Human Capital & Careers

Why You Fired the New Guy

Here are four reasons why &spamp;ldquo;can’t-miss&spamp;rdquo; candidates do in fact miss, and what you can do about it.
Kris DunnFebruary 2, 2012

We’ve all been there. When you were looking for, say, a new controller or financial-reporting chief, you did the search the right way and even hired slowly. You took your time, sourced a bunch of candidates, went through a three-stage interview process, and then started over when you decided you didn’t have the right candidate. You were disciplined.

The second time around, the perfect candidate emerged, consensus was reached, white smoke was released, and you made the hire. You sent out the announcement about the new hire and even walked him around on his first day to meet everyone.

Now it’s two-and-a-half months later. Feedback is flowing in that confirms your unhappy gut feeling: the new guy stinks. What the hell happened?

You missed, that’s what happened. Even the best companies strike out more than they care to admit. But what do you do now? Channel what your parents told you: it’s not what you do before a mistake but after the mistake that counts. Here are the top four reasons companies miss on hiring decisions and how to prevent it from happening again.

You missed on whether the person had the technical/functional skills to do the job. Plain and simple, you hired on gut instinct. You liked the person, and the résumé looked good enough. Too bad the new hire really didn’t have the technical chops necessary to get the work required done with excellence. (Note: This one isn’t about the ability to execute, it’s about knowledge, skills, and abilities — t­he things they’ll need to have in order to execute.)

How do you prevent the sequel? Spread out the decision-making process so that multiple people evaluate a candidate’s skills. Don’t accept general feedback; make all who interview the candidate put a numerical rating (1–10) on his knowledge, skills, and abilities, then vigorously debate the differences and whether that means the candidate is good enough to hire.

You failed to measure whether the new hire is smart/quick enough to figure things out on the fly. “Smart” doesn’t mean IQ in this situation. It means processing speed — the ability to take in huge amounts of data, synthesize it, and make decisions quickly. You failed to find a way to check the processing speed of the new hire, and now he’s overwhelmed by the freak show in play at your company and shows little promise of digging out.

How do you prevent the sequel? Find assessment tools to help you determine how quickly a candidate can process large amounts of information/data. Combine that with additional probing on his assertiveness and ability to create order out of chaos, and you’ll have a good start to reading a candidate’s ability to figure things out.

You failed to evaluate if the work-style motivations of the new hire were a match to what your company/team/hiring manager could provide. This one is pretty simple. The new hire has a set of motivations related to the work environment, how he likes to work, and the style of the person he works for. You failed to evaluate any of this, and now you’ve got either a disgruntled new hire on your hands or a team that thinks he’s a misfit. And it’s only going to get worse.

How do you prevent the sequel? Insert motivational-fit questions into the interview process. Ask candidates in great detail when they were most satisfied with their work in previous jobs. Then ask for the same level of detail related to when they were dissatisfied. Contrast those answers with what the job/manager/company can provide. Never hire someone who doesn’t match along those lines just because he has great skills.

You failed to determine if the new hire has a history of getting things done. Seriously, you never talked about what the new hire actually accomplished in past roles. You took a résumé littered with buzzwords and a list of job responsibilities and dug only an inch deep on results. (Note: This one isn’t about skills, it’s about execution.)

How do you prevent the sequel? Stop having conversational interviews. Mandate that every candidate bring in three to four pieces of work he’s most proud of and spend a couple of hours ruthlessly tearing into what he did and how/why he did it.

Of course, you recognize those bad hire scenarios. You’ve missed before in the hiring process, just like everyone else that has to build a team. The bigger question is: what did you do when you knew you had a problem?

You’ve got to decide whether you’re going to live with the hiring mistake by trying to make things better or fire fast. Doing nothing is not an option. I’ll be back in the next couple of weeks with a quiz you can take to determine if you can live with the miss (and make it better) or have the need to fire fast.

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 his award-winning blog, The HR Capitalist, and is a contributing editor at