The Real Cost of Bad Hires

Recruiting bad hires can be expensive…painfully expensive. Getting it wrong can range between a headache and a disaster. So how do you avoid or at least limit the chances of making this mistake in the first place?

I can speak from experience of hiring many people to work for me over the years and I’ll be honest, I’ve not always got it right. On countless occasions I’ve made hiring mistakes with people whose names I either prefer to forget or can’t recall anymore. Maybe because of bad memories or maybe because of regrets. I’ll also admit that on more than one occasion some of those people were good people who meant well and perhaps I didn’t have the experience or failed to give the right guidance to them. But that’s how you learn. You need to make mistakes. However, some of those mistakes were avoidable had I known better and being a bit older and wiser I can speak from experience of what not to do first hand.

Being in recruitment, you also have a unique viewpoint across numerous companies and I am lucky enough to have had countless learning opportunities from that perspective. And if there is one thing that I have learned it is that most, but not all hiring mistakes can be avoided and in this post I’ll share what they are and how to avoid them.


Working in the recruitment sector you face a lot of client expectations that can at times be a bit unrealistic. Recruitment fees can be lofty and if you are paying big bucks, you’ll obviously want value for money. The problem is that no matter how much a recruiter may claim to be able to find talent that nobody else can, we are recruiters and not magicians. If there is a disconnect between what you are looking for and what you are offering and that is regardless of whether you use a recruiter or not, then this is where the problems begin regarding expectations.

It is not unusual for a client to have a wish list for what they want that is a tad optimistic considering the salary package on offer. The danger here, believe it or not, is not the burden of failing to find someone; It’s being able to find someone who is using your job vacancy as a stop gap or even a tool to gain a counter offer.

Imagine it; a magnificent CV enters your inbox of a candidate far superior to the other mediocre applicants. They may be a direct applicant or sent via a recruiter, but this is who you have been waiting for. Hallelujah!

Call me cynical from my years in the recruitment microcosmos, but where has this person been and why are they so much better than the competition? Maybe, they are a motivational dream or maybe they have an ulterior motive. Either way I like to reserve judgement before fully exploring the candidate in interview.

Regarding expectations what I’ve learnt is to find out what is realistic concerning your budget and to not get too carried away with an outstanding CV before investigating fully. This is a sensible, grounded and pragmatic way of operating and although less inspiring than the optimistic approach, it tends to garner the best results. Otherwise you could end up getting someone onboard who is simply using your company for their interests at the detriment of yours.


I was at fault of trying to pass judgement on applicants prematurely in the hiring process in the early days. “Their CV looks outstanding, so they must be great” or “This person looks the part, so I can see them fitting in” etc. The hiring process should not be about whether you like someone or not. It should be objectively focused around two area’s:

1-Their Motivations

2-Their Skills

Notice that motivations come first. The approach to the hiring process dictates the outcome as how you start will influence how you will go on. If you start by seeking skills and put an advert out looking for skills, why would someone want to apply? People do things for three reasons; they have to, they need to or because they want to. If someone is out of work, desperate and struggling to pay the bills they’ll go for what they can get, but if you want someone constructively sifting through the jobs that they want why would they apply for yours? Sell it to them based on motivations of why someone would want to work for you. And that doesn’t mean sell ping pong tables and a friendly fresh feel. Deliver what it is that someone is seeking in their career. If a person’s career aspirations value ping pong tables, free food and a fresh fun atmosphere at the top of their list above all else would you really want to hire them?

Some job adverts use what is known as the FAB format (Features, Advantages, Benefits), however the advantages and benefits section appear to be a bit confused at points. Advantages are the minor benefits over other similar roles and the benefits themselves relate to the right persons career aspirations. Good candidates want to see what is in it for their own career aspirations such as progression, training and development, what they’ll be doing on a day to day basis, their part to play in the companies’ goals, the culture and values of the company etc.

Selling the company to appeal to somebody’s motivations should retain an element of reality. Current employer PR marketing tactics aiming to attract candidates are regularly fixated around projecting an image of the company where the words “amazing” and “incredible” are what is being communicated. If your company really is that good hats off to you, but if that’s all just spin what are the repercussions?

If you fabricate an illusion that your company is an incredible place to work and it turns out to be dull, lifeless and muted you’ll have retention problems. It’s unlikely that your place of work really is dull, lifeless and muted, but in some people’s eyes it could be seen that way. Another person might see it as a more mature, organised and relaxed place of work and that person will likely be a much better motivational companion for your business.

