How to avoid hiring a bad candidate

By Jo Studdert

Australian employers have admitted to making a right mess of things when it comes to recruiting — and then retaining — staff, but there are actions they can take to change this.

According to recruiters, Australian employers say 44 per cent of their hires are bad.

Bad hires hurt your business. Having the wrong people undermines teamwork and the active engagement of other staff in the workplace. It damages morale, reduces productivity, can affect customer service and lower the overall profitability of your business. And, on top of all that, there is the lost opportunity of having an employee who could have brought growth, effectiveness, engagement and commitment.

The most recent 20:20 annual survey by recruitment company Hudson Australia/New Zealand, shows how companies make bad decisions.

Although employers believe they have sophisticated recruitment strategies in place, in fact there is a marked discrepancy between what they say they want and how they go about getting it. They say they want personal qualities — commitment, leadership and being a self-starter — but in the recruitment process they mainly concentrate on non-personal issues such as references and formal qualifications.

The Hudson survey says there are three things that can show a person’s ability to do a job: know-how, can-do and want to.

“Know-how indicates a candidate’s technical skills and experience. The can-do category assesses capability and attributes, and provides a deeper insight into whether candidates are able and willing to apply their skills and experience to the role. It provides a clearer understanding of a person’s behavioural capability that can be applied adaptively.

“The `want to’ category assesses motivational fit and career fit and shows a much richer picture of the true depth of commitment a candidate will bring to a role, and whether they will engage in the role, work harder, apply discretionary effort and be retained for longer,” the survey says.

These measures are necessary for good hires. But the top three hiring tools most frequently used are: reference checking (88 per cent); resume screening (76 per cent); and background interview (66 per cent), which all fall into the know-how category.

“In fact, 63 per cent of employers’ total hiring procedures and tools are focused on the first know-how category; only a third (30 per cent) of their efforts address the can-do category and a meagre 7 per cent measure the `want to’ category,” the survey says. Yet, when asked about the difference between a high performer and an average employee, not one boss referred to those employees’ qualifications or previous experience, the know-how measures they heavily relied on in hiring them.

Hudson CEO Mark Steyn says: “There’s clearly a disconnection between employers’ perception of how robust their hiring procedures are and how effective they are in reality. It’s incredible how many employers apply the gut-feel approach to hiring when there are proven systems to find, attract and retain high performers.”

Assessing a candidate’s cultural fit is also more likely to guarantee their tenure. People stay longer in jobs that satisfy and challenge them.

Cultural fit is vital, says Peter Tulau, partner at executive search firm Chandler McLeod. “You need a match between the strategy of the company and the executive candidate. If your company has a growth strategy, you need to hire a growth executive, and you need to offer them a second role to move into. People want to aspire, so you need to be able to create another step for them if they need it.”

Grahame Doyle, director of recruiter Hays, says one recruitment trap is failing to give candidates an accurate picture of the company. In a recent Hays survey, 32 per cent of employees say the experience of working for their employer is nothing like they thought it would be.

“The expectations of what a company is like to work for are largely formed during the recruiting process, so it’s vital to get it right from the start. When an organisation communicates a certain message about what it’s like as a place to work, but this message doesn’t match the reality of their workplace, it’s very disappointing and unsettling for the employee. It also creates a huge turnover risk for the company,” Doyle says.

Candidates need to know what the company is like to work for and what place there is for them, what fit, and what future.

“It’s not about the money,” says Jason Hemens, corporate communications manager with recruiter Michael Page International. “If you take the time to create a two-year career plan for an employee and demonstrate how you will support their progress through training and development, they will be far more likely to stay.”

Hudson’s Steyn says: “Employers must strive to identify high performers correctly. Those employers who make a commitment to bring the best into their business and provide them with an environment in which they can truly succeed and see a future will reap the rewards now and into the future.”

But even when companies do find the right person for the job, they often stumble on strategies to keep them.

It’s like a marriage: both sides have to want it to work, and both sides have to offer something for the arrangement to flourish. Richard Dunks, managing director of specialist executive search and HR consulting firm Vantage Human Capital, says the relationship is vital.

“How well do you really know your staff? Are they in the danger zone of either leaving or being poached? Do you know their career goals and are you helping them meet these goals?

“Recognition of hard work engenders loyalty.”

Hemens agrees: “Some crucial matters are overlooked, such as simple recognition from a manager. It doesn’t have to be official, a simple pat on the back and `well done’ can make all the difference.”


CREATE a two-year recruitment strategy, divided into what you need in the next six, 12 and 24 months.

ASK for referrals and candidate suggestions from people you respect, and use social networks such as LinkedIn to find candidates from the right fields.

MAKE sure your branding is strong, and accurate: you have to convince candidates of reasons to want to work for you.

DON’T create false impressions about the work and workplace.

USE sophisticated metrics to select appropriate and high-performing staff, and do not rely too much on CVs and references alone.

lCONCENTRATE on the cultural fit of the candidate to the organisation and to the position

IF you use recruiters, strengthen your relationship with them, bearing in mind there is always competition for the best candidates.


HAVE strong career advancement opportunities for

all staff, and facilitate promotion and variety to keep them engaged.

ENSURE that promises made in the recruitment process are honoured in the workplace.

BE prepared to offer training and development to support the elevation of staff in the company.

HAVE really good induction or welcome programs in first weeks.

MAKE sure staff feel included in the company. Robots and bored employees leave.

ESTABLISH ongoing mentoring and reward programs and make a policy of recognising and acknowledging good work

Article from The Australian, May 2011.

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