3 Common Hiring Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Posted by Aaron Aders

December 20, 2012 at 12:00 AM

Tony Hsieh blew over $100 million making mistakes in the hiring process at Zappos Inc. With employee training and investment costs so high these days, it's more important than ever to hire slow and fire fast. This is a difficult position to maintain, since the pressure is usually high to fill a position as quickly as possible. Here are a few mistakes to avoid in the hiring process that may just save your organization millions of dollars.

Mistake #1: Not doing a truly diligent background check

It's really easy to glaze over this step by just calling a few of the candidate's recommended contacts instead of conducting a real reference check. I'm not saying that you need to contact the FBI--but there are a few simple steps that can get the job done responsibly.

Just as I advise any Slingshot SEO prospect, when asking for references you must:

  • Ask for three references, then throw them in the trash.
  • Ask for three more references, then throw those in the trash, too.
  • Ask for three more references--and these are the ones to call.

The point is that just about everyone has at least three good references to throw around; but once you get past the 'trophy' references, the feedback is less about friendship and more about how the candidate performs. If the candidate is applying for a managerial or VP position, you must take this one step further. Look up their prior organizations on LinkedIn and find employees who have been with the company before your candidate was hired and are still working there. Contact these employees and ask for references on the candidate.

You'll need a highly exhaustive background check when you search for executives. Contact the primary investors or former executives of an applicant's prior organization and ask for a reference. You may not get the full story from the current employees due to legally binding contracts, but former employees and investors will usually be transparent about the situation.

You're Hired

Mistake #2: Not Searching for Passion

Passion is essential to job performance, but it remains a difficult aspect to measure. At Slingshot SEO, we've found that our most passionate employees are almost obsessed with the Internet! So during interviews, I usually ask questions like:

  • How many hours do you spend on the Internet in your free time each week? Passion is something that you pursue on nights and weekends.
  • What are your favorite online activities? Look for a strong, energetic response when someone describes an activity they're passionate about. A bland response here would be a red flag.
  • How have you progressed inside these games or websites? When used constructively, passion leads to progression and shows determination.
  • What are the most important lessons you have learned along the way? Dig into all aspects of how the candidate has improved or otherwise progressed in their lives.

It's amazing how closely an intense love of the Internet correlates with Slingshot SEO employee performance and retention compared to nearly any other aspect that I have come across. Get to the root of what drives your employees with the most passion, rather than hammering on GPA scores and technical skills. Technical skills can always be learned--but passion can't be taught.

3. Test the Candidate's Typing Speed

This may sound silly--but in my experience, typing speed has helped weed out bad candidates. Almost all office work today is done on a computer, so a good typing speed is a must. Typing speed also shows that the candidate has the ability to focus and work quickly. Have a computer ready and have the candidate do the test live during the interview. As a bonus, you'll get a sense of how this person performs under pressure!

These three tips represent the core of my hiring techniques. They might not work for every business, but they've helped us find the employees that make up Slingshot SEO's great office culture. What are yours? Tell us in the comments.


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