Learning From Your Past Hiring Mistakes

As much as we would like to believe this is never the case, sometimes bad hires happen. While it’s easy to write it off as an accident – they were so charming in the interview! They were so competent out of the gate!  They had all the certifications! – the reality is that dismissing the error robs us of a real opportunity to truly learn from the mistake and reduce the likelihood that it will happen again. 

But, before we dive in, let’s first talk about why bad hires are somewhat inevitable. You see, hiring is not an exact science, simply because humans are a little bit unpredictable. As someone that makes hires for your company, you base your decisions on the candidate’s credentials, schooling, previous experience, and even other softer metrics such as their personality type, perceived willingness to learn, and how well you think they will fit in with your corporate culture. However, even the perfect on-paper candidate can simply flop in the role. Sadly, when this happens, it can cause your employee morale, productivity, and even engagement to take a major nosedive, which just adds insult to injury when study data suggests that it can cost your business as much as $240,000 for a bad hire – although they warn that extra costs can certainly be incurred, “not the least of which may involve finding a replacement.” In short, your costs will be reflective of the role that you hired them into, the cost of finding a new employee, and any digging out necessary to undo any damage the bad hire did during their tenure (think lost sales, closed accounts, derailment of projects, etc). 

So why not go ahead and turn lemons into lemonade and let the bad hire turn into an opportunity to gain insight into your hiring process. Below, we outline a few steps you should take in the days, weeks, and months post a bad-hire to rework your process and save yourself from a future fallout.

Figure out where it went south

Before you can begin to refine your process, you must first do a little soul searching and figure out how the employee fell short. In one Career Builder survey, employers cited low quality of work, poor attitude, and an inability to work well with others as the top three reasons why someone would be considered a bad hire. In the same survey, Career Builder invited participants to dig a little deeper and asked them where they made a mistake in the hiring process, with companies most frequently citing mistruths about qualifications and a mistaken assumption that folks would be able to get up to speed with the job requirements more quickly than they did. To get a true handle on this, consider interviewing the person that they directly reported to about specific issues they identified along the way and why it didn’t mesh with their expectations when the employee was hired.

Reassess your job description

While it’s tough to admit, sometimes a company fails to find the right fit for the job simply because they don’t truly understand what the position entails! If your job description isn’t truly capturing the job at hand, you’re going to have a tough time attracting the right talent for the job. Again, have a department head or the person who will oversee the work of the new hire, review the job description, and make amendments as needed until it truly captures not only the job, but the type of person that will likely perform well in the role.

Take it to the teachers

Again, another tough pill to swallow, but was your hire bad because they failed in the job or did they fail because they were under-educated, under-trained and under-supported? If it is the latter, you’ll need to take a very close look at your training offerings and determine both where you fell short and what you can do to fix it moving forward. In the post-pandemic world, more training offerings than ever have been made available in online formats that can be completed remotely and whenever the mood strikes, and often at a fraction of the price of in-person training.

Consider a pre-employment assessment

Harkening back to the Career Builder survey above, we know that the top reasons for a bad hire are a conflated resume and assuming a better-than-expected learning curve. Typically, you’d have to go with your gut on this one. Do you get the feeling that the candidate is being truthful in their past experience and their motivation to learn? However, a pre-employment assessment tool represents a real, data-based method of testing out these exact qualities. Further, you can tailor the questions to home in on areas where you’ve previously been caught short to reduce the likelihood that you’ll be caught out again.

Talk to the bad hire

While it may feel pretty awkward, talking to the person that you are letting go of can provide you with all kinds of insight into what and where you went wrong. When you get to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, especially from someone who is no longer compelled to impress you, you can truly understand what they felt were the most important skills or aptitudes for the job and what you might be able to do, moving forward, to better support your future employees.