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Top 10 Employee Selection Mistakes & Solutions

Lee J. Colin, PhD

Selecting the right people is key to supporting your company’s business objectives. A tight labor market exaggerates the mistakes managers typically make during the employee selection process. As the current labor market has loosened, there is no excuse to fall victim to these common employee selection mistakes.
The cost of turnover varies across jobs, but most sources—such as the Saratoga Institute—estimate the average cost of turnover at approximately 40% of annual salary. This estimate takes into consideration all hard (or measurable) costs but does not include soft (or ripple effect) costs that can often double the total cost of turnover. Although there are many things managers can do to reduce turnover, making the right selection decision is where you get your bang for your buck. You can do the math: Reduce your turnover by just 10 employees with a $40,000 average salary, and you have just dropped $160,000 back to your bottom line.

To help you reduce your turnover and improve your bottom line, here are simple solutions to avoid common employee selection mistakes. These solutions are based on research that support the effectiveness of structured, behavioral interviews.

TOP 10 Employee Selection Mistakes:

10. Use only "gut feel" approach. Experience and intuition are important but so are more reliable and valid ways to collect data, such as testing, simulations, and work samples. No one aspect of the selection process should be relied on exclusively; rather all aspects should be weighted based on the company’s values.

Solution: Design and train on a selection process that contains various forms of data collection (qualitative and quantitative). Design your process and weight each selection component based on your company’s values.

9. Don’t know what you are looking for. It is hard to find "it" when you do not know what you are looking for.

Solution: Like most decision making, employee selection is fundamentally emotional. Therefore, it is important to define and prioritize the Critical Success Factors (CSFs) for the job in advance. This enables clear thinking to establish a specific position profile. Yes, it takes time, but it is effective use of time versus "shooting in the dark."

8. Go with the flow. Most interviewers do not take control of the interview.

Solution: Remember, it is your interview. You—not the candidate—set the process, timing, roles, pace, and questioning.

7. Talk 80% and listen 20%. The reverse should be true. If you are not doing this, then you are selling the job too much (see #4 below) or simply being an ineffective interviewer.

Solution: The interviewer should listen 80% of the time.

6. Take candidates at their word. Do not settle for vague general responses just because you want to be polite.

Solution: You are on a data collection mission. Probe for specific examples and situations in which the candidate has demonstrated the CSFs you are looking for. Let the candidate know at the beginning of the interview that your goal is to fully and specifically understand his/her capabilities.

5. Give in to work and market pressures. The vast majority of managers hire too quickly and fire too slowly. In a tight labor market, it is not uncommon for a hiring manger to meet the candidate only once, then make an offer.

Solution: Use the 3x3x3 Rule: Three employees interview three candidates three different times. You are thinking, "All that time for one hire?" You will spend much more time than that in the long run if you make the wrong hire.

4. Sell the job. Managers want to sell the candidate on their company because they know that the candidate likely has an offer on the table from a competing company.

Solution: The effective, long-term objective is to look for a good "fit" for the job and the company, regardless of the labor market conditions. Find the best fit for the job before you sell the candidate on your company (see mistake #7).

3. Be oblivious to the legal Do’s and Don’ts. This may not prevent you from making the right selection decision, but it sure will increase your company’s liabilities.

Solution: Ignorance is no excuse. Know the law, train employees, and enforce the law in your selection processes.

2. Ask questions that are not purposeful. This comes down to lack of preparation.

Solution: Once you have identified the CSFs and prioritized them, then prepare questions (and appropriate follow-up questions/probes) that will extract the necessary information from the candidate.

1. Listen only to candidate’s words. About 93% of all communication is nonverbal, so being attuned to the multitude of nonverbal cues provides an interviewer with much richer information about the candidate.

Solution: Don’t stop at the traditional cues: eye contact, posture, facial expressions, and gestures. Consider intonation, pacing of speech, energy level, self-confidence. How did you feel after the interview? Enthused, tired, impressed? Perhaps those who work with the candidate will feel the same way.


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