Red Flags To Help Identify A Bad Hire Before It’s Too Late

Jeff Mills

As hiring becomes more competitive, it can be tempting to fast-track your top choice candidate to the finish line so that you can extend an offer before someone else does. After all, half of rejected job offers happen because a competing organization snatched up the candidate with a better offer. But in the race to the offer stage, you might overlook some of the more subtle signals that your candidate would be a bad hire.

Bad hires occur more frequently than you might think: 27% of U.S. companies report having made at least a single bad hire that cost more than $50,000. And, bad hires are costly. Tony Hsieh has been quoted as saying that bad hires cost Zappos well over $100m.

Choosing the wrong candidate to fill an open requisition can also negatively impact the organization in other ways: lost productivity, a hit to team morale, negative impact on client relations and even fewer sales.

So, what are some of the less-obvious red flags that you should be watching for during the hiring process that could save you from making a bad hire?

Inability to describe what their KPIs or soft objectives will be for the role
If a hire can’t verbally align their day-to-day responsibilities with your organization’s high-level success, it might mean that they could struggle with how best to prioritize or even execute on their work to impact the bigger picture. Regarding role-fit, you should be looking for someone to be able to speak to how they’ll approach not only their own objectives but their team and direct reports’ objectives as well.

Fuzziness around their skills and proficiencies
Over a third of executives surveyed by Robert Half reported that their top reason for a bad hire is a mismatched skill set. That’s why it’s important to drill into proficiencies that are critical to the role.

Red flags that your candidate doesn’t have the correct skill sets for the role include…

  • Providing vagaries instead of concrete information or data to support their competencies with a specific skill set.
  • Hesitancy regarding a hands-on or practical interview where these skill sets would be demonstrated.
  • An inability to produce (or speak to) work that was performed as a result of proficiency in a specific skill set.

Too-casual, too soon
This red flag may seem subjective, and it is. Some of us may prefer to be more formal, especially in a setting like an interview process. Others are okay with “business casual” and feel it lends more authenticity to a dialogue. But think about the mindset and decision-making that leads to a candidate’s interviewing style during the recruiting process: if this is how a candidate aims to impress, how much further will they loosen up when they start the job? Depending on where they start on the sliding scale of formality, it’s almost certain they’ll become more casual once they’re on the job. If they’re already behaving very casually, could this spell trouble for their success in the role? Consider your company culture when answering this question – does it fit?

Communication and language choices
Language can tell us a lot about how a candidate views themselves and others. For example, when asked about successes, someone who frames their successes as a team accomplishment (“We accomplished it by…”) instead of a singular achievement is likely to be more of a team player. Also, be aware of the nuances of how someone answers your questions. If someone provides detailed and qualified responses to some questions but not others, that could be a red flag that those less-clear responses are worth delving into to try and surface any inconsistencies.

The interview is one-sided
When a candidate is interviewing for a new position, it shouldn’t be a one-sided exercise. Here’s why: if that candidate is genuinely interested in finding the right role for their next step, they’ll regard the possible transition as a calculated risk. Who wants to take a risk on making a career move without gathering as much information as possible? To this end, if a candidate doesn’t ask questions that would help them evaluate their own fit in the role, it could be a red flag for a number of reasons. For one thing, if a candidate is too eager to make a move, it could indicate that they’ve recently been let go from their previous position. Or, it could signal that this person is a job hopper, ready to flee a role for greener pastures at the drop of a hat.

References that aren’t congruent or recent.
The references that your candidate chooses to provide can provide clues as to where you might need to dig in further. When a candidate doesn’t provide references for more recent jobs, it’s not always a sign that something is off, but it is worth exploring. And, if your candidate is providing references that seem incongruent with their career path, that’s worth digging into as well.

The keys to identifying a bad hire are to embrace a healthy skepticism that enables you to dig deeper than surface level conversation, train yourself to look for inconsistencies and to learn to trust your intuition about the things you notice.

Leverage an ATS to consolidate your interview notes and feedback
There’s a lot of information to manage as you move candidates through your hiring funnel. That’s where an applicant tracking system (ATS) comes in. An ATS solution will allow you to structure and manage all associated candidate feedback, details and data. Be smart about how you set up candidate evaluation criteria in your ATS and you’ll have a scalable system for hiring that will save you time and enable a data-driven approach to hiring.

Contributing Author
Jeff Mills Director of Solution Management with SAP SuccessFactors

Jeff Mills is Director of Solution Management with SAP SuccessFactors. Jeff has a long history in SaaS, product marketing, digital marketing, and user behavior. Before joining SuccessFactors, Jeff was Director of Marketing for Janrain, a customer profile management software company. Prior to that, Jeff led the marketing organization at a global governance, risk and compliance firm; and led product development roles in email marketing and ecommerce and was a researcher at Gartner.

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