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Five hiring mistakes we’ve made (and what we learned from them)

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    Oh do I have stories for you about all of the stupid things I have done when trying to hire new employees… The list is S-U-P-E-R long.   

    My favorite is the employee who was literally scared of computers. Not timid, not “not-techy”…actually scared. You would have thought that maybe just maybe we should have had some concerns from the get-go, but I can honestly say I think our optimism that this was a person that “may” work out was our prominent deciding factor.  

    And then there was the person who on her first day complained about her chair creaking, the ridiculous height of her desk, and the lights giving her a headache which meant that she couldn’t concentrate or attend to details like taking notes… all within the first half day she worked for me. Or the person who, after entering a transaction into QuickBooks, was genuinely confused about how the numbers got there….   

    So let me say, I have been right there where you are. Hiring out of desperation, eternally optimistic that this person is going to solve all our problems will hardly need training to do so. They’ll be our next best employee and their skills will easily overcome the potential problems we see during the interview process. You know, like the fact that they can’t carry on a real conversation… Yes, I have been there—several times.  

    You see, I am an eternal optimistic and just KNOW this person will be the one. Our NEO. Well, let me tell you plainly: they won’t. That doesn’t mean they can’t be, but we need to realize that our gut isn’t perfect.  Hiring is hard, but with lots of practice and mistake-making, I have learned many important lesson about how to improve our process. In fact, we have won “Best Place to Work” 4 years in a row from Memphis Business Journal, so we must be doing something right.  

    Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the years about hiring that I would love to share with you: 

    Hire for the person – NOT the skills.   

    We are huge Patrick Lencioni fans (almost fan-boy status, if I might say so myself). His book, “The Ideal Team Player” is our gold standard in identifying what we are truly looking for in all our employees.  If you haven’t read our blog or listened to our podcast on this subject, I would highly recommend it. The ideal team player simply says we are to look for employees that are: hungry, humble, and people-smart. It doesn’t mean they don’t have any technical skills, but it emphasizes that technical skills can be trained while humility is not (coachable, perhaps, but not an easy task). You can’t teach someone to be hungry. They either care about getting better or they don’t. And you can’t teach someone to be people-smart, (aka, knowing when and how to treat others, be empathetic, be the right kind of a nag, and knowing when to pat someone on the back and when to kick them in the butt). In the workplace, you have to be able to deal with ALL types of people – clients and co-workers—so this is a really important quality to have. Check out Lencioni’s full list of hiring questions here to start thinking about how you can hire for these values.  

    Use a consistent hiring process that makes hiring an objective process, not subjective.   

    In recent years, we have come up with the “Whirks way” to hire and it all comes down to having a repeatable system. Your gut can lie to you. You may be in a crappy mood when you walk into the interview. You may like the person, but forget to ask the question that could lead to an answer that has you thinking, “Uh-oh…”Systematizing your hiring process with a consistent, objective scoresheet and a clearly defined process is super critical to improving the overall success rate in your hiring efforts.  

    This is an example of a hiring scorecard. The numbers assigned to each company value help to objectify our analysis of the candidate.  

    We believe in this concept so much that we’ve actually developed a Whirkbook to help you develop your own hiring process that aligns with your unique company values. If you want a copy, shoot us an email at and we’ll be happy to send you one. Additionally, you can start revamping your hiring efforts by checking out our other blogs on how to improve your overall recruiting process. These resources may not be a perfect fit for your organization, but they should act as a guide to developing your own objective system.  

    Never hire out of desperation!   

    Yes, I totally have done this. The alternative of not having someone (I thought!) was worse than having not an ideal person. Turns out I was wrong. A bad fit for your team can create chaos, frustration, and mistrust between employees. It also happens to be costly.  Having a system creates a filter so this doesn’t happen. And even when you feel overworked or overwhelmed, don’t deviate from your system! When it’s possible, you must have patience for the right person. Hiring the wrong person—no matter how good short-term—will hurt you in the long run. In short, don’t let short-term pain relief outweigh having a crappy person on your team! 

    Never hire without a clear understanding of the role you are trying to hire for.  

    Yep, I have done this as well. We rolled out a new service and I liked the person… a lot! But I didn’t know what they would exactly do. I had not clarified what the role would be and that made it very hard to define what “winning” would look like for them in that role. This creates purposelessness and a sense of confusion for the employee, regardless of how good of a fit they are. My optimism and “figure-it-out” mentality were a disservice to this employee because they didn’t have the clarity they needed to do the job well.  Thankfully in this specific case, this employee was patient and trusting enough to stick around till we figured it out. But to follow best practices, it is essential to figure out what you want winning to look like in any role you’re hiring for BEFORE you hire the person. You can always modify it and let it evolve later, but be clear that you know what you are looking for first. 

    Nobody is perfect!   

    Like I have said above, I am sometimes—not often—but sometimes wrong.  I am not perfect.  No employee you will ever hire is going to be the perfect fit and that is perfectly normal. Every employee has warts, insecurities, strengths and weaknesses, and that’s okay because you know that any new employee will need some training and development to be successful. Don’t assume everything is going to be sunshine and rainbows with each new person. Ultimately, you are responsible for making sure they have a clear picture of what they are expected to do. You need to be honest and open about areas of improvement. You need to be encouraging and a steward of their development. You want them to have the desire to learn, take feedback, act on it, and continuously want to get better, BUT this requires you to help and support them.  

    Overall, hiring the right employees is hard. And truthfully, not everyone employee will work out. Taking the time to create a clear and consistent hiring system, however, will save you time, resources, and cringe-worthy happy hour stories for years to come.  

    Not sure how to get started?

    Our Whirks People services are a great way to dive into this process with the support of an HR expert.