Ten pitfalls to avoid when hiring a candidate

Ole I Iversen

It is expensive to make wrong decisions when hiring new managers and co-workers. Here are ten common reasons for bad hires.

The recruitment of new senior executives and employees can prove to be a risky proposition. It is critically important for organisations to secure highly qualified co-workers and management. How can you identify the best suited candidate among the several applicants for the position you are hiring for?

Even the experienced make mistakes

It can prove costly for organisations to hire the wrong new manager or co-worker. Leaders fail and must be replaced. Employees fail to live up to the expectations they created when they were hired.

This might lead us to believe that experienced recruiters become more reliable with time. But no, that is not necessarily the case, claims Ole I. Iversen, Adjunct Associate Professor at BI Norwegian Business School. He is an expert in the field of recruitment, both as a researcher and former recruiter.

‒ Experience probably makes you feel safer in the role as a recruiter, but it does not necessarily mean you become better at evaluating candidates, Iversen emphasises. Many continue making the same mistakes, but with progressively more confidence.

‒ If you want to make better judgments when hiring, it is important to know the potential pitfalls in recruiting, and how to best avoid them, the BI researcher remarks.

Ten pitfalls you should avoid

Ole I. Iversen has identified ten potential pitfalls that can play a trick on even those with a vast experience hiring leaders and employees. The recruitment expert also shares advice on how to avoid getting fooled.

Pitfall 1: Bad preparation: A hiring is an important decision, so prepare well. Read your candidate’s application and resume thoroughly before the interview. Being well-prepared also shows that you are serious about the candidate. Prepare interview templates where the candidate is scored on a scale. If several interviewers are participating, it is important to have distributed roles so that each interviewer knows in advance what areas they are responsible for, and how much time they are afforded.

Pitfall 2: Failure to produce a realistic and precise description of job requirements: Good recruiting work starts with a good description of the position and the requirements, where the different responsibilities and tasks of the position are clearly described. The required skills must be based on the tasks of the job. Further, a recognised skill model should be used when determining the requirements for personal attributes. This ensures that you have solid definitions of the attributes you are searching for.

Pitfall 3: First impression and confirmation bias: The first impression is formed after only a few minutes, Ole I. Iversen warns. If we let this control the rest of the interview, and merely continue to seek confirmation of it, things can go wrong. Try setting the first impression aside. Ask the same questions to every candidate and make up your mind after the interview has concluded.

Pitfall 4: Overestimating negative information: During a hiring process we try to discover both positive and negative information about the candidates. But, discovering negative information can prove difficult. The candidate is less likely to divulge such information. However, sometimes negative information can be revealed during a reference check. It is easy to put more emphasis on negative information than necessary. This is especially the case if you have knowledge about something negative concerning one of the candidates, while only having positive information about the others. You can be fairly certain that most of the other candidates are likely to have some weaknesses of their own. You just have not managed to discover them. Therefore, critically assess whether the negative information you have discovered is relevant to the position that is being filled.

Pitfall 5: The contrast effect: The contrast effect involves that we start comparing candidates with each other, rather than evaluating them based on the criteria used for the job description. In cases where there are major differences between two candidates who are interviewed consecutively, this can lead to an undesirable contrast effect. The candidates may appear either stronger or weaker than they actually are. Work to ensure that the candidates are evaluated on the specified skill requirements.

Pitfall 6: The similar-to-me effect: People tend to like other people that are similar to themselves, such as candidates with the same background, interests or perhaps humour. Liking a candidate is obviously not a drawback, but it is important that we do not let this affect our judgment of them. The person we like the best, is not necessarily the one that is best suited for the job. When the candidates are evaluated as a whole towards the end of the process, the one that best meet the skill requirements should be hired.

Pitfall 7: The fundamental attribution error: We have a tendency towards giving a person credit for a good result, while blaming the situation when something goes wrong. The fact that a candidate has achieved good results in a position does not necessarily mean that they will do it in another position. It can simply be a case of the results being as good as they were in spite of this candidate. Perhaps he or she had several accomplished co-workers who, despite of bad leadership, managed to do a terrific job. When results are not achieved, this is often explained with external factors, such as a difficult market, low oil prices, the Norwegian Krone being too strong and so on. This means we have to be vary of putting too much emphasis on a candidate’s past success or lack of results.

Pitfall 8: The halo effect: This pitfall involves that you let one positive characteristic of a person influence your opinion of them in other areas. The fact that a candidate is competent in one area, does not automatically mean that they are as proficient in other ones. For instance, if a person has achieved great athletic results, it does not mean that they will transfer this success to their professional career. A physically attractive candidate is not necessarily smart and industrious. Remember, each of the skill requirements must be evaluated independently of each other.

Pitfall 9: Good chemistry: Good chemistry is often listed as a reason for contacting candidates for a second interview. But, what goes good chemistry really mean? Is the similar-to-me effect playing a trick on us? Or perhaps it is the social and outgoing candidate who is comfortable when meeting strangers and who has no problems talking about themselves? Some candidates are by nature more shy and reserved. We might require more than a short first interview in order to know them properly. This means that extroverted candidates easily can become a pitfall in the recruitment process, unless that is precisely what we are looking for. Avoid the use of gut feeling or focus on good chemistry. Put emphasis on the specified skill requirements.

Pitfall 10: The interviewer talks too much: Sometimes, the interviewer will talk so much that the candidate hardly gets a chance to talk about themselves. Remember that the candidate should do most of the talking, Ole I. Iversen emphasises.

Iversen, O.I. (2015) Rekrutterings- og intervjuteknikk, Fagbokforlaget

Text: Marketing coordinator Eivind L. Johansen.

Published 28. August 2018

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