How to Prevent Another Bad Hire



  • The seven ways we make bad hires (1:30)

  • 1. Skipped reference checks (3:00)

  • 2. Unassessed training or skills (3:50)

  • 3. Unknown communication or work style (6:30)

  • 4. Hidden expectations (9:20)

  • 5. Ambiguous goals (12:00)

  • 6. Unexpected capacity challenges (14:10)

  • 7. An undetected lack of desire or will (15:30)


Have you ever made a new hire – or been a part of the team that made a new hire – and after a few weeks, you begin to get that sinking feeling of “Oh no, we made a mistake…”?

If so, you are not alone. Bringing on new talent is one of the most challenging tasks that anyone has to deal with. There are so many variables—

  • Will they fit with the team?

  • Are they representing their skills accurately?

  • Are their excellent references being honest?

  • Are we really taking the time to understand what is needed right now versus just filling a vacancy?


There are seven basic ways we make bad hires:

  1. Skipped reference checks

  2. Unassessed training or skills

  3. Unknown communication or work style

  4. Hidden expectations

  5. Ambiguous goals

  6. Unexpected capacity challenges

  7. An undetected lack of desire or will

Let’s break them down and then discuss how and why to remedy each of these.

Let’s say you’ve hired Donnie, or perhaps you got stuck with Donnie, who was hired by someone else but he is now on your team. Now it is a few weeks after Donnie’s been hired, and you are beginning to realize that he isn’t performing well.

Here are seven places to look to see where you went wrong:


It seems hard to believe, but I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me they decided to forgo reference checks because they felt such a great connection to the candidate during the interview process.

Would you forgo the reference check if you were renting out your house? Does AMEX forgo a credit history when they extend you credit? No!

Donnie may be able to present well for an hour or two, but you want to know how he will sustain himself over time.


The first thing to look at is: How did Donnie get hired when he doesn’t have the necessary skills? There could be several reasons, and reflecting upon them will help you and your team improve the screening, interviewing, and hiring process to decrease the chances of it happening again.

Prior to hiring, was there a thorough and realistic assessment of what it takes to do the job effectively? This is where exit interviews can be very helpful. So many people dread exit interviews, especially if someone is leaving on bad terms. Exit interviews can feel like a big sour grapes dump. But it is important to consider the questions on the exit interview and sort through the emotion to get to the meat.

If the candidate is missing some key skills, did they misrepresent their abilities? Misrepresentation is always a risk. Donnie could say that he’s proficient in Excel, but what proficient means to him and what is required for the job could be dramatically different.

Did you give assessments for technical skills? Did you have candidates participate in a writing exercise? Did you carefully listen and observe as they interacted with a variety of people in the organization? Did you verify their skills with their references?

More and more companies are cutting the role of Human Resources. And the places where I see the most consistent misses on skill assessment and diligent reference checking are in organizations where skilled human resource professionals are not vetting the candidates.


Many people bring great skills and talents, but we fail to take the time to understand how they are best supervised, mentored, empowered, held accountable, and supported. And also how their true work and communication styles align with their team and their work.

Was effort put into understanding the candidate’s work style, communication style, and strengths? There are a variety of reasonably priced tools that I use to provide clear, objective, in-depth information on how people do their work, communicate, show up and what their strengths are.

A lot of times leaders tell me they don’t want to spend extra money on these assessments, but when you think of the cost of a mis-hire. or for you not to understand how this person is motivated, held accountable, communicates, or needs to receive information? That’s such a waste of money on the other end.

Differing skills and strengths are really important for your team, but even more important is an understanding of how to support, provide feedback, empower, and hold accountable those who are different from you.

I not only recommend which instruments to use, but my team and I also facilitate and interpret them, so you know the best ways to integrate and support a candidate’s success before they’re in their seat.


Hidden expectations are best categorized as things that are taken for granted because they are part of the culture and norms of an organization. They are a part of what makes each company special, but when they aren’t proactively communicated with prospective employees, they can cause confusion, resentment, and be judged as poor performance.

One organization I consulted with called me in because their culture was greatly upset with the hiring of a new employee. The norm – which had grown organically over time – was that everyone on the team attended the others’ weddings, birthday parties, and other celebrations on personal time.

But the newest person on the team – who didn’t last very long – had their own large family, and she wasn’t looking to build those kinds of connections. She was looking to do her best work during working hours and enjoy her own life outside of work.

