Desperately Short-Handed Employers Risk Costly Bad Hires

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

The pressure on employers to hire quickly given near-full-employment conditions can lead to costly bad hires, but it doesn’t have to, consultants advise.

There are many ways to go wrong, from skipping necessary background checks to hiring someone who doesn’t quite have the right job qualifications or doesn’t know how to check politics at the door.

Close to three-quarters (74 percent) of employers admitted to making a bad hire in the past year, according to a survey released Dec. 7 by Chicago-based jobs website CareerBuilder. Respondents said such mistakes cost them $14,900 on average. For the survey, Harris Poll talked to 2,257 hiring and human resources managers from Aug. 16 to Sept. 15.

According to CareerBuilder, 30 percent of those who had made bad hires said it was due to pressure to get someone on board quickly. That seems to be a common refrain these days.

“Don’t settle,” Robert Half’s Ky Kingsley told Bloomberg Law. “The top three skills or must-haves you need won’t change in the hiring process. Make sure you can find someone who will fit into the role.”

Although It’s tempting to rush to a decision, especially when candidates could be juggling multiple offers, employers should follow through on their regular hiring processes, Lauraine Bifulco told Bloomberg Law. “We do ourselves a disservice” by skipping necessary steps, said Bifulco, president of San Juan Capistrano, Calif.-based consultancy Vantaggio HR.

“My perspective doesn’t really change whether we’re in a good labor market or a bad one, though it’s harder in a tight labor market,” she added.

Define Need, Culture

There’s no substitute for having a meticulous hiring process and following it no matter how urgent the need for fresh bodies seems, Kingsley said. And that starts with figuring out what the company actually requires rather than rushing to plug a hole, she said.

“From the beginning, there has to be clarity on what they really want specifically, and what they really need,” said Kingsley, vice president of Robert Half Finance and Accounting, which is part of staffing firm Robert Half, based in Menlo Park, Calif.

Make sure HR and the hiring manager are on the same page when it comes to both needed skills and cultural fit, Kingsley said.

Bifulco agreed on the importance of culture: “The bad hires are not necessarily those with the most flagrant deficiency of skills, but are a bad personality and culture fit.” To avoid that, she suggested asking probing questions such as how candidates work with other people and what kind of workplace they thrive in.

One example of bad cultural fits-- especially in today’s hyper-polarized political atmosphere, job candidates who are so extreme that they can’t tolerate working with people who might not agree with them politically, said Jim Stroud.

Stroud, the global head of sourcing and recruiting strategy for Atlanta-based HR provider Randstad Sourceright’s Talent Innovation Center, said clients have expressed fears to him of hiring extremists.

The problem is “tricky” because employers shouldn’t discriminate based on a job candidate’s ideological beliefs. Instead recruiters should look out for “low emotional intelligence,” which can lead to intolerance.

CareerBuilder’s Rosemary Haefner advises that HR “structure the interview to mimic the job” and bring in team members to interview the candidate “to judge culture fit.” Haefner is chief human resources officer at CareeerBuilder.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive Information

Bad hires could also come from shallow interviewing that fails to get at the real reason the candidate wants the job, Stroud said. Someone who’s just looking for a stopgap position isn’t a good bet to be a long-term employee, he said.

Screening done via a phone call can weed out unsuitable candidates even before an in-person interview, Bifulco said.

Employers shouldn’t skimp on background checks, both for criminal records and to make sure candidates really have the academic degrees they claim, she said. Nor should employers assume that speaking to the personal references a candidate gives is just going to generate positive pablum; proper questioning can turn up useful information, she said.

A Fast but Thoreau Approach?

Despite all this, given the tight labor market, employers do have to move quickly, Bifulco said. “We have to be very intentional about project planning it and condensing the timeline,” albeit without leaving out any crucial steps.

A mindful efficiency would be in order, practitioners say. To avoid ending up with only bad choices, Kingsley suggested that employers keep in close touch with all candidates they considered good enough to bring in for in-person interviews, “so you can re-evaluate them against your must-haves if your top candidate falls through.”

As the 19th century Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at and Tony Harris at

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