look back over the bad hires I made during my career, there were usually warning signs that the candidate had “problems.”  A telling characteristic brought out in a personality profile.  A reference check that was tepid, or worse.  A manager that didn’t like the candidate, but couldn’t put a finger on the deficiency.  A personal feeling that there was something “not right” about the candidate.

The problem is that some of my best hires also had “red flags.”  If I’d always tossed out every candidate with a concern, I would have found it tough to hire anyone.  Not to mention that I would have missed some of the best hires of my career.

It’s important to strike the right balance.  In a recent hiring situation, I ended up rejecting a candidate who made it all the way through the interview and evaluation process because her references pegged her as a chronic attendance problem.  Major red flat.

The candidate I ultimately hired had a couple of red flags as well – most notably a hard-to-believe story about why she left her last job.  In that case, I decided to ignore the concern and move forward with the hire.  While there were a few surprises, the decision turned out to be a sound one.

Maybe I was good in that situation, keeping the winner and dropping the loser.  But more likely, I was just lucky.

A pound of back-up planning

Face it, you’re going to make some mistakes when hiring.  Even the most perceptive hiring managers, search firms, and HR professionals still manage to screw up (of course, the candidates themselves do their best to make the process as difficult as possible) a portion of the time.

The best way I’ve found to handle the situation is to have an implementable back up plan waiting in the wings.

For example, I recently hired a new manager for a critical position but knew exactly what I would do if he failed.  I had an former employee lined up to cover half of his job responsibilities, and could bring in a temp to handle the rest.  It would have been messy and a pain in the backside, but I knew what to do.  As people often say – no one is irreplaceable.

Having a back-up plan made it a lot easier for me to be objective about the new hire as his performance and capabilities were slowly revealed.  Yes, there were some surprises, but none that were so severe that I wanted to give up on the candidate.

That hasn’t always been the case.

In different example, within a few weeks of the start date the new hire committed an act so heinous that I couldn’t keep him.  In that case, my back up plan was to utilize a “loaner” employee from the corporate staff.  While I hadn’t thought of this loaned executive as a realistic candidate for the job, he grew on me once he was temporarily handling the assignment and I ultimately hired him.

Try before you buy?

While it isn’t often that you can take a candidate for a “test drive” in a position, whenever possible, you should try to do so.  It’s one thing to fool people about your qualities for an hour during an interview and quite another to do so for weeks!

I’ve been able to employ this technique more often when the economy is weak and it is a “hirer’s market.”  In times of tight employment, the best candidates would likely not accept a test period.


If you hire more than a handful of people, you’re going to make errors.  It’s a fact.  While you should take proper and prudent screen steps, the best way to deal with potentially unsuitable candidates is to have a back-up plan ready to execute when the new hire doesn’t work out.  That will give you the confidence to identify and evaluate issues and problems right away, rather than waiting and hoping things somehow get better.  30.2

Other Recent Posts:

To the right is the cover of LEVERAGE.  This novel explores the theft of sensitive DOD designs from a Minneapolis Tech Company, and the dangers associated with digging too deeply into the surrounding mystery.  Its sequel, PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, is out now, and a third book in the series, OUTSOURCED, is in the works.

My novels are based on extensions of my 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.  Most were inspired by real events.