Hiring Decisions Gone Wrong

Posted on January 3, 2019

Choose Wisely You Must

Morning Buzz with Jordan Rae Hillman, Deputy Director of City Planning for the city of Jackson, Mississippi

I’ve made some great hiring decisions over the years. Those individuals are key pieces of my career puzzle. I’ve also made some terrible hiring decisions. Those decisions serve as an important reminder each time I make a hiring decision.

A few years ago, two months before I was due with my first child, I had two employees resign on the same day. Each was moving on to bigger better things. I was happy for each of them, but losing two out of four of my team members in one day set me down a path that was not ideal. I advertised the openings immediately. I needed to fill the spots before my son’s arrival.

The first spot was easy. Another department head asked me to consider one of his team for the position. We met and the individual was a great fit. She lacked the skills on paper but made up for it in personality and motivation. I made the transfer immediately. I never had a doubt, everything about that decision felt good. Fast forward a few years and that employee did a fantastic job and has moved up in her career.

The second spot was more difficult, and in many ways felt more critical. I ran a small department and was the only trained planner. I was often the only person who could answer certain questions. I felt compelled to make sure I resolved this through making a qualified hire. I received an application that on perfect on paper. The individual had a master’s degree, certifications, and years of experience. It was the only application in the pile that actually had direct experience.

I put together my interview panel and set up the interview. Everything seemed in order. The paper experience translated in person. They could perform many of the duties that currently only I could handle. The others on my panel agreed. What I didn’t listen to was something in my gut that said the personality wasn’t right. Out of fear, or perceived necessity I trusted the others and made the hire.

That hire resulted in an employee that could do the job but was a miserable fit for the office culture. The morale of my team suffered and I had to end the employment relationship after a year. If I had listened to my gut and waited longer – even if was more difficult for the team – would it have turned out different? I think that the answer is yes.

Ending an employment relationship with someone you inherited is difficult. Ending the employment relationship with someone you chose is the biggest challenge I’ve faced as a manager. I’ve accepted that it is part of the process and there is an unknown element in hiring. The lessons I’ve learned have allowed me to protect myself from making the same mistake twice.

I have established the following rules as safeguards for future decisions:

  • Don’t rush into making a hire, not having someone in the position feels like an emergency. Making the wrong hire in a rush is worse.
  • Don’t make a hire that looks great on paper but for an unexplained reason doesn’t feel right.
  • Make sure you know what you are hiring for. Job descriptions are important both during recruiting and during employment.
  • Test the candidate through many points of contact. A phone call, email and a request for something written can give a better picture.
  • Check the candidate for the views they hold on customer service. We talk a lot about this after employment but can forget it in the recruitment process.
  • Make sure to check the references. Verify the qualifications of the great paper candidate.
  • Don’t look over candidates that are missing technical experience. Personality and fit are also important.

Circumstances can change and individuals can learn about themselves by taking new jobs. There will be employment relationships that come to an end. Learn from the mistakes others make and give yourself grace when you make one.

What I’m listening to –  Gary Clark Jr. Playlist

What I’m watching – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

What I’m reading – The Gods of Guilt: A Lincoln Lawyer Novel by Michael Connelly

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