Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Avoiding a Harmful Hire

You know the saying “One bad apple can ruin the whole bunch”? Maybe you know that cliche too well. I don't have to explain to you how important each hiring decision is to you and your team. Maintaining a diligent interview and hiring practice is one of the critical keys to retaining your best employees while growing a successful organization. Now more than ever, as hiring manager, you need to be both interviewer and gate keeper. Don’t leave the tactical aspects of a hire to your HR group. Pay attention to the sign posts and make sure you actively participate in reference calls. It takes less time and money to execute a high quality process then properly terminating a bad hire. Here are the top six indicators of a potentially bad hire:

  • 1) Lots of movement on the resume: If your candidate has had more than three moves in the past five years, you may want to ask for references early. From 2007 to present, it’s not unusual to see a few transitions on a candidate’s resume given the job market, and gaps in employment are far more likely. However, if their past employers are still in existence, it may be a good idea to check one or two references before advancing to next rounds. During this call you should look or verification of employment (start and end dates, titles and reason for leaving), and to make sure that the candidate’s reason for leaving (or RFL) is consistent with the company’s. If the HR department or hiring manager of the prior employer is not willing to provide you details for legal reasons, you can ask your candidate for 2 peer references. Ask each of them why they thought the candidate left the prior company. See if each person’s perspective jibes with the candidate’s stated reason for leaving. If you receive conflicting information, you may want to ask your candidate for a manager reference with a personal phone number. Setting up a call or meeting outside the normal work day gives you and the reference a longer window to speak and without disruption.

  • 2) Difficulty scheduling an interview: Is the candidate’s schedule creating a logistical challenge for you and/or your team? Are they requesting off-hour or off-site interviews to accommodate their schedule? Do they seem inflexible with how much time they can offer for an interview? Sure, perhaps they’re a “hot” candidate with lots of opportunities, and that’s why you don’t want to lose them. But if a candidate makes you feel as though they’re just too busy to be bothered or requires multiple concessions on your time, it could mean they are poor at organizing their calendar…or worse, they really aren’t interested enough to take the time to meet you. After two attempts, ask them pointedly if their interest level is high, medium or low. If your job is a candidate’s Plan B or C, and you hire them knowing this, it’s probably not going to be a long term commitment.

  • 3) Discussing Compensation & Benefits questions up front, or too often: While this may be a sign of genuine interest, but it may also mean that the candidate is nervous that your company cannot provide the compensation or benefits plan they’ve become accustomed to, or expect to receive from their next employer. If they’ve gone without a raise for many years, they may need a bigger than budgeted salary increase or more vacation time than your company offers. It’s never too soon to offer benefits information, and allowing candidates to review this in advance of second round can often save everyone time and headaches. But if a candidate continues to pursue compensation conversations, chances are, they’re looking for the top of the range or more. Can you afford them? If so, are they worth the increase, and how will this impact internal equity?

  • 4) Inadequate or irrelevant references: If a candidate provides references that are too few in number, too obscure or irrelevant, too old or they cannot produce an adequate reference, you may want to spend more time getting to know them…and perform a background check. If you ask a candidate to provide two prior or current managers, and they balk, it is perhaps because they don’t want to jeopardize their confidentiality. But if they fail to produce any current or recent former references, you may want to end the conversations. In my experience, a good candidate will have people leaping through hoops to provide a solid reference. They should be able to pick up the phone and provide reference materials within a day or two of request. If they take a week or longer, chances are, they’ve got a problem and they don’t want you to find out about it. You can simply ask them what their hesitation is, and ask them if they are comfortable enough to confide in you…if they respond openly and honestly, you can then make an educated decision about whether you want them on the team. If they still are unable to produce a credible reference, it’s probably wise to let them go.

  • 5) Over-negotiating or making unreasonable requests: Even the best possible employees go a little nuts during the negotiation process. This is their one opportunity to state their needs and ask for the best possible offer before accepting and moving in to your organization. One of the biggest stop signs for me is when the “Tail is wagging the Dog”. This can happen when a confident candidate realizes that they’re “the One” and begins making a list of demands that the company can’t possibly meet without making significant concessions or altering company precedent. There are normal requests that challenge an organization. For example, a candidate coming in the door with four weeks of vacation may feel that a 15 day PTO policy is too big a sacrifice. They may ask for more vacation time as part of their negotiation process. This is not unusual, nor do I think this is the sign of a greedy candidate. What you really need to worry about is when a candidate requests special treatment…such as a greater percentage match to the 401k plan, a guaranteed bonus or a sign-on bonus, a private office, car allowance or a six month performance raise. Many candidates get preoccupied with asking for a “match” to what they currently have without considering whether anyone else in the organization has these benefits. You can simply state it would be unfair to offer these benefits to a new employee when they are not offered to tenured employees, and then go back to asking them if this is the job they really want. If they are hyper focused on the perks, it may be that the job is not exactly ideal for them and they will seek other forms of “consolation prizes”.

  • 6) The Arrogant Employee: The more concerning behaviors a candidate may display before an offer negotiation is a major increase in their compensation expectations, sidestepping or rushing aspects of the interview process, or sitting on your offer for days without providing a timely response. I’ve even had a candidate ask me for a written offer before a “final blessing” interview with the Company CEO…he just didn’t want to take the time unless the offer met his expectations. I cut him loose on the spot. Additionally, receiving an overly solicitous call from someone you don’t know who is advocating for a candidate may sound like a nice gesture, but that would give me pause as well. These are all signs of a harmful hire, an arrogant and high-maintenance employee.

No matter how desperate you are to make the hire, or how stellar a contributor they could be to your organization, if a candidate starts tipping the internal scales in their favor, acting overly empowered or entitled, then it won’t be long before this behavior will start to impact your team…and it will certainly spiral down into a management headache for you. A candidate who lacks humility, thoughtful deliberation, diplomacy and consideration for the whole team is not the kind of apple you want. There are plenty of good ones out there, so don’t settle until you find them.

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