Putting the right people in the right place is a critical skill of any manager and yet for many this is a serious weakness, resulting in them regularly putting people into roles where they can’t succeed. Not only is this an expensive mistake to make, but it can be highly disruptive to the team and the organisation.

Here are the most common recruitment mistakes that I have seen.

1. Overlooking internal candidates too quickly.

A key role of any capable manager is to ensure that they develop some strong successors, yet in most large companies about 70% of management positions are filled from outside. This not only shows that many managers do not do workable succession planning, either from a fear of competition or because they just don’t have the skills needed to build the next generation of leadership (See “Characteristics of a Successful Manager” posted July 18, 2011).

Author: Colin Smith; via Wikimedia Commons

This “grass is greener” need to often look outside, can demoralise existing employees who rightly believe that they should be given the opportunities to advance their own careers. Rarely does someone come into a new role, from any direction, being 100% competent. Even the most brilliant, well experienced and capable external hires will need the time to come to grips with basic drivers like understanding the culture, identifying the land-mines and sacred cows and mastering the informal networks that enable things to get done. I have found that an existing employee who has been with the company long enough to be “blooded”, and who may be a good 70% fit for promotion is in many cases a better solution that an external candidate who may appear to be a 90% fit. The problem is that we tend to be more aware of the gaps in skills/knowledge of an internal candidate than being able identify them in an external one, so we favour the external option.

Author: Robert R. McRill; via Wikimedia Commons

2. Looking for someone who has done this exact same job before.

Many managers (and professional recruiters) tend to look for candidates who are currently in exactly the same role to be filled, in the same industry, generally at a competitor. There is no question that past proven behaviour in a similar role is a reasonable indicator of future behaviour, but only if nothing is ever going to change, which is not true in the business world. Successful recruiting needs to take into account some new and differing elements that candidates can bring to the role. For SAP to just fill roles by poaching from Oracle and vice versa does little to drive innovation and creativity, and ultimately is just another version of musical chairs.

3. Hiring in one’s own image.

Many managers recruit by looking in their own “rose-tinted” mirror. The belief is that “I have been successful in this company doing things this way, so anyone who looks, thinks and smells like me will therefore also be successful”. It creates a team of clones that do everything in the way that their manager would do them, and who therefore question little and change nothing. I believe that it is important for the health, and ultimately the success, of any organisation that there is a group of people with a common goal, but with varying ideas, styles and opinions, and not just a group of leader look-alikes. It is important that you have at least a few “crazies” in your team, who do question things, have a way of looking differently at situations, and are capable of creative thought. It is unfortunate that creative people are viewed with suspicion and dread by most managers, as If you always do what you have always done you will always get what you already have.

4. Believing that smart, well educated people can do anything and everything.
They can’t !!!
One senior executive who I worked with continually kept putting really well-educated, loyal, technically brilliant, incredibly intelligent people that he really liked, into senior management roles for which they were totally unprepared and unsuited. He was then surprised that, despite his support and protection, most ultimately failed and had to be replaced, and in many cases pushed out of the company. It meant that by putting people into positions for which they had not been groomed and prepared, not only did he screw up key elements of his organisation, he also kept losing really great people who could have added significant benefit in the right roles. It may be true that really smart people, with the right characteristics, can do most things, but it is unlikely that they can do everything well immediately, and demands of the business world can rarely wait for them to ultimately work it all out.

Author: Uri Rosenheck (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

5. Believing that professional recruiters will always give you what you need.

Professional recruiters whether internal or external will only give you the best of what they have on their books, or what they can find through their network, rather than what you may actually need. Add to this the reality that very few managers can adequately define and describe to them what it is that they actually need, beyond handing over an HR prepared and fairly standard job description for the vacancy. You therefore end up hiring the best of the candidates that are available to you at that time. It’s just like democracy at work. You get to vote for the best candidate that the party machines have put in front of you from a small and generally unimpressive bunch, which is why we end up with politicians with about as much real value as a toothpick (see “We get the leaders we deserve” posted February 2, 2011). A far better solution, particularly if going externally, is to involve as many people at the right level in your company in the search. The odds are that they will know of people who would be strong candidates, and they would tend to recommend people that they would welcome, and be proud of having found for the company.

You always need to dig deeper and work harder to find the right person to fill a critical slot. It should never be done with haste or without adequate thought and investigation.

As Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Swiss-American psychiatrist and author says

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”



  1. Frank says:

    Les, excellent summary, I totally agree. As a manager I have always gained most pride from developing and promoting from within. The concept of hiring someone that has done the exact job before if a concern, the person that left often does so because that exact job is no longer required, I would also be concerned as to why someone wants to come in an do the exact same as before, unless to get it right the 2nd time around. Hiring “mini me’s” (ones own image) never works, and causes staff concerns as they can see that quickly. Great topic, one of my pet subjects. Regards, Frank

    • leshayman says:

      Frank, I am dismayed by managers who never hire people that will challenge them. This means that their own people are not good enough to take over, so they look outside and do it again. I have always believed that the best way to get promoted is to hire/promote great people … they make it their business to push you up to make their own way.

  2. Enrico Negroni says:

    Les, I agree with you and Frank’s comment. I personally advise against a too strong focus in hiring from outside. It’s true that sometimes an effective succession planning, based on inside, is not an easy excercise, but just looking out creates great frustration inside your own high potentials. Such a perverse attitude is very popular, also in successful companies that seem to look just at direct competitors. This is an absolute contradiction. I know very well cases in which the new Executives named in the last four years are all coming from outside, and reality is that their performance has been extremely poor. And do you know what customers of that, successful companies, were telling around ? “Always new comers from outside? Probably success was not reflecting their poor internal potential”…And this was not the case. So, managers would have to look more carefully inside before going for tentative recruitment. They can even hurt company credibility.

  3. Pingback: Transforming HR – How a CEO did it « Life, Leadership and Change

  4. Hiring people is about the product value of your potential new hire being the believable result of your information product at hand
    The issue in my eyes in hiring that is most important is the intrinsic motivation of the person being an addition to the team and not destroyer of the team. The 3 key note is finding great people is clarity,simplicity and imagination

    Senior execs must learn true wisdom is found in speed of trust and this is the only way to create insight in the deliberate practice of finding you vision of your future leaders.

    • leshayman says:

      Corey, I believe that hiring should be more on attitude and values than just on skills. Skills can be developed/upgraded, whereas it’s harder to change someone’s views of life/work. Les

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