Wrong Hires – A problem bigger than we think


In a recent survey conducted more than 90% respondents said their company has at least one wrong hire every year.


Isn’t that a good indication of the extent of the problem? Careerbuilder survey showed that 3 out 4 companies are affected by bad hires.

IMHO all the companies have multiple cases of wrong hires every year. I suspect the respondents are a bit biased.

Here’s a list of reasons why I think so

  • No one likes to admit that s/he hired a wrong candidate.
  • Wrong hires try and hiring managers help them to meet at least the minimum requirements allowing a lot of “settling in” time.
  • Every one’s reputation is at stake- so all are hoping that things will eventually work out.
  • The hiring manager himself/herself could be a “wrong hire”.
  • There is no metric such as suitability score to clearly differentiate “right hires” from “wrong hires”.
  • Everyone likes to believe that the company hires only “smart and versatile” professionals who can successfully meet any challenge.

I reiterate that the problem is much bigger than we think.

Why do we end up hiring wrong people?

The top-most reason as per the respondents (88% agree) is because the hiring was done under time pressure. Following are the reasons why we find ourselves up against tight deadlines –

  • We don’t have a healthy pipeline. We hire only when the requirement comes up. In this HBR article Patty McCord advises that we should never stop hiring.
  • Many companies hire to a target which measure the number of positions filled – we tend to value quantity over quality
  • In the growing companies the high performing managers are busy and the task of interviewing and evaluating is often delegated to others

Second prominent reason is the lack of a strong process (63% respondents) that can prevent “gaming” by the smart candidates. The process should be geared to produce high quality measured by a well understood metric. Here are some typical issues with the selection process-

  • Interviewer bias introduced by different interviewers. Scheduling challenges end up in the candidate being interviewed by whoever is available.
  • Many selection parameters are subjective- making it hard to have a metric to measure suitability. E.g. attitude, cultural fit, communication skills, willingness to learn etc.
  • Any attempt to “standardise” the process by conducting technical quizzes, psychometric tests etc. are “gamed” by the candidates. Answers to many such tests conducted by large companies are published on the web.
  • Candidates often hype up their resumes. Boolean search on popular portals results in lot of resumes which are very similar. It takes efforts to separate “hype” from “reality”.
  • The prescribed process is often compromised under time pressure.

The third common reason is because the job requirements change over time (44% respondents) for reasons unknown at the time of hiring. Here are some common reasons why job requirements change

  • Enough attention is not paid while writing the “job description” initially. Some one from the HR department prepares a draft which might be based on or copy pasted from an earlier “JD”.
  • Concerned managers are not sure about the role which the selected candidate is likely to play nor are they sure about the project in which the candidate will be deployed.
  • By the time the process concludes and the candidate joins , it is too late. The job requirement might have ceased to exist by then.

Here are some other reasons –

  • Too much trust placed in labels like previous employers, candidate’s prestigious college etc.
  • Political influence and vested interests building strong fiefdoms to protect self interests and power base.
  • Some times companys economise on compensation and end up hiring those with low expectations.
  • Inconsistent personal interview format that leaves a room for personal biases to play a role.

Typical Symptoms of a Wrong Hire

Here are some typical symptoms which you can notice if you closely observe the newly appointed professional –

  • Gets stuck and blames others or the company’s processes for his inability to make progress (94% respondents). Not being able to do what you are supposed to do is a certain indicator of lack of skills.
  • Is inflexible, not ready to learn new skills. Such a person often complains that she is being asked to do what she wasn’t hired for. (88% respondents) . This clearly points to an expectation mismatch. A person who is very good at something might not want to be a rookie in a new area. Inertia is a sign of unwillingness.
  • Stays away from work for many reasons- comes late, takes leaves etc. (75% respondents) Unwillingness to be at the place of work certainly indicates lack of engagement.
  • Stays aloof, doesn’t communicate much . Such a person might be nervous or emotionally unsettled. (50% respondents) . It’s hard to tell if the silence comes out of fear, diffidence or habit.

How can you prevent wrong hires

Here are some ways in which you can avoid committing the mistake-

  • By hiring multi-skilled, flexible, versatile candidates who are ready to learn new skills (100% respondents). This is easier said than done. Candidates who have achieved “mastery” after years of hard work in a particular area would find it hard to start all over in a new area.
  • By ensuring “culture fit” in the interview process (94% respondents). This is very subjective. Often “interviewer bias” makes it hard to compare suitability on the basis of this attribute.
  • By having a fool proof selection process that can’t be “gamed” by some “smart” candidates. ( 88% respondents) This is doable with the latest advances in NLP and ML.
  • By having a better understanding of the job requirement in the beginning (80% respondents). This is the easiest and the lowest hanging fruit.

Negative Impact of Wrong Hires

Cost of making wrong hiring decisions could be astronomical. Here are some negative impacts of wrong hiring decisions –

  • Highest impact is when wrong hires represent your company in front of customers or investors. Your company’s reputation can get impacted. It takes years of hard work to build a company’s reputation. But it takes only one mis-step by a wrong hire to destroy it.
  • Wrong hires can hire other wrong hires to consolidate their position. This can spread mediocrity like an infectious disease.
  • Cost of hiring, onboarding, training and cost of hiring a replacement.
  • Cost of delay in the project or work assignment.
  • Wrong hires impact the motivation level of others working in the team. At their worst, these misfits can trigger attrition and eventually drag the team down to become dysfunctional and unstable.

Thank You!

Please share your views and suggestion:)

I hope you enjoyed this article. Don’t forget to share your views. You can also tweet your comments to @Rezoomex and @vinayakj  with #TechHiringBlog


Vinayak Joglekar is a technology & recruitment expert with around 40 yrs. of experience. He is a distinguished thought leader who has changed trends in recruitment and futuristic software development. He is acclaimed for recruiting and developing great talents in IT.

Vinayak believes in empowering IT recruiters with technical knowledge so that they can earn their due respect. Currently, he is the CTO of Synerzip and Director of Rezoomex.


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