Why You Fail at Hiring Good People


by Natalia Baryshnikova, Smart Recruiters Blog

hiring_graphicEvery manager wants to hire talented people and help their teams become high performing. But why do some managers and teams fail at it so often? Here is my list of five common mistakes that cost you good candidates – and suggestions how to avoid them.

#1 You Don’t Know What You Are Looking For

Not having a meaningful job description will cost you some of the best candidates. Talented people want to know upfront what it’ll take to succeed in your organization. They also want to know how the role will develop over time. Focusing on the future performance rather that generic requirements will help your job ad win the hearts of forward-thinking candidates.

What To Do:

  • Develop a list of criteria that will define a person’s success in the role (remember that the criteria will need to match your screening, interview processes).
  • Avoid restrictive requirements, such as “3 years of experience” unless you are positive that they are must haves.
  • Think through and describe the future of the role.

#2 You Don’t Push Your Team To Make Referrals

Employee referrals is a secret weapon of many companies in the Silicon Valley known for fast growth of strong teams. Early years of YouTube or the current electric/driverless car team poaching between Apple and Tesla are good examples of employee referrals in action. Many startups struggle with getting top talent to help them take off and scale, but it never fails to amaze me how often they miss out on pushing the team to engage their personal contacts.

What to Do:

  • If your employees don’t refer good people, your problem is either culture (people are not comfortable referring others), or employees who fail to engage talent from their past; figure out which one it is.
  • Make referring talent a lens through which you estimate the value of employees
  • Encourage referrals through recognition, token compensation – read Dan Ariely’s analysis of how market norms and social norms affect work performance

#3 You Don’t Focus On Candidate Experience

There is a common belief that best candidates never apply themselves: you have to poach them. That belief often encourages companies to neglect the candidate experience for the majority of candidates and focus on outbound sourcing only. That’s is a big mistake: today’s runner up candidate may be tomorrow’s winner, or a friend of tomorrow’s winner, or a partner. WhatsApp founder Brian Acton applied to Facebook and got rejected, but he kept warm memories of his candidate experience. Neglecting the common decency, such as taking time to respond to your candidates, always fires back.

What To Do:

  • Make people applying for your jobs feel that you appreciate their time: make application process simple, send an acknowledgement message.
  • Follow up with those you have to reject.
  • Be transparent about interviews and next steps.

#4 You Throw Out The Baby With The Bath Water

We all know it: resumes suck. Yes, there is no proven scalable way to screen candidates that can replace resumes at this point. But while we are waiting for the next artificial intelligence way of predicting talent, skills and performance, there are small steps that we can take to prevent false negatives.

What To Do:

  • Build a list of competencies (skills, personal qualities, technical knowledge) that are highly correlated with success in your team or company.
  • If you can’t do it in big data way, just make your best guess – everyone does.
  • Screen for those skills and remember that many of them can’t be on a resume anyway.
  • Build job descriptions and interviews to encourage and probe for those specific skills.

#5 You Are Not Selling A Vision That Resonates

There is a popular line of thinking, especially among startups, that candidates choose to associate with “branded” teams. This means if no-one on your team went to MIT or worked at Google, you will have a hard time attracting talent. I think this is one of the most toxic hiring myths, as it takes attention away from the single most important way to attract candidates: selling your vision.

What To Do:

  • Build a script, written down or not, clearly identifying the scope and complexity of problems you are tackling, the excitement of your product/solution and the market size.
  • Share it with your team and make sure everyone is comfortable selling this vision to candidates.
  • Drop the thinking that people who have applied are already sold on your greatness: they have simply allowed you to explain it to them.
  • Sell to everyone, whether you think they are good fit or not.

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