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By Donald A. Phin, Esq.

"If workers are carefully selected, the problems of employee discipline will be negligible."
Johnson & Johnson Co.
Employee Relations Manual, 1932
Organizations today are beset with high rates of employee turnover, wrongful hiring claims, sexual
harassment allegations, workplace violence, employee theft ... the list goes on and on. Such risks are
magnified when you hire the wrong person! The wrong person is underqualified, litigious, controlling,
insubordinate, and detrimental to an entire firm. Indeed, the seeds of many failed employee-employer
relationships are planted during the hiring process.
Within the pages of Hiring Smart (reviewed in the Winter 2000 EPLiC), Dr. Pierre Mornell offers a wealth of
prescriptive recommendations45 specific "do's"that will increase a firm's chances of hiring effective,
productive employees. In this issue, we examine the opposite perspective and share with you some of the
most common mistakes10 "don'ts"for the hiring process.
It makes no difference whether an organization is large or small, or hiring an entry-level worker or an
executive. For example, we've seen a convalescent home unknowingly employ a violent felon: a janitor
who kidnapped, raped, and then killed one of its patients. At the other end of the spectrum, we've seen
companies hire multimillion-dollar executives; that's not what they cost the company in salary, but how
much long-term strategic damage they caused. By avoiding the 10 pitfalls examined in this article, you
will be in a better position to prevent the costly mistakes that victimized these organizations.

Clearly Identify Company Needs

When seeking to fill a position, your company must clearly define its goals in terms of skills, experience,
character, and competency. Determine the actual, objective standards a candidate must meet, and the
requisite educational background, exact work experience, and specific technical skills they must possess.
In addition, it is important to evaluate the organization's short-and long-term needs and the effect this
particular hiring decision will have upon those needs. Many times, however, an organization's
requirements can be more efficiently met through outsourcing or strategic partnering. Don't automatically
assume you need a certain type of employee. Test those assumptions before you hire.

Test a Prospective Employee's Skills

Skill testing is a must. Every job has some form of measurable, objective performance standard. Identify
it and test for it. A secretary who types 60 words per minute with mistakes will be less effective than a
secretary who types 90 words per minute without mistakes. However, if a company fails to test for typing
skills, it will have no way of evaluating a prospective employee's ability to perform a specific task. Under
these circumstances, a supervisor may criticize the first secretary for lack of productivity, when she is in
fact giving her best effort. Unless you test an applicant's skills, you are taking a gamble that they can
perform. It's a bet you just may lose.

Avoid Hiring Out of Desperation

Too many hiring decisions are made out of desperation. The following scenarios occur repeatedly: a key
manager quits and must be replaced NOW; rapid growth forces a company to fill positions without enough
forethought; programmers are so scarce that anyone will do. We've all, in pure desperation, brought
someone into an employment relationship only to find out later that they were not trustworthy or
competent. Don't fall prey to such fear-based thinking. Rather, consider the alternatives. If you are unable
to conduct a thorough, timely hiring process, hire a temporary or leased employee or borrow an employee
from another company. But don't hire in hasteyou may end up with waste.

Guard Against Hiring Out of Laziness

Despite the high stakes associated with hiring, we often get lazy. Managers who are lazy hire the first
remotely suitable person who walks through the door. Often, we simply want to avoid the hiring process
altogether. After all, we have jobs to do. Companies and managers must fight this very human tendency
to do less rather than more. Alternatively, if you don't want to endure the rigors of the hiring process,
then contract with someone else to do it for you. Consider engaging the services of an executive recruiter
or search firm. Or delegate this task to a trusted individual within your company.

Watch Out for Infatuation

A series of surveys has revealed that during the hiring process, most interviewers made their decisionup
or downwithin the first 10 minutes of the interview. They then spent the next 50 minutes internally
justifying that decision. We buy cars the same way. First, we choose the car we want to buyfrom an
emotional standpointand then search for objective data to justify that emotional decision. We all know
that "facts tell, but emotions sell." Remember, the best con artists attract infatuation. In studies where
professional actors are interviewed for jobs for which they have no experience, they are hired at a higher
rate than those who have actual qualifications for such positions! Simply because someone "looks" right
for the role does not mean they will be. You can guard against infatuation by having coworkers interview
prospects, having group interviews, and by conducting follow-up interviews.

Avoid Baggage that Gets in the Way

Everyone carries some baggage. Sometimes, it is the belief that a woman can't operate a forklift, that a
man can't be a nurse, or that a minority cannot function as an executive. But baggage is not reality.
Men once dominated orchestras, until they began to conduct "blind auditions" where a curtain was placed
in front of the performers. The quality of their sound, not their gender, became the sole evaluation
criterion. The preconception about what makes a better musician was removed, and thereafter women
were hired at twice the previous rate. It is a fact the best and brightest are not always going to look and
act the way you think they should! Seeking diversity is not important simply to placate the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Rather, it has become an absolute necessity in today's
competitive economy.

