Despite a widely touted uptick in the economy, it’s still tough out there for job candidates in many industries, marketing included. So if you’re in the position of hiring people these days, you’ve likely encountered a sea of job candidates that is both flush and eager. (There are, of course, exceptions in certain emerging job roles and highly technical positions. But in general, there’s a lot of great marketing talent out there.)
That said, despite a deep talent pool, hiring mistakes are still common for a lot of reasons. If you’ve been hiring people for any length of time, you’ve likely experienced one of those “ohhhhhhh nooooooo” moments upon the realization that a relatively new hire just isn’t going to work out. It’s a horrible moment (made even more horrible by the fact that many managers are too afraid to admit defeat and remedy the situation).
Some marketers learn from hiring mistakes. Others sadly don’t. But if you’d like to minimize your “ohhhhhhh nooooooo” moments (not to mention the wasted time and money associated with making the wrong hire), then here are the mental biases that you need to keep in check while screening and interviewing candidates.
He said a lot (without saying anything)
We’re marketers, so a lot of us talk purty. Confidence and smooth talking is often part of the job. But thankfully, in most cases (I hope), there are also some skills and expertise under the hood.
That said, there does seem to be a small pocket of unfathomably silver-tongued job candidates out there who talk a big game but do, in fact, completely strike out when put to the test. They get hired because they use the right buzzwords in interviews and generally endear themselves to people. But they don’t bother to acquire the actual skill set required to execute on their verbal promise. You can often spot these folks by their resumes, which are often filled with impressive positions that only lasted a brief while. That said, these folks rarely have been laid off or fired. They’ve learned to move on before their lack of skills can be taken to task — and often before their hiring managers can fully realize that they fell for some fancy talk.
So how do you screen for this? It can be tough, but a good place to start is to ask more about execution than ideas. Because, after all, ideas are the easy part. But they’re also the most mesmerizing. So if someone has good ideas, be sure to find out exactly how they might see them to fruition.
He (only) looked the part
This one ties closely in with the previous point. Contrary to popular belief, clothes do not actually make the man. They’re just clothes. And while good taste is a noble quality and our outward appearances are important in marketing, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be dazzled or intimidated by someone who out-dresses you or simply shares your own sense of fashion. Good taste and impressive looks can be a nice bonus in a job candidate. But please, please make that person back it up in the interview with some substance. I realize this is Interviewing 101, but in an industry of good-looking, well-dressed people, consider this an important reminder.
She was available immediately
If your team is short on resources (and whose isn’t these days?), even a short gap between the departure of an employee and the hiring of that person’s replacement can hurt. So, while it is important to put in place an efficient recruiting and onboarding process, it’s equally important to not let your desperation to fill a role lead you to hire the wrong person.
Often, the right candidate for the job is the person who needs to put in at least two weeks’ notice to do right by a current employer. This is not a drawback to hiring that candidate versus the slightly less qualified applicant who can start tomorrow. Rather, you should take a candidate’s commitment to a current employer as a testament to strong character and an indication of the respectful employee she will be at your company as well.
You forgot to check references
Again, this is Hiring 101, but its importance can’t be overstated. Screen people thoroughly. Call their references. And, particularly when making marketing hires, verify that the candidate did the work that he said he did. You’d be surprised by how many portfolios fudge the truth. (Well, you might not be surprised. But with full knowledge of how many people take credit for work they were only loosely tied to, it’s up to you to keep them honest.)
You thought he’d be easy to retain
Hiring is a stressful and often expensive process. Thus, it’s tempting to look for candidates who you think will hunker down with you for the long haul so you never have to deal with the pain in the ass of filling that role again. And yes, it is good to look for candidates who you think will stick around long enough for you to recoup your training expenses.
However, if you get needy and only look for candidates who you think are willing to “settle in” with you, then you’re probably passing over some rock stars. And you shouldn’t. Rock stars might move on quickly, but they almost always leave cool things in their wake. So you shouldn’t pass them over. Just be thankful for the time you do get with them and try to make them happy.
You ignored candidates who were overqualified
We just climbed out of a recession, people. Some very skilled people out there need jobs, and a lot of them are willing to take steps back in order to secure gainful employment. I know you might feel bad offering them a salary or tasks that aren’t quite up to where they should be. But take a step back. This is the candidate’s decision to make. Don’t make assumptions that might 1) keep a capable person unemployed and 2) prohibit you from hiring a rock star who might do more than you expect in a role (see previous point).
You insisted on a certain college degree (or one at all)
It’s most important for those of you with advanced degrees to hear this: There are a lot of valuable candidates out there who might not have a college degree in marketing or a related field. Hell, some of the most valuable marketing job candidates might not have degrees at all. And while I’m not here to thumb my nose at the notion of relevant education (or education in general), I would like to encourage you to broaden your thinking when it comes to job requirements. Focus on skills and experience. Not degrees.
He went to your alma mater
See the previous point. I understand that college is an influential time in one’s life and that you might think that anyone who experienced what you experienced during that time is more qualified to work alongside you. But please. Just because you both sing the same fight song and threw up at the same frat house (albeit, a decade apart) does not mean he’s the perfect fit for the job. Dig deeper.
You ignored office culture
Most of my previous points have urged you to focus on skill sets rather than more superficial attributes of job candidates. And while I stand by the notion that you need to look beyond a person’s shoes and university choice, I do firmly believe that a person’s personality and ability to mesh with your existing team are just as important as his or her ability to get the job done. If you knowingly introduce a hyper-active person to your otherwise laid-back team (or vice-versa), you might be asking for trouble. That’s not to say you should never introduce new personality types to your team. But if you can already foresee a conflict while you’re interviewing the person, think twice before hiring them based on on-paper qualifications alone.
You failed to think outside the job description
Finally, and most importantly, don’t get too obsessed with whatever is written on that job listing. Interviewing and recruiting new hires can be an interesting and enlightening process. You might meet people who don’t exactly fit into the definition of what you think a job is, but that person might, in fact, open your eyes up to what that job should be. So be willing to rewrite requirements and responsibilities on the fly (including salaries, if possible and warranted). Hiring the right person means more than just avoiding the wrong ones.