Think bad hires are inevitable? Back the hiring process with data and change your mindset

Rachel Stewart Johnson

Psychologist | Driven by communications about human behavior in Work

The decision to make an offer of employment could be described as a leap of faith. Regardless of the position and the particulars of the workplace, the choice to hand over the keys is consequential. While a hard-working and talented employee is a considerable asset, a major concern for hiring managers isn’t solely focused on those plusses. It’s avoiding the proverbial bad apple who spoils the whole barrel.

Research shows that a bad hire represents a hard hit for companies both large and small. The impact is felt on the bottom line, with estimates of the cost ranging from $12,500 to more than $50,000. The problem isn’t just the churn and wasted resources. The effect extends widely, with potential costs associated with litigation and other practical matters, damaged customer relationships, and weakened morale. Moreover, the negative impact of that poor hiring decision, Harvard Business Review reminds us, is even greater than the benefit of the slam-dunk hiring of a top performer. Talent acquisition professionals must be on the lookout for landmines.


Yesterday’s evaluation methods let bad apples slip through

Anecdotally, the bad hire often looks good on paper. They’re the retail worker with relevant experience, the data analyst with a graduate degree, the Help Desk staffer with a long list of technical skills. These checked boxes often push an application forward. The interview can be an important second gatekeeper but is limited as well. Traditional interviews often utilize one-size-fits-all approaches. Those dialogues can vary widely from one candidate to the next in both content and value, with the skill and identity of the interviewer having an important impact.


Hiring headaches hit high-volume environments hard

Concerns about bad hires are profoundly important for high-volume hiring of hourly workers, whose workplace settings can include everything from warehouses to retail sales floors to outdoor sites. A large study of these hourly workers found that about 1 in 20 are fired for “toxic” behavior -- specific unacceptable acts that include violating workplace policy, committing fraud, or harassing coworkers. For high-volume employers, that represents hundreds of bad hires doing considerable damage. With resumes for hourly positions often doing little to distinguish one applicant from another and interview resources limited, high-volume hiring managers are in need of tools to guide their decisions. There’s a “one-two punch” that can improve results and provide warning of the potential for toxic behaviors: 1) Benchmarking candidates, and 2) Interviewing smarter.


Benchmarking: comparing “haves” to “wants”

blog_img1_10119Management professionals understand the value of benchmarks to compare performance to goals. This principle shouldn’t be restricted to assessing products, operations, or the existing workforce. Instead, benchmarking of job candidates provides a valuable barometer of how a potential hire stacks up against an ideal. But how does one quantify the “ideal?” Consider a recent job posting for a national restaurant chain. That employer seeks a “friendly, enthusiastic attitude,” a “love of helping and serving others,” and the ability to learn. How can hiring teams gain consistency in their ability to identify priorities like these from a resume or interview? How can we compare one candidate against another, particularly if multiple interviewers vet candidates?

By matching desired job qualifications to well-researched personality dimensions, one can create a benchmark to understand how the personality breakdown of a given applicant compares to the composite profile that research suggests should be a best-fit employee. This buys considerable value, particularly if the extent of a candidate’s fit against the benchmark can be obtained with a quick assessment.


Interview smarter

A second step to avoiding bad hires is to pull the interviewing process out of twentieth century practices. The format has remained remarkably unchanged for generations. Moreover, many desirable qualities, like stamina, resilience and trainability, are all hard to gauge in a face to face exchange. To put it simply, the skills that are on display in a traditional interview aren’t necessarily the skills desired for an open position. If I need to hire a fry cook, I don’t care a lot about a candidate’s sense of humor, taste in clothes, or conversational ability -- all characteristics that an interview showcases. I need someone who can ensure food safety, withstand physical work, and employ good hands-on techniques. While asking, “Do you take food safety seriously?” might be one way of starting a conversation, it’s a risky approach to gaining real applicable insights.

What makes for a “smart” interview? Combine assessment data and benchmarking with questions crafted to address specific high-priority personality areas. For example, if an applicant for a floor manager position shows low extraversion, a trait that benchmark data suggests could be problematic, that can be addressed with targeted questions. Instead of broad queries that reveal little more than the candidate’s speaking style and mood, targeted questions provide useful information in a more thorough and quicker fashion. They can also highlight inconsistencies in candidate claims. If that applicant claims to be outgoing but assessment responses suggest otherwise, that can be a starting point in an efficient discussion.


Let’s stop picking bad apples

With turnover in some industries exceeding 100%, current hiring practices are failing. Employers bring workers in, get mixed results, and lose workers. It’s a chronic cycle with high costs and high risks. By entering a new era of data-driven hiring practices, employers gain the advantage of greater clarity and predictability in their hiring decisions -- no longer a pure leap of faith with the strategic implementation of data analytics.



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