Common recruitment mistakes

Nick Stanley
By Nick Stanley

Recruiting a new team member takes some real effort. From drawing up and placing an ad, wading through cover letters and CVs, conducting interviews and checking references, to weighing up candidates, it’s a time- and labour-intensive process.

After all that work, the last thing you want is to hire someone who turns out to be a bad fit for the role or the company and you wind up back at square one again.

But it does happen. Recruitment isn’t a precise science. We all want to hire the best person for the job and the organisation, but the process can be flawed by any number of errors, whether it’s bias, omission, or over-reliance of one criterion over others.

At MyHR, we work closely on recruitment with lots of companies, big and small, so we thought it’d be useful to take a good look at the most common mistakes we see and suggest ways to avoid them.


Not sticking to structure

This rates number one because approaching recruitment haphazardly can really hamper the results.

There are many parts to the recruitment process and no single step guarantees you’ll attract top-flight applicants and select the best one.

You may have a great role that many talented people apply for but then make mistakes due to a messy interview process or haphazard candidate selection.

The trick is using all the steps together consistently to get the best outcome. Be aware of the pros and cons of each phase, so you know where you might discount or endorse someone incorrectly. The pros of one step should mitigate the cons of another.

A structured approach is also much easier to implement, which means it is easier to analyse and improve upon next time.

Remember too, that you will have way more unsuccessful candidates than successful, and if they have a bad experience, that will damage your reputation. Be organised when they show up. Uphold any time commitments you make. Communicate proactively with all the candidates, so they are informed of progress.


Not clearly defining the job

Starting recruitment with a job description that doesn’t accurately define the work you need done is a really basic error.

Many people don’t take the time up front to determine the current and future needs of the company and role, and then let the recruitment process shape the position.

Everything flows from having a clear view of the job, tasks, and your expectations. Ask yourself what you’re recruiting for? An accurate, honest job description will keep you focused on the sort of person, skills, and qualifications you need.

It will also mean potential candidates know exactly what they are applying for, which will help attract the right sorts of people.

But there is a balance to be struck. You don’t want the job description to be so detailed and granular that it's hard to understand and the purpose of the role gets confused.


Overselling the role

In seeking to attract the cream of the crop, it can be tempting to aggrandise the position or promise more opportunities than there actually are.

It won’t take long for your new hire to find out whether the role is more limited (or more demanding) than they were expecting, or if any promised likelihood of advancement or bonuses were exaggerated. Any mismatch in expectations can cause a sharp loss of focus and motivation or start the person looking for work elsewhere.

Again, the work you do in defining the job will help clarify what you need from a candidate and what you can offer them.


Over-reliance on CVs or referees

Some people spend hours pouring over CVs, analysing and comparing details. Others may take all the glowing praise of referees literally.

CVs really aren’t that accurate at predicting a candidate's suitability for the role; it’s easy to embellish or make up details, and it’s hard to verify any claims made.

We recommend sorting quickly through CVs to create a short list. Look for consistency, alignment with your needs, quality formatting, grammar and spelling. Compare them to LinkedIn (or other social media) profiles. If any achievements look too good to be true, flag them for checking later.

Use referees to supplement the information you collect during the interview and selection process. We all choose referees because we know they’ll paint us in a favourable light. When talking to referees, ask about strengths and any development needs to help get a fuller picture of the person.


Poor interviews

Interviews are an important chance to meet candidates, get a feel for their abilities and personalities, and hone in on their background, insights, and motivations. But too often they can be variable, vague, or overbearing.

Interviewing is a skill that needs to be approached with preparation and structure. You’re not sitting down for a cozy chat but nor is it an inquisition.

Try to create a relaxed but purposeful atmosphere. Have basic set questions so you can compare responses. Also have some curly or unusual ones that require thought, self-reflection, and creativity to answer so you can get some detail about what a person has previously done, what they’re good at, areas for development etc.

Don’t do all the talking or use questions that leave candidates with little room to discuss themselves or their skills. You need more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. A good rule of thumb is to have the candidate speak for 80% of the interview.

Remember, some people are better than others in an interview situation and this isn’t always a fail-safe predictor of their ability to do a job (e.g. research shows narcissists do well in interviews, but you wouldn't necessarily want one in your team).

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Going on ‘gut feeling’

By this stage in the process, recruiters usually develop a sense of which candidate(s) they prefer. But paying too much heed to ‘gut feelings’ can lead to hiring mistakes.

We like to think we’re rational and balanced thinkers but our intuition is usually informed by a lot of things, including unconscious biases and social preferences. So instead of looking objectively at candidates, you can end up narrowing it down to those who share your background, ethnicity, age, gender etc. (also known as the “like me” bias).

To balance your intuition, include a range of assessments that give you some concrete results, like psychometric tests and work samples.

If you’re still in doubt, step back and get someone you trust in the business to give you a second opinion. Having them review the information or join you for interviews could really clarify things.


Overlooking existing team members

There’s no reason to assume the best candidates aren’t already working with you, but plenty of people overlook existing employees to cast their net in the wider market.

Quite apart from the time- and cost-savings, filling roles internally means the person is already part of the team, understands your company’s culture, processes, and mission, and is likely to get up to speed in the new role faster than a brand new hire.

Promoting and training up your own team members is good for wider morale and team spirit, as it clearly demonstrates career progression and trust. It also helps you retain any intellectual capital that you’d lose if the person left.


Waiting for the perfect candidate

We all know the one about the prince or princess who waited for their perfect match and ended up forever spouseless. It happens in recruiting, too.

While there is little point in filling a role with someone you don’t expect to succeed, keeping the vacancy open indefinitely can put strain on you, your team, and the company.

If you’re having trouble finding someone after advertising a couple of times, it is probably time to check if your expectations about the role, the market, and pay rates are realistic.

If you’re not getting the calibre of person you want, either you’re not positioning the role right, you’re not offering sufficient incentives (not just remuneration), or there’s something else going on that makes your organisation unattractive.


Thinking short-term

Of course, recruiting is about filling an immediate gap in the team. But don't make the mistake of discounting the wider, longer-term picture.

Just as you want people to grow into invaluable employees that help drive your business, people want to develop and grow.

Again, this speaks to the defining work you need to do up-front, so the role is informed by your company’s strategy and vision. A new hire that leaves after a short time will ultimately cost your business time and money in lost productivity and low motivation, and you’ll also be back recruiting again.


Leaving the new recruit to their own devices

Nothing sets a new recruit up for failure quite like cutting them adrift as soon as they’re hired.

Once you have offered someone a job, communicating poorly (or not at all) only serves to create doubt and uncertainty about their decision. Instead, see it as part of the recruitment process that starts with the job design and ends when the new employee’s onboarding (induction) is complete.

Don’t wait until after they start to provide them with their employment agreement. Give them any important company policies or documents to review before their first day. There may also be tools or programs that they can get familiar with.

When the person arrives for work the first time, ensure you are totally ready. Be there to meet them and spend time with them. It may sound cheesy, but a buddy can help the new person with all the unofficial, cultural practices in the organisation and provide a safe person to ask questions.

It typically takes a new hire around 3 months to become fully integrated into the team and hit their straps in a role. If you’re experiencing any employee churn in those first 90 days, then you probably need to brush up your recruitment practices.

Learn more about the importance of effective onboarding