That gap in communication around the organization’s culture caused a big divide, anger, and resentment, and their new, highly skilled employee soon found other employment where the culture was better suited to her needs and expectations. This caused the organization a lot of chaos and drama, and a lot of money was lost in the recruitment and hiring process.

Spend some time thinking about what you may be expecting that isn’t shared or written down. And determine: a) If it’s realistic, b) If it’s legal and ethical, and c) How the culture can best be communicated or shared up front.

Let’s get those hidden expectations on the table! And be sure you communicate them clearly to your candidates.


Recently I did a workshop for 20 people from one company. When I asked the group – many of whom were department heads – what the top three goals were for their organization, not one person could answer me.

This is not an anomaly. The perception is that company-wide goals are developed by out-of-touch leaders and have no impact on day-to-day work. My experience with this group was typical.

Your company’s top goals should be shared with candidates with the accompanying statement: These are the top three goals for our company for this year. Everything you do and how you do it will be in service of the achievement of these goals.

Likewise, departmental goals should be shared. And once your new candidate is on board, the goals for how their position supports the achievement of departmental and company goals must be in place and shared very quickly.

In the first 90 days, milestone check-ins to determine progress against goals are critical, both to keep the employee moving forward and focused, as well as to have clear data and feedback on how training is going and how they are performing in their role.

When I meet with struggling companies, the first thing I ask is, “What are your top 3 goals for the coming year?” It is amazing to me how many times I am met with blank stares or vague answers.

Don’t blame Donnie if he’s not hitting his goals when you aren’t clear on his goals.


This is a really tricky one, and you must get human resources involved if you’ve hired someone who doesn’t have the capacity to do their job.

For example, if Donnie is only 4 feet tall and you hired him to do a job that requires a 5-foot-5-inch person to do it, it isn’t really Donnie’s fault – and his height also isn’t likely to change no matter how many resources you throw at the issue, or how much support you give him.

An unlikely example, but you get the point. Does the person actually have the capacity to do the job? This is a tricky and delicate area, and more than likely, you are not in a position to make that kind of assessment or judgment.

If you believe you hired someone that, for some reason, cannot perform the job due to circumstances beyond their control, contact a human resource specialist to outline the best course of action.


The last (and most infrequent) reason employees struggle is they just don’t care enough about the job to do it well.

In the interview, do more listening than talking, and pay attention to the candidate’s energy level and interest when you talk about the goals, the work of the department, and the culture of the company. Notice the questions they ask. Are their questions focused on the work you are presenting, or are they primarily focused on what they’ll get out of it – salary, advancement opportunities, or benefits?

I once interviewed a young woman who was an internal candidate for a newly created job. She had been struggling with getting to work on time and completing projects, but because she was internal, I wanted to give her the chance to interview.

She started the interview by sharing all the reasons why she wasn’t doing her current job well – boredom, below her skill set, not using her creativity – followed by why she would show up differently in the new job. I had to stop her and share some feedback, which was: “If you don’t show up 100% for the job you have, I’m not confident that you will do so in a new position. Demonstrate to me that you are willing to show up and give 100% where you are for a sustained period, and then we will talk about a promotion.”

A solid candidate is willing and excited about the work that is in front of them today, with an interest in advancement, salary, and benefits that does not precede or outweigh their interest in the work.

Donnie’s lack of desire or will to do the work won’t be fixed by human resources, the team, or leadership. But instead of giving Donnie really clear feedback on this, we so often spend precious time creating complex workarounds and systems to pick up the slack. Why?

Because we genuinely like and care about Donnie, or maybe we don’t want to hurt Donnie’s feelings. But most often I find that we don’t want to start the search process to replace Donnie, so we struggle with the Donnie we have in the seat today.

The question for the leader is: What is your line in the sand? And how do you communicate that in a way so that, if termination is necessary, it is not a surprise to the employee but, instead, an agreement that it just isn’t working out? Then a transition can be initiated that is compassionate, legal, and with the least amount of drama for both Donnie and your organization.


Did any of these ring a bell? Have you ever made a bad hire? Do you have one or more Donnies in your organization right now?

If you or your company is risking morale and wasting time and money on bad hires, let’s have a conversation. I can tell you: There is a significantly better way.

- Beth