Hiring the Wrong Person: Advice from Seasoned Recruiters

Most of the time, when we engage with clients it’s for first-time leadership searches. Partnering with the founding team, who recently raised a round and are ready to hire their first VP Product, Marketing, Sales, or Customer Success. 

However, sometimes we are engaged to replace someone who is still employed and leading a team, or who were very recently exited and the business is in a state of doing damage control. With this later type of search, there is pressure on the founding team to get it right and along with this pressure comes doubt and apprehension. 

In this article, we will explore the most common reasons why leadership teams, composed of highly educated, experienced professionals make the collective decision to hire someone who they later consider to be "the wrong person." 

These are the four most common reasons we've seen based on our organization’s 20 years in business and our recruitment expertise. We hope by sharing these common phrases that lead to miss-hires we will help you avoid hiring the wrong person.

They were a great cultural fit!

Looking back at hiring trends from 2017-2019, we saw many employers, in the B2B tech space, hire based on everyone aligning to everyone. For some leaders, "cultural fit" even started to trump skills and experience.

We also saw too many cooks in the recruitment kitchen. With processes involving a candidate meeting with as many employees as possible, even all the people who would someday report to them. With everyone getting to offer their opinion and have it weighed equally.

While this may seem like a great move to ensure office harmony it doesn’t work for two reasons. The first, in addition to harmony it also creates a homogeneous culture where everyone acts and thinks alike - a place where questioning processes and challenging opinions happen less and less, leading to stagnancy. 

Secondly, our experience talking with leaders about their hiring regrets has taught us that when hiring for a specific outcome (i.e. getting to the next round of investment, ensuring the successful delivery of solutions into enterprise accounts, or scaling a global sales organization) experience trumps cultural fit every time. Focusing on the mandate and outputs of the role ensures a “better fit” than someone who blends in well. 

We knew them!

In smaller regional markets such as Kitchener/Waterloo or Montreal, it's not uncommon for the community to be so tightly connected that when someone becomes available or expresses a willingness to make a move, they are quickly picked up by another company.   

While this "we know everyone” hiring outlook does cut down on time to fill the position, it is not always the best one for a business to take. Sometimes hiring from a pool of local talent can backfire for the following reasons:

It's too easy for candidates who don't work hard enough to get the job or confirm they are best suited to solve the problem they are being hired to solve. Hiring the person you know may mean missing out and searching for that absolute rockstar you didn’t personally know, but who would’ve been open to making a move. 

This leads to the second point, it's an easy way for employers who don't want to spend time looking for the best skills and experience. Hiring takes time and effort; if it didn't Martyn Bassett Associates wouldn't exist. However, putting the hours in upfront, to source the best possible candidate, is a whole lot less effort than hiring the wrong person, having them churn, potentially stalling release dates then being back at square one. 

They were available!

We get it, you were in a hurry to hire and they were available. It was meant to be, right? While magic happens when timing aligns on both sides of a hire, our experience has taught us that the wisest leaders manage time. Even if it means they wait a little longer to secure the best candidate as the hire. 

There is a delicate balance between hiring fast and hiring well. When speaking to those leaders who hired the wrong person, it was often because they were in too much of a “rush” to wait that extra month, but now find themselves in much more of a mess.

My ego is bruised 

For a lot of startups, the leadership team who got the business to $5M is not the leadership team to get it to $50M. This can be one of the hardest issues for founders to reconcile with. 

Our experience has shown us that when less experienced leaders are tasked with hiring talent who are more senior or more accomplished than they are, many personal roadblocks can prevent them from hiring the right person.

Insecurity can creep in and prohibit the right skill level and experiences from being hired. Thoughts of, "what if we hire them and they do a better job than what I'm doing?" or “no one will know the business as I do” can seep in and cloud judgment. 

Or this sticky issue of compensation. Imagine what happens if the current Head of Product is earning $130K and needs to hire an experienced B2B SaaS Product Manager, the average base of which is $130K. Will they be able to do it, or will they favor a less experienced hire?

Similar to having too many cooks in the interview kitchen, not having enough can cloud judgment just as fantastically. When looking to make the right hire, it is important to find a team that can remove themselves from the situation and look more holistically at the business. A small group who will put the needs of the business first and have the ability to align the hire with the mandate for which this position is needed rather than looking for someone who will just fit in. A third-party recruitment team can also help to provide that unbiased clarity, talent network and market knowledge needed to secure a successful hire. 

Looking to hire the right leader for your organization? If you’re in need of expert advice on hiring and building a strong and diverse leadership team, contact us today!