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Common Hiring Mistakes to Avoid

By: Dan Erling

Accountants One has been placing Accounting and Financial Professionals in Atlanta since 1973. Over these 36 years we’ve developed an acute sensitivity to what works, and what doesn’t work in the hiring process. In effort to help companies avoid mishires, I have compiled the Top 5 Hiring Mistakes. I hope this list brings value to your organization.

Common Hiring Mistake #5 -- Too many witches spoil the brew

Last month a company needed to hire several new cost accountants due to a restructuring. They picked up the phone and called 5 different firms to search for talent. The recruiting team at this company reasoned that the need for 3 cost accountants would require the efforts of multiple recruiting firms and that by calling several they would achieve better results.

Unfortunately for this company, they were wrong – too many witches spoil the brew. In fact, calling multiple firms lowers your ability to align with the best recruiters and recruiting firms. While you may wind up with a number of candidates to evaluate, the chances that you will end up with a quality candidate pool is low.

To understand this, stand in the great recruiter’s shoes for a moment. A great recruiter must be very good with time management. If he or she knows that several other firms are engaged in a search, then why spend time in a search where there are multiple competitors? Even in today’s market, great recruiters are always working on multiple job openings – most of them will be exclusives. Why would a great recruiter move a low percentage job to the top of their priority list? The recruiter that moves a low-priority job to the top of their list is probably not the person you want working on your job.

So, how do you counter the first hiring mistake of “too many witches spoil the brew?” Simply limit the number of recruiting firms you engage in a search. Ideally, give your search to one firm that you trust and give them a two week exclusive. If during those two weeks they are not able to produce an exceptional talent pool, fire the first firm and add one more firm.

By using this approach, you will allow the quality recruiting firm to devote the time needed to align your search with exceptional candidates. Within a short period you will develop a very short list of relationships with recruiters who know you, your needs and your hiring style. You’ll be able to focus on your core competencies while allowing your recruiting team to conduct a search for talent. This leads to a relationship where the recruiter becomes a trusted advisor instead of a commodity – which is a mutually beneficial relationship, and I believe, the best way to do business.

Common Hiring Mistake #4 -- Speed Kills

Not every rushed hire is doomed to failure; however, my 11 years of observing thousands of hires allows me to confidently state that slow and steady almost always wins the business race. A deadline driven hire is often tough on your retention rate.

Great companies put PEOPLE first. They are fanatical about getting the right PEOPLE in the right place doing the right thing. Great companies don’t care how long it takes to get these people on board. They don’t hire exclusively because of deadlines. They hire because they find the right person to achieve a targeted business objective.

Many years ago I read an advertisement for a class entitled “how to get married in 1 year.” For a couple decades I’ve been worrying about the students of that class for this reason – what happened to the folks who took the class and didn’t get married in 12 months? Did they perceive themselves as failures? At 11.9 months did they feel the pressure and marry anyone who would say "I do?" I hope not. And for the same reasons, I warn managers to avoid hiring based upon deadlines.

One of the best hiring managers I have ever worked with has a great motto – “DON’T SETTLE.” Now, most recruiters detest her. But I relish the opportunity to work with her. She knows exactly what she wants and she will not hire until she finds it.

Over the years I have earned the right to an exclusive recruiting relationship with her because of my commitment to her exacting process. Every new search requires hours clarifying the skills and the personality of the person she wants. Only when I have recruited and qualified a candidate pool that meets her standards do we move forward.

Her results? Over the years I have done over a dozen hires with her. She has developed an exceptional team in every sense of the word, producing spectacular business results. She has lost only one person, and that was a case where the spouse was transferred to another state after several years of great performance. This hiring manager proves that exceptional results can occur when you, "DON’T SETTLE."

Unfortunately, in our fast-paced world, I see many cases where a manager doesn’t spend the time needed to make a quality hire. Hiring in haste is almost always a mistake. Better short-term strategies include hiring a contractor, or redistributing the job duties. In fact, sometimes you will find that you never needed the role in the first place.

In the midst of business chaos it can become very tempting to apply a band-aid to your hiring needs by “getting a warm body in the role.” However, in order to achieve superior business results, a systematic approach to hiring must prevail. You never want to look back and regret that you didn’t spend a bit more time in hiring the right person. Remember, in the art of hiring -- "speed kills."

Common Hiring Mistake #3 – Skills Ills

Skills are wildly over valued in the hiring process. We all know that skills can be taught, and personality can not. Yet, many hiring managers continue to make hiring decisions based on skills. Why?

First, it is far easier to judge if a person has a skill fit. A hiring manager can look at a resume and check off a specific set of skills. It is much harder to determine if an individual will be a personality fit with an organization. There are no resume bullet points that clarify how a prospective employee will deal with deadlines.

Now, I am not claiming that finding great people is all about the soft stuff -- mind-set, attitude, personal attributes. Nor am I suggesting that hiring becomes an exercise in amateur psychology, executive intuition, or "gut feel." Rather, I believe that hiring must be a rigorous and demanding strategic process. In fact, it's only by designing a systematic selection process that you can give great people the freedom they need once they're hired.

Please don't misconstrue my point. In some roles I recognize that skills are highly critical. For example, there are certian skills that a Tax Professional must bring to the table before they can be considered for a role. However, even in the case where skills are imperative, personality fit can't be abandoned.

