The 7 Most Common Hiring Mistakes Small Businesses Make

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky

Contributor at Fundera
Rieva Lesonsky is a small business contributor for Fundera and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company. She has spent 30+ years covering, consulting and speaking to small businesses owners and entrepreneurs.
Rieva Lesonsky

Hiring a new employee is a big deal for a small business. When you don’t have a lot of workers, everyone has to pull proportionately more weight and everyone has a direct impact on the future of your small business.

So, the process of hiring new employees isn’t one to be taken lightly. And if you don’t put time and effort into going about it the right way, you run the risk of hiring the wrong employees.

To ensure your new hire is the right one, make sure you’re not falling victim to these seven common hiring mistakes!

1. Not defining job duties clearly.

You can’t hire the right person if you don’t know who you want. Before you ever put the word out that you’re hiring, clearly assess what duties the job will involve, who the person will report to, what experience and skills are needed, and what type of personality will work well both in the job and for your business. Explaining all this (whether in a want ad or job posting) will not only help attract qualified candidates who understand what they’re getting into, but also help you assess each one’s suitability based on the definitions you created.

Sitting down and putting your thoughts on the position into writing will also help you be confident that you really need to hire for this position. As you’re writing out what you need for your small business in a job description, you might find that you or a current employee can easily take on the responsibilities outlined in the new role.

Not only should you outline the job duties clearly, but you should also describe the responsibilities in a realistic manner. If you sugarcoat or inflate the duties of the role, you won’t give candidates a good idea of what you’re really looking for. And mismatched expectations for a position will hurt both your business and the new hire in the long run.

2. Not having a process in place.

In addition to thinking through the type of person you want for the job, you also need to create a uniform process that you can use during intake and interviews.

For instance, do you want every employee to send a resume, take a specific test, or provide a certain number of references? Having everyone complete the same steps ensures that you can compare apples to apples.

Along those same lines, you should have a process in place for hiring internal employees into new positions. Your current employees should know when they’re eligible to switch roles in your business, and the process of hiring them should be in line with the process of hiring external employees.

3. Talking more than you listen.

Many small business owners hate interviewing job candidates. But it’s a crucial part of finding the right employees for your business.

Some small business owners make one of the most common hiring mistakes by hurrying through the interview—filling up any dead air with their own chatter. Don’t be afraid to be quiet during an interview, and let the candidates fill any silences. What they say could win them the job—or show you decisively why they’re horribly wrong for it.

Job interviews can be uncomfortable for both the interviewer and the interviewee. To help get the conversation going, find an interesting talking point from the candidate’s resume and get things going from there. Initiating a conversation about the candidate’s experience will hopefully get the conversational juices flowing.

4. Ignoring cultural fit.

The best candidate in the world on paper may not fit into your corporate culture at all. I still remember one employee I hired decades ago who passed every test with flying colors, but fell apart in the real world of our company’s fast-paced, casual environment. Don’t get so enamored with a person’s qualifications that you fail to consider how he or she will mesh with other employees, clients and customers.

Testing out a candidate’s cultural fit into your business is a crucial part of the interviewing process. One way to evaluate fit is to bring other current employees in to an interview with the candidate. Your employee can engage in a casual conversation and get a sense of whether or not your current team would enjoy working with the candidate, and vice versa.

Another interesting way to test a candidate’s cultural fit is to ask creative questions that they wouldn’t expect. For example you could ask, “If you had all the money in the world to spend, what kind of vacation would you plan?” Some candidates who are nervous in interviews could let their true personality shine through when asked a more personal question.

5. Trusting your gut too much—or too little.

We’ve all done it—fallen in love with a job candidate on first handshake, then brushed off all the myriad ways he or she didn’t quite fit the profile of what we were looking for. If the candidate is an experienced interviewee, they know how to come across as confident, personable, and capable—even if they really aren’t. Trusting a gut feeling right of the bat might for a candidate that seems right doesn’t mean that they are right.

At the other extreme, if a candidate meets all your requirements but just rubs you the wrong way, it’s important to pay attention to your instincts. Don’t use your gut as your sole measure of a candidate, but don’t ignore it, either.

6. Not checking references.

Finding the perfect employee isn’t easy, so when you think you’ve finally done it, it’s natural to want to skip the time-consuming step of checking references. Don’t.

Contact schools and colleges to make sure the candidate earned the degrees and certifications he or she claims. Contact former employers to verify dates of employment and get as much of a sense as you can of the candidate’s performance. If the person is an entry-level employee with no work history, ask for and reach out to personal references. If you can manage to get a candid opinion from the candidate’s reference, you might uncover more reasons to love the candidate or a few reasons why you should continue your search.

7. Rushing the Process—Or Holding Out

If you’re looking to hire for a job opening sooner rather than later, make sure your urgency doesn’t rush you through the process. If you’re desperate to fill a position and don’t take the time to properly vet a candidate, you might end up with someone that doesn’t fit the role in the long run. Hiring stellar employees takes time. The best candidate for the role isn’t always—and is often not—the first person that sits down for an interview. If the first few candidates lack the skills for the job, or just don’t fit in culturally, don’t jump the gun on an offer.

If you don’t have the time personally to conduct a candidate search, consider using hiring tools to make the process much less time-intensive. Services like Proven are especially great for small business hiring specifically.

But on the other hand, a common hiring mistake is also holding out for the perfect candidate. When you’re writing a job description, you’re probably crafting the perfect candidate in your mind. But odds are, that job candidate doesn’t exist. You might find someone that comes close to exactly what you’re looking for, but as long as you’re waiting for the “perfect candidate,” well-qualified candidates will be passing you by.


Hiring a great team for your small business is essential—that’s why you need to avoid these 7 common hiring mistakes.

If you can actively cut these habits out of your hiring process, you’re well on your way to building a strong team with stellar employees.

Good luck!

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky

Contributor at Fundera
Rieva Lesonsky is a small business contributor for Fundera and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company. She has spent 30+ years covering, consulting and speaking to small businesses owners and entrepreneurs.
Rieva Lesonsky

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