The point being; your approach to hiring should be aimed at attracting people based on their motivations first before filtering through to find who has the skills you require. Two people with the same skills may have very different aspirations. Furthermore, you should be prepared to fully investigate the right hires, reserve judgement until knowing the facts and find people that fit your culture. That way they’re much more likely to add value, fit in and become a longer-term asset.

The mistake can be seen with companies that have focused their attention on skills based hiring only where they gradually drop into the death cycle of having a poor, unproductive and miserable working environment that see’s depleted productivity, mediocre results and a high staff turnover. This then ends up causing crisis meetings, restructuring programs and could even lead to company collapses.


Interviewing is a skill and one thing I learned the hard way is that you will not be proficient without copious amounts of practice. Just because you are a good judge of character, do not rely on it.

Leading questions is the first No-No. You may have taken a shine to an interviewee, but still need the right response to a question. Why not imply by the way you are asking the question the answer that you seek to hear then? It makes sense if you like them doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t.

The purpose of the interview itself is information gathering and not to pass judgement. Gather all of the information you need using open questions, do not lead them to specific answers and you will be much more likely to have a bountiful volume of information to conclude an accurate suitability assessment.

The next No-No is doing most of the talking. This is fine at specific points, but at the question and answer stage it should be more about listening. What will you learn from spending the interview listening to yourself?

Ending the interview can be a tricky topic also. On occasion you will interview someone who is obviously not right. For example, the role may involve working at heights on occasion and when this comes up at interview the applicant admits that they are scared of heights and will have to remove themselves from the process. At this point you have your answer of whether they are right or not. However, do not send them packing abruptly as this could imply rudeness.

Where do you think your company’s reputation in the local area comes from? Word of mouth. If someone comes out of an interview with you damning your rudeness and criticising your integrity how many people could that story be told to? And how many Chinese whispers could be passed on from there? Alternatively thank them for their time, compliment them and leave them with only good things to say of you and your company.


Growth is a word thrown around in business as if it is that or die. Growth should be a resulting measure of the right inputs and not the direct objective itself.

I made the mistake of hiring for hiring’s sake early in my managerial career. I had visions of grandeur and the temptation to reach that as soon as possible can lead to a whopping recruitment strategy mistake.

See building a team of people like constructing a house. If you have weak foundations it will inevitably all come crashing down and to a degree I experienced that first hand. What should be done is to ensure that the key people around you are right. This means that they uphold the same standards, vision and values as you do and then it is the leader’s job to ensure that they are trained appropriately to complete their duties to efficient and high-quality standards like clockwork. Your first few hires may come in a brief wave but get that right before making further additions.

I have already covered focusing on skills when hiring and ignoring motivations, but it is worth re-emphasising the importance of this. In my experience it is better to take on 7/10 skilled people if they really want the job, have shared values to you and the company rather than a 10/10 skilled person who has little in common via that of values and will inevitably become no more than a short-term asset.

The final area of recruitment strategy mistakes is who you delegate the hiring to. I’ve worked through MD’s, Ops Directors, Project Managers, HR Managers, Talent Acquisition Specialists etc. Some may prefer to work with one over another, but I’ve experienced good and bad in all. However, if you are delegating your hiring it has to be to someone who cares, will do it properly and knows what they are doing.

There is nothing worse than delegating a job to someone who either doesn’t care, will cut corners or is inept at the task. Delegation is a key element of leadership, but people are the lifeblood of any business. Only put your best and most capable people on the task of hiring.


When hiring you must understand the difference between what you want and what you need. It is beggar’s belief at what some job specifications state as being essential. Do they have to have a 1st degree from a Russell Group University? Is it imperative they have 7 years’ experience? Does it matter whether they have a Can-do attitude?

Keep it simple and be honest with yourself. Implementing a strict and all-encompassing job specification may sound fundamental to a companies business aspirations, but it can do nothing other than hinder the hiring process of sourcing valuable candidates. Limit the requirements to the essential musts and proportion the rest to desirable.


When hiring you need to have a realistic expectation of who you can hire in relation to the salary package you are offering. If your budget is lavish you can afford to be fussy, but you get what you pay for. That being said focus on getting someone with the right values and motivations to match you and your business. Getting someone who is all singing, and all dancing is great, but peacocks don’t tend to make homes in nests other than their own. When interviewing stay structured and gather all of the information you need before passing judgement. And when the applicants leave always ensure they would only say good things of you and the company. Don’t grow for growths sake. Understand what it is that you want to build and get your foundations in order first. Only delegate recruitment to people who care, know what they are doing and will do the job properly. And finally understand what you actually need as adding wants into the needs section won’t help your search, but only hinder its viewpoint.

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