Carefully Evaluate Candidates Recommended by Employees and

Just because someone recommends a person they think would be highly capable for a particular position
doesn't mean that person is qualified. We have seen many occasions where someone was hired without
going through the usual evaluation process simply because they were recommended by another employee
or colleague. Don't let someone else make your hiring decisions for you. Follow the usual channels and
requirements when anyoneno matter how highly recommendedseeks to work for your organization.

Do Not Blindly Promote from Within

We are firm believers in promoting from within an organization. However, your best performers aren't
necessarily always the most qualified candidates for a specific job. This is especially true when promoting
to the management level. Simply because someone is particularly adept at handling a certain function
doesn't mean they are capable of managing others. Many a career has gone downhill after such a
Remember the Peter Principle: organizations frequently promote otherwise capable workers until they
reach their own level of incompetence! Make sure your company follows a thorough hiring analysis when
promoting from within. Promoting solely from within can create inbreeding and stagnate creativity. To
guard against these pitfalls, companies should consider filling at least one-third of all positions involving
promotions with people from outside the organization.

Perform Extensive Background and Reference Checks

We are often asked to investigate a claim of harassment, theft, threatened violence, or other workplace
misconduct. As part of our investigation, we always review the involved employee's file and evaluate the
extent to which a background investigation was conducted. Much more often than not, little or no
background information was obtained. Employees with drug problems were never tested prior to hire.
Security guards who conspired against their employers were never checked for criminal records. The
employers of employees who engaged in wrongful conduct at other companies had never been contacted.
Yet, many companies are afraid of engaging in extensive background investigations out of concern for
EEOC and legislative privacy mandates. Don't be. Potential problems can be avoided by securing releases
from job candidates and/or their previous employers. em.

Recognize and Rectify Poor Hiring Decisions

To their credit, many organizations quickly recognize when they have made a fatal hiring mistake, often
within the first 3 months of the employment relationship. But they don't terminate the employee. You
must overcome this very human tendency to admit a mistake and dismiss unsuitable employees on a
timely basis!
However, if you do make a poor hiring decision, try your best to help the person land on his or her feet.
This means doing what you can to put the person back to at least the same position in which you found
them. Assuming an employee's job-related conduct did not involve fraud or dishonesty, try to help by
providing outplacement assistance, a positive recommendation, and a reasonable severance package. This
approach will often prevent an ex-employee's bitterness or, even worse, a lawsuit.

When you have the opportunity, go back and analyze the departments within your company that have
experienced unusually high turnover or performance problems. Ask yourself, "How did we hire the
individuals who failed to perform up to our expectations?" "What process did we use?" "Did we make any
of the mistakes outlined above?" Remember, if you want to hire the right employee, you have to follow a
proven, systematic process that allows you to do so. When you hire the best, you will have high
productivity, loyalty, innovation, team players, a healthy bottom lineand a much-reduced exposure to
employee lawsuits.
To hire successfully, you need effective strategies and time-tested tools that can help you to accurately
evaluate a job candidate's skills and character. Refer to Figure 2 for a summary of successful hiring
approaches. You can access at a wealth of forms, checklists, and agreements that will
further assist you in making more profitable hiring decisions.

Hiring Mistake

Preventive Measure

Failing to identify company


Carefully analyze the job functions your business requires; consider

hiring on a temporary basis to confirm these needs.

Failing to test skills

Develop and use an objective skill test for each specific position.

Hiring out of desperation

Use temporary, leased, or borrowed employees.

Hiring out of laziness

Engage the services of a recruiter or delegate the task to another

person within the company.

Avoid infatuation

Have follow-up interviews; have peers/coworkers also interview the


Avoid personal baggage

Develop objective qualifications for each position and have other

persons review these criteria.

Avoid automatically hiring

someone recommended

Make all candidates go through the normal hiring process.

Blindly promoting from within

Objectively analyze internal candidates, preferably in conjunction with

other managers; make one-third of all promotions from outside the

Failure to do extensive
background and reference

Obtain releases from candidates; engage the services of outside

agencies to check backgrounds.

Failure to recognize you have

made a poor hiring decision

Rectify mistakes quickly; assist terminated employees in securing new


Donald A. Phin, Esq., has been an employment and business litigation attorney since 1983 and earned
certification as a professional consultant to management (CPCM) in 1994. He presents workshops and
seminars for groups including The Executive Committee, CEO Club, Foundation for Enterprise
Development, Insurance Marketing and Management Services (IMMS), and Risk and Insurance
Management Society (RIMS). Mr. Phin is the coeditor of EPLiC and the human resources consultant for
IMMS. He is the author of Building Powerful Employment Relationships and LAWSUIT FREE! How To
Prevent Employee Lawsuits. His articles have appeared in The Risk Report, Business Insurance, CFG
Update, and other industry publications. He can be reached at (800) 234-3304 or by e-mail at