Jeff needed to bring in a new team member, and the pressure to hire someone fast was in the air. He interviewed the first candidate, Debbie, for half an hour, did some skills testing, and hired her on the spot.

After a few weeks it became clear to Jeff and to all of his employees that the hire had been a mistake. Debbie did in fact have the basic skills and ability to do the job, but she was careless and unprofessional, besides being a poor team player, unable to accept any constructive criticism or guidance, and abrasive and critical of her colleagues. The atmosphere in the office quickly soured, communication languished, and output suffered.

Yet Jeff made no move to fire Debbie. Her work was mediocre, but not glaringly poor, and it seemed secondary that his new hire get along with her coworkers and even with him, her employer.  Firing her so soon after bringing her on board might make him look bad; and of course, he did not want to face both the process of firing Debbie, which was sure to be unpleasant, and the ensuing search for a replacement.

It took two full years for Jeff to decide to let Debbie go. The damage to his business by that time was palpable. Other valuable employees had left for new positions because of the tense atmosphere, some clients had moved on because of negative interactions with Debbie, and Jeff himself was feeling less motivated and positive.  The firing process was all the more painful for being two years late, but after it was complete, Jeff realized just how critical firing Debbie was to the survival and success of his business.

We have all been there – either as the employer or the colleague. When a bad hire has been made, the damage usually spreads far beyond the actual quality of the new employee’s work. And after going through a bad hire, we all would love to ensure that it never happens again.

Hire for character

Skills can be learned. In fact, in many industries today, skills must be continually learned and updated on the job. Character traits and personality, however, cannot be learned. And in many cases, it is character and interpersonal relations that make or break professional success. Of course, we all want to hire someone who has relevant professional experience; but it is hard to overestimate the value of interpersonal “soft skills” in the workplace.

Test for skills

A well crafted CV can hide a mountain of ineptitude.  Even if the candidate has held very similar positions with almost identical titles, you cannot know if they have the skills to do the job unless you test their skills in real time. It is astounding how many people hold jobs that they are incompetent to fill. A good interview process will include a significant testing element, one that takes place on site where the candidate must work alone and show what skills they have.

Share the decision

The employer is not the only one who will be impacted by a new hire.  Managers, coworkers and employees who will be overseen by the new employee should all have some say in the process. Sometimes a candidate who makes a great impression on the upper echelons may score poorly with colleagues and underlings.  Consider making other team members a part of the decision process.

Speak to references

Strong as the temptation may be to skip this stage or to do it superficially, professional references are often the single most important source of information when making a new hire. If done thoughtfully and wisely, a reference check will help you find out all about the candidates’ interpersonal and professional skills, without having to learn the hard way.

Who has the time?

It is very difficult to find the time to conduct an in-depth and professional interview process, especially when burdened with the responsibilities of running a business or an organization. Yet the price of a superficial hiring process can be costly indeed. One option is to outsource at least part of the work, by working with an HR consultant or firm; another is to divide the tasks among a team within your existing staff. This can be a very good idea of you are willing to share the decision making process with others who will be influenced by this hire.

Once bitten, twice shy

Anyone who has experienced the effects of a bad hire knows how essential it is to try and avoid it next time around. Conducting the interview process with these ideas and suggestions in mind will create the possibility of a more positive hiring experience and a long lasting professional team – a winning situation for employer and employee, colleague and client.