The second reason that hiring mangers focus too much attention on skills lies in the belief that people can change. Popeye said it best when he muttered, “I y’am what I y’am.” Sorry -- what someone did in the past is what they’ll do in the future. A manager can't hire a candidate dependent upon skills and then hope that they will be able to mold them into their corporate culture.

Third, developing a pool of qualified candidates is hard work. With all the stresses we face in the business world, it is more than difficult to identify, recruit and evaluate a talent pool that is large enough to make excellent hiring decisions. My solace is in the sentiment said best by Jack Welch --"Hiring good people is hard. Hiring great people is brutally hard. And yet nothing matters more in winning than getting the right people on the field."

Over 11 years of Executive Search, I have come to believe that 75% of a great hire is personality and 25 % is skills. The great companies are those that hire for attitude and train for skill. By insisting on balancing personality fit and skills, companies are able to develop true competitive advantage.

Common Hiring Mistake #2 -- Job Bored?

Job boards are great tools, but they are not hiring panaceas. In fact, if an organization relies too heavily on job boards, they will be unable to develop a cast of high performing talent. So, don't make the common hiring mistake of solely using job boards to attract your talent.

My experience has led me to the following rule of thumb: 25% of all qualified candidates are available via job boards. That leaves 75% of qualified candidates unaware of a job posted on a job board. These passive candidates are not trolling the web, and are only available through networking, recruiting, referrals, direct mail, etc.

In order to make an effective and objective hiring decision, you should have a pool of qualified candidates. By limiting your pool to candidates coming from job boards you are diminishing your ability to compare and contrast both talent and personality. In this highly competitive world of business, approaching talent acquisition in this matter can severely hinder the growth of your organization.

Therefore, don't lull your company into a somnambulistic state by limiting your candidate pool. Develop and utilize all the resources that are available for recruiting talent. Avoid the humdrum approach to hiring by incorporating creative and inspiring techniques for attracting exceptional people.

Common Hiring Mistake #1 -- Directionless Job Descriptions

No matter the size of your company, well-written job descriptions are critical in aligning the goals of your organization with the efforts of your employees. By providing a clear job description you assure synergy among different positions and roles. Further, you allow individual employees clear guidelines for success.

What many companies don't realize is that the job description should be front and center during the interview process. Clarifying a job description can make all the difference in the success or failure of a recruiting effort. By focusing on exacting job parameters during the recruiting and hiring process there is never any surprise as to what is being expected from the new hire.

The recruiting team will increase the odds of hiring the right person by clearly expressing what is expected. To further raise those odds, I suggest creating a Mission Based Scorecard for each new hire.

Here is an example of a scorecard: 



Mission for Controller
XYZ Company, Inc.

Over the past 2 years our company has managed sales increases of 17%. This growth has led to an increase in uncontrollable costs and a decrease in internal financial controls. Over the next year the Controller will be charged with systematically organizing all financial aspects of the organization.

Expected outcomes include:

  1. Reduce the monthly close to 5 days.
    Implement a new accounting software program.
    Upgrade the current accounting staff.
  2. Reduce uncontrollable costs by 5%.
    Analyze and contain current cost process.
    Create dashboard reports to be shared across the company.
  3. Develop forecasting and budgeting tools that are 90% accurate
    Create process driven systems to be implemented by management team.
  4. Implement cost standards
    Roll out scalable cost standards within one year
    Create a process guide to establish greater uniformity



A scorecard like this makes it simple for both the manager and the new employee to determine if goals are being met. By carefully discussing these objectives during the interview process the candidate is able to determine if he or she is ready to embrace the role that they are being considered for. It also allows the hiring team to determine if the candidate is up to the tasks.

So often, candidates are hired without clearly understanding what they are going to be asked to do. By defining the responsibilities of the role, a hiring team will attract candidates that are capable and excited about being successful in their new positions. Taking the time to create an exacting and realistic job description will exponentially increase the odds of hiring the right person.

In summary, the Top 5 Hiring Mistakes are as follows: #5) Too Many Witches Spoil the Brew – utilizing too many recruiting firms diminishes a company’s odds of effectively filling a position, #4) Speed Kills – hiring in haste is almost always a mistake, #3) Skills Ills – hire for personality and train for skills, #2 ) Job Bored – don’t rely exclusively on job boards, and #1) Directionless Job Descriptions – take the time and energy needed to create a realistic and measurable job description.

I hope that this collection of Common Hiring Mistakes will help you in avoiding the costs of a mishire in your organization.


Dan Erling has been the Vice President of Accountants One since 1998. Dan manages the firm and also plays an active role in the firm by working an Executive Search desk specializing in the placement of Accounting and Financial Professionals.

Dan was ranked as one of Atlanta’s Up and Coming Executives by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Under his leadership the firm has been ranked as one of Atlanta’s Top Ten Contingency Recruiting firms as well as being named one of Atlanta’s Best Places to Work.

Accountants One has developed a systematic approach to Recruiting and Hiring which is called Mission Critical Hiring. By utilizing this approach, Accountants One has achieved a hiring success rate that has never dropped below 91%, and which hit a record high 98% in 2008.

Dan is also the Vice President of The WATERS Organization – a sister company to Accountants One which specializes in Staffing Office Professionals.


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