6 Ways to Avoid the Dreaded Bad Hire

Why is it that there is so much literature devoted to what interviewees should do in an interview? After all, if the interviewee screws it up, then they’ll just go to the next interview. If the interviewer messes it up, however, it can mean serious hardship for a company, with resources miss-invested, tasks screwed up and the work atmosphere irreparably damaged.

One bad hire can destroy all your hard team building work and demotivate everybody. And yet often it seems like managers are just supposed to instinctively know what to do. Not anymore. Today we’re going to give you some techniques to prepare you for the hiring minefield.

First off:

Be aware the interview isn’t everything

People generally think they’re very good at reading each other. This isn’t actually true. For example, on average we’re only a little better than chance at knowing when we’re being lied to. What’s more, whether you think you’re good at detecting lying makes no difference to how good you actually are.

All it means is that we’ll be more convinced that we’re being told the truth as somebody is yanking our chain.

Heck, we even frequently lie to ourselves! There are plenty of biases and unconscious effects that are influencing us when we meet other people that we’re completely unaware of. These make it so that we don’t approach a situation as if we’re a judge, like we think we do, but more like we’re a lawyer arguing one side of the case (and ignoring the other).

Because of this, we’ll often very quickly decide if we like or don’t like somebody and then try to find evidence to support our ideas. Obviously, that’s not a great hiring approach. So make certain that you’re not making your decision based on interviewing alone.

One good way to counter this is to:

Don’t just have one interviewer

Now whether you interview two separate times, have two separate interviewers in the same interview or even simply tape it so that you or somebody else can look at the interview again at a later point, make certain that you’ve got somebody else who has their own opinion (and is not afraid to voice it).

What’s more, make certain that before you discuss the value of the person, you first write down what both of you think of each participant, as otherwise you might find that through the simple act of one person stating what they believe, the other person shifts their opinion. That is something that is far less likely to happen if all parties have written something down to anchor themselves.

How nice they are is only one dimension

Have you heard of the Halo effect? It’s really psychology 101, but its effects are truly profound. What it means is that we don’t measure people based on many different dimensions, but we have really only one slider (some researchers argue it’s two, competence and trustworthiness) and we let everything we find out about that person influence it, such as how well they are dressed and if they remind us of somebody in our past.

One aspect that matters a great deal is how nice they are, and of course, it’s very important for team cohesion if somebody is likable. The thing is, due to the halo effect clumping everything together this attribute is massively overvalued. That means likable people, regardless of their skillset, can charge a premium while people that are not as fun to hang around with are at a serious disadvantage.

And that while for many jobs how likable you are is completely irrelevant. For example, The Economist recently investigated how autistic people, who are often better at some tasks than the non-autistic, especially focused repetitive ones, struggle to find employment because they can’t pass the interview as they struggle to make eye-contact and often take things too literally. As a result, they end up sitting at home with their life unfilled, even while they could be productive members of society (and of your company).

So don’t overvalue niceness. It will cost you.


One way to sidestep this is to give people projects to do. Here each interviewee is given the chance to come up with solutions to a project that you’ve put together beforehand that fits the job requirements you’ve got. Then you’ve got an object method to compare all of the different candidates that come in on an objective basis.

All you’ve got to make certain of is that the task contains most or all of the elements that matter to the job and then seeing how they perform on the different ones. This is a far more honest assessment of what they’re actually capable of than the interview (which is a bit like selecting your surgeon based on their piano playing skills).

Having trouble coming up with a task? Go back into your own company’s history and pick a project from there. That way you’ll already have a benchmark, namely the solution you came up with.

If you do this remember that you now know the outcome of that project and that will color your judgement of what is the right strategy. That isn’t a fair yardstick to use, however. After all, none of us can see the future. Instead, try to put the results out of your head to make the task as fair and as realistic as possible.

Due diligence

Due diligence is far easier today, with the world as connected as it is, which makes it far easier to dig up dirt on a person. So get in touch with their boss, their landlord and even their university professors if you can.

And check their social media! After all, if they’ve said stupid or revealing things on there, then chances are they probably will again in the future and that might just be your company that they’re then talking about.

In fact, consider recruiting with social media as this will save you money and also make certain you know where their social media profiles are (something that can occasionally be hard when they’ve got a common name).

Be Objective

And finally, the best way to combine what you’ve got is in an objective manner. Weigh each aspect of the process in a basic formula, such as the interview weighs 30% (15% per interviewer) the project weighs 30%, due diligence another 25% and their CV and previous experience 15%. Then hire whoever comes out best in this formula.

Now this might sound very limiting and unsatisfying, but as the Nobel Prize for Economics winner Daniel Kahneman demonstrates in his book ‘Thinking fast and slow’ these algorithms on average do much better than we do because they’re lucid and not filled with subconscious processes that we’re unaware of. This means they often give us far better answers, though they do so at the cost of the satisfaction of going with our gut feeling. The question then becomes, which is more important to you, getting the right person or having a good feeling about who you’re hiring?


Rick Riddle is a successful blogger whose articles aim to help readers with self-development, entrepreneurship and content management. Connect with Rick on Twitter and LinkedIn.