I've written a lot about the mistakes job applicants make in the hiring process, but it's often no better on the employer's side. Here are the 10 biggest mistakes I see companies make when they're hiring:
1. Flakiness. They say they'll get back to you this week, and you hear nothing. The job description seems to be a work in progress that keeps changing. You're told you'll be reporting to one person and later it changes to another. You arrive for your interview with Bob and learn that you'll be meeting with Jane instead. Guess what it's going to be like to work with these people? (That said, there can be legitimate, nonworrisome reasons for any of the above. But a nonflaky company will realize that these things can look flaky and will acknowledge it and explain what's going on. What should alarm you is an absence of any awareness or concern about how this may be coming across, as it indicates it's not anything out of the ordinary for this company.)
2. Making hiring decisions that aren't based on the right criteria. For example: rejecting a candidate for being overly shy when being an extrovert has nothing to do with the ability to perform the job well.
3. Not distinguishing between what can be taught and what can't. Employers often overvalue particular types of experience to the exclusion of more important things. You can teach someone to use a certain software program, research legislation, or understand your industry. You can't teach people to be organized or efficient or have a work ethic.
4. Not asking the right questions in interviews. Many interviewers ask only superficial questions in interviews and don't take the time to find the questions that will really probe how well someone would do in the job. It's the difference between "What were your responsibilities in that job?" and "Tell me about a time when you got results someone else might not have been able to."
5. Letting candidates get away with superficial, stock responses. If a candidate tells me her biggest weakness is that she works too hard, we're not going to move on until she gives me a real answer. Too many interviewers simply run down their list of questions and don't bother to probe.
6. Hiring too quickly. The damage caused by a bad hire is far more severe than the impact of taking some extra time to make sure the fit is right. It's worth it to leave a position open longer in order to find the right person. Now, on the other hand...
7. ...Not moving fast enough. Employers who drag out the hiring process when they do have good candidates in the mix risk losing applicants to other offers. Plus, good employees want to work somewhere that can move quickly and make decisions and respects people enough not to let them languish. Companies send a powerful message about their culture when they respond quickly at all stages or at least let candidates know what their timeline is. And they send an equally powerful message when they don't.
8. Not getting back to candidates. Too many employers don't bother to let applicants know that they're no longer under consideration. I could come up with a business justification for why this is bad (it risks alienating a future customer or someone who could be perfect for a future opening), but the bigger point is that it's rude and inconsiderate.
9. Conducting intimidating, high-pressure interviews. Unless the position requires the ability to perform in a hostile or pressure-filled situation, I want to learn what candidates will be like to work with day to day, not what they're like in an anxiety-producing interview. Employers should be friendly and try to put candidates at ease.
10. Not giving an accurate portrayal of the job. When employers try to downplay the less attractive aspects of the job—such as boring work or long hours—they end up with employees who don't want to be there. Truth in advertising means that candidates who won't thrive in the job or the culture can self-select out before they become your disgruntled employees.
Alison Green is chief of staff for a medium-sized nonprofit where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff, as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. She is working with the Management Center to coauthor a book on nonprofit management. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.