5 Reasons You May Stink at Hiring

I have been consulting with small business owners on hiring and culture issues practices since 2000. The vast majority of business owners are quite brilliant. All of them enjoy a sliver of expertise that sets them apart and makes them successful. They know a little about many things and a lot about the niche within which they have built their business. My personal observation, after 16 years of working with small business owners is that most owners stink at hiring. Below is a list of five common missteps. If you are guilty of them you may stink at hiring too.

1) Do you often hire the first person you interview? Untrained interviewers struggle with the subjectivity of the interview process. In other words, they make hiring decisions based on emotion rather than reason. They interview someone for the job and they find the person quite personable. They like them. They find them to be nice. And who doesn’t want to hire a nice person?

Try this instead. Know before you begin the interview process that you will respond to some candidates and their personalities more favorably than others. Keep yourself objective by writing down the attitudes, skills, and knowledge that is most important for a person to excel in the job that is open. Use this as a scorecard and rank each candidate on a 1-10 scale within minutes after the interview is over. If multiple people are involved in the interview process have them all fill out the scorecard independently and then share results once all candidates are interviewed. In addition, agree to interview at least 4 to 6 qualified candidates before you make a final decision on whom to hire — no matter how much you like candidate #1! I find that often the first candidate will pale in comparison to candidate 3 or 4. When candidate #1 turns out to be the best one your decision to hire them is affirmed and you can move forward with even greater confidence.

2) Do you have a strong preference for hiring friends and family? It feels great to offer your neighbor’s son a job or your best friend’s daughter. The initial feelings are so full of hope and promise! And you feel good about the idea of being a good neighbor or friend. Then the day comes when you realize that the employee is not a fit, is under performing and you have to let them go. Terminating people is challenging in the best of circumstances but now you have the additional concern that you may sour a relationship with a neighbor or friend.

Yes, reaching out to your friends and family to see if they know someone looking for a job is easy to do but is it the wisest course of action? I encourage my clients to be circumspect in this area. You, the owner, must be confident in your ability to objectively assess talent and to coach, train, and discipline people to whom you may be connected to emotionally…directly or indirectly. What I mean is if you can’t separate business from the personal then don’t hire friends and family. If you are able to “flip the switch” and be friends after 5PM after having a serious performance based conversation with them that same morning, great! But I know few that have developed that skill.

Try this instead. Tell your friends and family that all candidates are measured against objective criteria. Tell them the best candidate will be hired whether they be friends, family, or neither. Tell prospective candidates that are friends and family that the bar will be set even higher for them. Stress to them how important it is for you to be objective, professional, and most of all above reproach. Your commitment to do business things in business ways will appeal to high performers who are comfortable earning their success. Sadly many who lean to political machinations rather than on their performance may resent you for not preferring them or helping them more. After all, you do have a relationship with them!

3) Do you show up to the interview with any idea on what you are going to ask or say? Most business owners misunderstand the purpose of the interview. I find that most people go into an interview wanting to like the person and to find reasons to hire them for the job. I use the interview process as much to de select as to select. Do you find yourself chit chatting with candidates about sports, hobbies, people you know in common? There is a place for this, albeit limited, but it should not be the overriding factor as to why you find the person so appealing — the fact that you have so much in common.

Try this instead. Limit chit chat to the first 2-3 minutes of the interview. Before you show up write down the non-negotiables of the job. This will include things like — salary requirements, education or skill or certification requirements, availability to start, criminal record, willingness to relocate or travel. Cover all the non-negotiables in the first interview to get them out of the way. Amazingly, I have witnessed countless situations when a candidates gets to the final interview and the employer learns they can’t afford the candidate or the candidate is unwilling to travel. Wasted time can be avoided by asking the critical questions regarding non-negotiables first!

4) Do you delegate the interview/hiring process to a subordinate? Many owners may say, “It doesn’t matter to me. The new employee will have to work for my office manager or sales manager. I will let them handle it.” Every hiring decision is critical. The fewer employees you have the more critical the hire becomes. Bad hires cost you aggravation, sleepless nights, and money. Good hires bring you joy and profit. Assert yourself into the hiring process. Preview their questions and their scorecards. Sit in on interviews. Get involved enough to hold your managers accountable for recruiting high quality candidates that align with your core values. Do otherwise at your own peril.

5) Do you do all the talking in an interview? Perhaps the single biggest mistake interviewers make is to start out the interview telling the candidate how great the company is and all the reasons why they need to join the team. Then they tell the candidate about the job in detail and what it will take for the candidate to be successful moving forward. What you do when you do this is you write the script for the candidate for the rest of the interview. He or she will now tailor all their responses to the information you just shared. Any type of authenticity, spontaneity, or truthfulness just went out the window. Why? Because the candidate wants the job and you just told them what you want to hear.

Try this instead. Greet the candidate warmly. Engage in 2-3 minutes of perfunctory chit chat. Then ask the candidate to tell you about themselves. Give them 15-20 minutes to tell you their story. If you have time have them go back to high school or college. Ask them to accentuate the highlights, the milestones, the things they are most proud of and the difficult times and learning points in their life. By having them go first you have removed the script. Since they don’t know what you want to hear you are more likely to hear an authentic retelling of the story of their life including successes and failures. When something doesn’t make sense or sound right stop the candidate, probe more deeply until you are satisfied or understand clearly. A good story well told that is authentic has a common thread, lots of specifics like dates, names and places. It should reveal values within the person that reflect your own core values.

Don’t beat yourself up if you stink at interviewing. At least you are aware of it and can begin the process of learning and growing to improve. We can help also. My recruiting firm NEWSCHOOL Recruiting can recruit for you or through our training group the NEWSCHOOL Institute we can teach you and your managers how to be effective identifiers and selectors of talent. Feel free to send me an email at We will help you in any way we can!