How to avoid the four landmines of hiring

Editor’s note: Brad Remillard is cofounder of Impact Hiring Solutions and coauthor of You’re Not the Person I Hired: A CEO’s Guide to Hiring Top Talent. For more information visit

In a recent survey of over 100 CEOs and their key executives, the first question asked was, “Is hiring top talent critical to the success of your organization?” Not surprisingly, everyone replied, “Yes.” Not simply important, but critical. The follow-up question was, “If it is critical, then how much time each month is spent focusing on hiring, excluding when you are actively looking to fill a position?” Not surprisingly, only three people indicated that they devoted a great deal of time to hiring.

Something that is critical to the success of the organization gets virtually zero time unless there is a current need. Is that the way most critical issues are handled in your company? No strategic planning? No thought or action discussed or taken until the problem arises? Only once the problem arises is it dealt with it?

This management style often happens with hiring. Most other critical issues are regularly discussed during management meetings. Ongoing programs such as cost reductions, product development, increasing sales or market share, customer service and improving operational efficiencies are all constantly discussed and often major components of the company’s strategic plan. In fact, most strategic plans have a great emphasis on growth. Yet few ever include a strategy for hiring the people needed to execute the plan as the company grows. Except for a vague paragraph, strategic hiring is rarely part of a strategic plan.

Companies that truly want to secure top talent and do it on a consistent basis must avoid these four landmines when hiring:

1. Untrained managers. This is the No. 1 reason hiring fails. Few managers are actually trained on how to hire. Most managers have never even attended one course or read a book on hiring. For the few who have had training, it is usually limited to interviewing training. Granted, this is better than nothing, but interviewing is only one step in an effective hiring process. If you aren’t finding qualified candidates, all interviewing training will do is validate they aren’t qualified. If the job isn’t properly defined then where you look for candidates may not be the right place, resulting in unqualified candidates.

If companies are serious about improving hiring, step one is to develop an effective hiring process and then train their managers in all aspects of the process.

2. Poorly-defined job. This mistake results in the search going sideways before it even starts. Traditional job descriptions for the most part aren’t job descriptions at all. Most describe a person. Does this read like your job descriptions? “Minimum five years of experience, minimum B.A. degree, then a list of minimum skills/knowledge and certifications.” Let’s not forget the endless list of behaviors the candidate must have: team player, high energy, self-starter, strategic thinker, good communicator, etc. Of course there is the list of the basic duties, tasks and responsibilities. This traditional job description defines a minimum qualified person, not the job. So before the search starts it is all about finding the least-qualified person. Is there any wonder why the least-qualified person shows up at your door?

Instead of defining the least-qualified person, start by defining superior performance in the role or the results expected to be achieved once the person is on board. For example:

– Improve customer service feedback scores from X to Y.

– Reduce turnover from X percent to Y percent within the next 12 months.

– Implement a sales forecasting process that includes a rolling three-month forecast that is accurate within X percent of actual sales.

Now that is the real job. It defines expectations, not some vague terms or minimum requirements. For every job there are usually at least four of these results required. The job is being defined by performance. In order for the person to be able to achieve these results they must have the right experience. Maybe it is five years, maybe three or maybe 10; it doesn’t matter. If they can do these it is enough. Now go find a person who can explain how they will deliver these once on board and you have the right person.

3. Finding the least-qualified candidates. As referenced above, most companies search for the least-qualified to start with, then complain they are seeing only unqualified candidates.

The other issue causing this problem is that most companies start the hiring process too late. They wait until they absolutely need someone and then expect when they decide they are ready to hire someone, at that moment in time, top talent will magically appear on the market, find them, be so compelled after reading the minimum job description that they update their résumés and respond to the ad.

Reactive hiring must be made a thing of the past. Hiring top talent requires proactive hiring. This means your hiring managers must be in the market engaging people all the time, not only when hiring. They should be connecting with people on LinkedIn, involved in professional associations and commit at least an hour or two a month to hiring. Few managers spend any time engaging potential candidates when they aren’t actively hiring. In fact, many even discard résumés as they come in if they aren’t hiring. Finding top talent doesn’t take a lot of time each month but it does take a consistent monthly effort of an hour or two.

4. Disrespecting the candidates. Top talent, especially those candidates who are working and are in no hurry to make a job change (often referred to as passive candidates) will walk away from a manager or company if they aren’t respected in the interviewing process.

Some common complaints by candidate of being disrespected include:

  • The hiring manager being late for the interview. Few managers would accept it if the candidate is late, so why should it be okay for the manager?
  • Lack of preparation by the interviewer. Again, if the candidate came in unprepared, would that be acceptable?
  • Taking calls during the interview.
  • Telling the candidate if they have any further questions to call and then ignoring the calls. If managers don’t respect the candidate during the hiring process it isn’t going to get any better once they are hired.


The interview is a PR event. These candidates will make sure others know how they were treated. They may post it on a Web site, hear about a person they know who is interviewing and speak with them about their experience. Bad PR is never good. This is an easy thing to fix. All it takes is treating candidates the same way you would treat a customer.

If you are having hiring problems, taking a step back to review – and avoid – these four mistakes is the best way to start changing how your company hires.

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