Committing the Crime of a Mis-hire: Who is Really to Blame?

by Nanci Lamborn – Writer/Blogger/HR Practitioner – BrightMove Recruiting Software

The forbidding yellow file lurked in my chair as I walked into my office, a file made all the more daunting by the Pink Form of Woe just visible from the corners within the folder.

Bob’s personnel file. I knew it sat on my chair for one reason only. Bob’s manager had given up. Today would be Bob’s separation day, and could feel myself beginning to grow defensive as I sat down and read over the notes written on the Pink Form of Woe from Bob’s manager. Explanatory scribbles such as “training not retained”, “high error ratios,” and “poor quality” peppered the page. Poor guy.

Recalling my impression of Bob during his interviews, which were not all that long ago, he seemed extraordinary through our entire process. His references were more than eager to recommend him, and our entire hiring panel felt great about popping the employment question. So why were we firing Bob a mere six months later? What happened, and more importantly, how would we try to ensure this errant cycle wouldn’t be repeated?

Putting on my Special Agent Investigative glasses, I decided to pick apart the hiring section of Bob’s file. Not much of a crime scene on the surface. His last job title sounded very close to the position he held with us; he was familiar with selling similar product lines, and he was able to communicate decent product knowledge in our screenings; two prior clients gave very upbeat references, and overall Bob was a very likable candidate. Still no evidence of foul play.

Recalling that Bob’s manager had suggested I evaluate another recently hired employee’s file for comparison, I turned my investigation to Bonnie, the complete antithesis of Bob. Hired just a few days after Bob, Bonnie’s production figures were already setting departmental records off the charts. The QC department recently labeled her the Chosen One, and customer accolades piled up. We couldn’t have asked for a better employee. Exploring the evidence further and comparing the two cases, there were distinct parallels. Bonnie’s last role came from within the same industry just as Bob’s had, albeit at a slightly lower level of responsibility than we assigned to her. Bonnie’s references were both glowing, and again our consensus was extremely positive. But looking more closely into the details, Bob’s story began to unravel.

Bonnie’s undergraduate degree field was within our specific line of business, and she went further by attaining an impressive designation certification and pursuing other educational opportunities. Bob’s education seemed to stop altogether with an Associate’s degree in general studies. Scrutinizing the references in more detail, Bob’s references both came from former clients, not from anyone who had supervised him previously, while Bonnie’s references were both immediate supervisors. We didn’t seem to notice this technicality before. And looking back to our interviewing question and answer notes, a major red flag appeared. We like to ask candidates to describe the environment in their most recent job. The notes from Bob’s answer included friendly people, relaxed setting, good coworker relationships and camaraderie. Bonnie’s response mentioned elements such as competitiveness, fast-paced, growth-focused, challenging, and rewarding. If this wasn’t my smoking gun, I didn’t know what was. There was nothing wrong with Bob’s responses on their own merit, but Bonnie had described a culture decidedly more comparable to ours than Bob had described. Crime solved: it was Mr. Bob, in the Sales Library, with the wrong Skillset.

To Bob’s credit, maybe the fact that he was truly such a nice good guy is what led us to inadvertently miss some of his qualification shortfalls. The evidence also suggested that a breakdown occurred at the recruiting level, my level, as enough wasn’t really asked or assessed with Bob’s productivity and working knowledge. A more thorough screening analysis and evaluation based upon our success models would have prevented poor Bob from ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And what about Bonnie – can we really pat ourselves on the back for our successes with her and take credit for such a spectacular find? Not a chance. We lucked out with her, plain and simple. Perhaps I can save that pat on the back for my next spectacular find, so I think I’ll keep my Special Investigator specs handy.

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