The Bad Hire: 4 Simple Solutions to Avoid 1 Costly Mistake

Posted by Emily Leinbach on September 10th, 2019


Protecting Assets From Domino Effect. Stop Loss Concept.

Originally published on LinkedIn by Dave Melville (CEO & Founder of The Bowdoin Group).

One third of our business comes from a company recovering from a bad hire.

Does that number surprise you?  Because frankly, it still surprises me.  Over the years, I’ve imagined that number decreasing as the discourse around avoiding bad hires flourishes, but it doesn’t.  In fact, the number has been steadily increasing.

As the Founder & CEO of an executive search firm, I’ve done my fair share of confidential searches after a client has made an unfortunate hiring decision.  There are some exceptions and slight variations, but the story behind those hires is usually the same.  Here goes:

Dave’s Scotch Emporium (I have always wanted a Scotch Emporium) interviews 15 people for a position and turns down 12.  They make an offer to three people, all of whom turn it down because compensation or role design isn’t attractive to them.  So, DSE changes the role and adjusts compensation, but they’ve run out of time.  Out of sheer desperation to make a hire, DSE hires candidate #16 who checks many, but not nearly all of the boxes.  (Ironically candidate #16 is offered more money than the three great candidates who turned the job down).

Six months pass and my phone rings.  It’s DSE calling me to kick off a confidential search to replace the incumbent.

Bad hires are a painful setback for companies and candidates alike. Hiring a bad executive can immeasurably impact an organization’s culture, revenue, and reputation. Despite the whole “one-third of our business” thing, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned so you can avoid this costly mistake.

Why Bad Hires Happen and What to Do About It

  • Failure to make the mission-critical aspects of a role the #1 priority – Much like Dave’s Scotch Emporium, companies too often fail to prioritize the mission-critical components of a role. “Nice to haves” are evaluated equally with “must haves” in search of the Super Candidate.  After months of struggling, the team realizes Super Candidate is actually a fictional candidate.  At this point, panic sets in and lucky candidate #16 is made an offer that can’t be refused.
    • Solution: Identify the three biggest priorities for the role. Evaluate candidates against their ability to successfully complete these priorities and then address the nice to haves.  If a candidate cannot accomplish the top three, do not hire that person.
  • Being collaborative…to a fault – Having more people involved in the interview process doesn’t always lead to better decisions. In fact, it can hinder them.
    • Solution: Ensure everyone on your team understands their role in the search. Are they simply a contributor or do they have a veto vote?  Every company is different, but there is always a point where adding interviewers diminishes returns.  In our experience with executive candidates, that number is typically between three and eight.
  • Interviewing for the past, not the future – When you’re hiring for executives, you often need someone who can take you in a new direction. While certain types of skills aren’t important to the way you currently work, they may propel you into the future.
    • Solution: If you need to scale, you may need someone who is process-oriented or bottom line-focused rather than someone who can roll up their sleeves and do it themselves. Consider your business objectives before you cast aside a great candidate.
  • Having a bias towards “the club” – This is a subtle factor during searches, but it’s present more often than you think. Whatever “club” your company has may be swaying your hiring decisions—think certain colleges, specific backgrounds, interests, or demographics.
    • Solution: This can be a much bigger issue than hiring an executive candidate who isn’t in “the club,” but without going into too much depth, do your best to put your bias aside. Overcoming that bias starts with being mindful of it (and making your interviewers aware of it as well).  Probe for cultural fit with questions related to the company’s core values, like a series of behavioral questions that are asked consistently of all candidates. For more on this topic, take a look at our article that answers four top questions from top diversity and equity leaders around how to promote diversity and equity within your organization.

These tips will help you prevent a bad hire, but if it’s too late, make moves quickly.  With any hope, you can mitigate any long-term effects for your company and find the right fit for the role within a few months.

For more information on dealing with bad hires, check out this blog post I wrote on how to deal with high-performing “bad actors” in your organization.

Need a confidential search or help preventing bad hires from happening in the first place?  Send me a message or contact us to find your next leader or to scale your team. 

Have you had any experience with bad hires?  What are you doing to prevent them?  I’d love to hear from you.

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