Human Capital & Careers

Hire More Ugly People

That's not as preposterous as it sounds. Herewith are some thoughts for how to get out of the cycle of hiring too many people who just don't work o...
Kris DunnSeptember 9, 2011

That’s right, I said it. You need to hire more ugly people. Or at least lower the overall attractiveness level of your company by a few percentage points with the hires you make in the coming year.

Why would I say that? Because deep down, you know you’re not hiring the right candidate as often as you could. The reasons, as always, are complicated, but the reality is the same for almost every company. The hiring process is more art than science, more gut feel than database. We’re all bad at digging in with candidates to really determine if they can be successful in the job we’re trying to fill.

As a result, we subconsciously overvalue such things as attractiveness and smooth talking skills in the hiring process. If you really think about it, you may agree that your company’s hiring skill is limited by the following realities:

  1. Your hiring managers all think their hiring instincts are great, even when they’re not. Hiring managers who have more than a year or two of experience in hiring often become so comfortable with their conversational style of interviewing that they actually think they’re good at it.
  2. Your human-resources and recruiting teams don’t know the jobs being filled like the hiring managers do. Nor should they. There might be 63 open positions; it stands to reason that a hiring manager should know more about a single open position than a recruiter. As a result, the HR team defers to the autonomy of the hiring manager, which means hiring mistakes happen more often than they have to.
  3. Attractive people are easy to hire. Science says we attribute a higher level of professional competence to attractive people in a subconscious way. Why grill attractive candidates in the interview process? Just look at them — it’s obvious they can do the job!
  4. Attractive people who are also strong communicators are almost impossible for average hiring managers to decline. Without question, higher-than-average attractiveness + slick talking skills = some bad hires over time. Look at your past 100 hires and you’ll see what I’m talking about. You’ve had giant misses and hires you thought would be stars turning out to be average players. What happened? You hired based on the look and the sound — not a hard reading of what they could actually do. Oops.

Your Hiring Manager’s Favorite Weak Interview Questions
Did I mention that your hiring managers think they’re great interviewers? All they have to do is go to their trusty bag of favorite hiring-manager interview questions, which include the following time-tested gems:

  • “What’s your five-year plan, Susie?” (“I’d like to get this job, work hard, and progress in your company, Marge.”)
  • “Tell me about your last couple of positions.” (Not a question; more of an invitation to talk.)
  • “What do you think your weaknesses are?” (“I struggle to stop caring about things I can’t control, Bob.”)

Nice. It’s not that your hiring managers set out to make bad hires as a result of this situation; they want to make great hires that help them get great results. Unfortunately, they’re fighting caveman (and cavewoman) instincts that can’t help but overvalue the shiny allure of a candidate with above-average attractiveness and smooth communication skills. So like LeBron James, you’re now asking the hundred-thousand-dollar question: “What should I do?

Intervention Strategies to Break the Cycle
To fight the natural instinct of your hiring managers to hire the best-looking/-sounding candidate, you can stage an intervention by doing one or all of the following:

  1. Teach your hiring managers to really grill people during interviews in an attempt to get to what’s real. Regardless of the system you use, this involves training hiring managers to be unwilling to accept hypothetical answers from candidates. Good matches for this goal are systems like behavioral interviewing and topgrading. Be warned, however: it’s a tough road attempting to make hundreds of hiring managers look like the Mike Wallace or Anderson Cooper of interviewing at your company.
  2. Make consensus in the hiring process harder to reach for the hiring manager. If you’re less than confident in your ability to make your hiring managers great interviewers, a typical hedge is to make sure they have to build consensus with other interviewers regarding who the best candidate is. Some firms do this effectively with group interviews; some simply force individual interviewers of the same candidate to compare notes extensively. One thing is sure: force conversation and fewer mistakes occur.
  3. Invest in a tool or system designed to evaluate whether a candidate’s natural “talent DNA” will lead to success in a specific job. Every candidate has a set combination of brains, behaviors, and processing speed that doesn’t change much, if ever. A few tools exist to help you really dig into these factors beyond generic personality tools such as the DISC or MBTI, first by allowing you to access the raw data points for the candidate, then applying that data to the specific requirements of a job.

Apply one or all of these strategies to your hiring process and over time you’ll end up with fewer misses and a higher overall quality of hire. Odds are, you’ll also end up with a less-attractive company. Hire more ugly people this year. As it turns out, it’s good for performance.

Kris Dunn is chief human resources officer for Kinetix, a recruitment process outsourcing firm. In addition to writing a monthly column for CFO, Kris writes at his award-winning blog The HR Capitalist and is a contributing editor at