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Why Almost Everyone is Terrible At Hiring (And What To Do About It)

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Every business needs to bring people onto the team to get things done and to grow, and just about every business is terrible at doing this. Why is hiring so hard? What can we do about it?

“You can’t find good people” is a common refrain. Writing for Forbes, commentator Liz Ryan draw a curious comparison:

We hold our Purchasing folks responsible for finding the raw materials we need, at the best price and quality levels. They have to know the market. They have to know which suppliers produce the best parts and materials.

If a Purchasing Manager came to a staff meeting and said “It’s too bad about the parts we need for that new product. They’re not available. They’re just not around,” we’d have a big problem. Nobody on your team would be satisfied with the excuse “We tried to find the parts we need, but we couldn’t find them.”

Although the comparison of “people” to “parts” may conjure up feelings of being a faceless cog in a corporate machine, the point is nonetheless solid. The difficulty in hiring people is often about making good specifications of what you want, and studying the market to know what that costs.

Job Interview

© Flickr user Alan Cleaver

A typical story comes from Prezi founder Peter Arvai:

When it came time to hire our first employee from outside the inner circle, I posted an ad online and received a response from an enthusiastic, well-qualified candidate.

I was thrilled and hired him after our initial interview. But by his third day on the job, I knew I’d made a mistake. Our personalities and work strategies did not mesh. On day four, I tried to make the best of it. By day five, I knew it would never work and fired him.

There are several factors at work that make the traditional hiring process totally insane:

  • You can’t judge someone for a career based on an interview. We tend to rely on intuition, not data when making hiring decisions. But that’s kind of like the circus master awarding a contract to a juggler because they had a good conversation. Shouldn’t the manager have asked her to first, you know, juggle something? It is such a big problem in some fields that over 99% of applications cannot do what they say they can do.
  • Hiring is always done later than it should be. Things start getting really busy and so we post an ad online. But soon they are even busier and we are just starting to talk to candidates. By the time we are about ready to do an interview everyone is running at top speed and putting in late hours. We just want to get a warm body to help out, forgetting that it will take months and months for that person to get up to speed. We need to start the process sooner, and expect less of new employees in the early days.
  • Candidates feel the pressure to stretch the truth. Everyone is on their best behavior in an interview. Nearly two-third of managers have spotted lies on resumes. Because we know we are competing with other well-qualified applicants, we bring our best selves to the interview and may be tempted to say things about ourselves that are not entirely factual. A job, however, is a marathon. It is about doing well on your good day and your bad days. Interviews are not representative of work.

What’s the solution to this problem? The short answer is sample work. Don’t interview people. Instead, ask them to do something. Pay them to come in for a day and join in on meetings. Offer them a contract for some freelance work. Get them to produce something so you can see what they can do, not just what they say they can do.

It’s harder than it sounds, and more valuable than you might imagine.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@BigLiciousT Not for you or in your field, but for many people it will subconsciously communicate they can email yo… - 4 months ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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  • randyclarktko

    Great post. When I did the majority of initial interviews at TKO I’d not only discuss the advantages of working at TKO but the pitfalls of the position. Whenever possible I’d put candidates to work, for example, our finishing department requires teammates to stand for 8 hours or more doing repetitious tasks. Several years ago I interviewed a young lady for the position. I took her to the department and had her “try” one of the basic tasks. I got called away to a meeting and forgot her (no excuse) more than an hour later I remembered her, she was still working, in high heels. She’s been with us 4 or 5 years now.

    • robbyslaughter

      Thanks for the comment, @randyclarktko:disqus!

      There is nothing quite like actually *doing the job* when you’re interviewing for the job. You learn something about yourself, and the interviewer learns about you.

      Keep up the great work!