The 5 Biggest Hiring Mistakes Leaders Make

Frustrated Young Leader

Over the last few months, I have had three young leaders come to me for advice on hiring and firing. In each case, they had made a big mistake in recruiting the wrong person. They were trying to remedy the situation and avoid it happening again.

I have made my share of hiring mistakes, too. I know how painful they can be. They were always very expensive and emotionally draining. Instead of focusing on the work at hand, they distracted me and kept my business from moving forward.

Having learned the hard way, I have gotten better at hiring over time. Whenever I get ready to hire someone new, I now have a defined process. It is designed to avoid these five mistakes:

  1. Not being clear about what you want. This is the biggest mistake leaders make. Until you have a written job description for the position you want to fill, you are not ready to go shopping.

    Writing down what you want forces you to get clear, evaluate candidates, and set expectations—for both parties. Without it, you are just wasting everyone’s time.

    A good job description should include at least five sections:

    • Summary
    • Purpose
    • Duties
    • Qualifications
    • Next Steps

    Here is an example of a job description we used recently for recruiting a personal assistant for my wife, Gail. She wrote the first draft, then asked for my input. We then asked for the input of my two assistants, Trivinia and Suzie.

  2. Not making use of your tribe. Often, your first thought may be to run an ad or start polling your family and friends for possible candidates. I’ve found that the better option is to notify my clients, customers, or followers. You may currently have people in your own tribe who would jump at the chance to work with you.

    The benefit is that these people are the ones most familiar with your mission, values, products, and culture. In other words, they “get you” and your business. It’s easier to bring them up to speed on what you need if you don’t also have to explain to them about your business.

    Assuming they have the right character, competence, chemistry, and capacity, the variable that often determines their success is whether or not they fit into your culture. If they are already part of it, it’s much easier.

    In Gail’s case, once she had a finished job description, we posted it on my blog. Then we reached out via Twitter and Facebook and provided a link to the job description. We had forty-two candidates apply.

  3. Not having a clear interview process. The hiring process for many leaders, especially small business owners, looks similar to the dating process. They fall in love with the first person who shows enthusiasm for them and their organization.

    The key to successful hiring is to hire slow and fire fast. (I’m not sure who said that first, though I have heard it attributed to various sources.) The only way you can do the first is with a well thought-out interviewing process.

    Obviously, it begins with the first interview, but it should not end there. Others within your organization should also interview the candidate—superiors, peers, and subordinates. Get their input and then interview the candidate once or twice more yourself. If possible, meet their spouse.

    In Gail’s situation, we had Trivinia, my assistant, do the initial screening. She read their applications and then personally interviewed nineteen of them via Zoom (similar to Skype). From that group, she selected seven for Gail to interview via Zoom.

    Gail recorded those interviews (with their permission) and shared them with me. We narrowed it down to three, then Gail interviewed her top pick over coffee, then brought her to meet me. If this had been a full-time position, the process would have been even more involved.

  4. Not testing people. It probably goes without saying, but not every person is right for every job. You can only learn so much in the interviewing process. Some of your best information will come from testing and knowing what you are looking for.

    For example, Gail’s Meyers-Briggs type is ESTP. The last letter indicates that she is “perceiving” as opposed to “judging.” This has to do with the way she makes decisions. “P”s like to keep their options open and can be indecisive. “J”s like to make decisions fast but can be impulsive.

    Based on this, we knew we wanted an assistant who was a “J.” But if you ask someone if they are decisive, almost everyone will say yes. The only way to know for sure is to test for it (and check references).

    Meyers-Briggs is only one test. There are other good ones, too. When I was being interviewed to become the next CEO of Thomas Nelson, I was subjected to a battery of tests, including Meyers-Briggs, DiSC, and the Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale. I also like the StrengthsFinder and the Enneagram, though I tend to use those more for development and team-building.

  5. Not checking references. Almost every time I have failed to do this I have been burned. People naturally cast themselves in the best possible light. You don’t really know the truth until you check references.

    I also like telling candidates in the first meeting that I intend to check references. (I carefully note their reaction.) This keeps them honest and gives them an opportunity to surface any unresolved issues before you discover them on your own.

    When checking references, keep in mind that most people tend to be more positive than the candidate’s performance warrants. No one wants to keep someone from getting a job nor do they want to be responsible for the candidate not getting hired. That’s why I am looking for enthusiasm.

Avoiding these mistakes will not guarantee that you always hire well, but it will dramatically improve your chances. Like everything else related to leadership, the important thing is to be intentional, even if your process looks different from mine.

What mistakes have you made in hiring?

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