Hiring Mistakes Employers Make and How Your Small Business Can Avoid Them

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 an exciting and significant prospect for a small business. When you don’t have a large team, all of your employees wear many hats and therefore, every individual has a weighty impact on your business operations and growth. This being said, when you do decide to make a new hire, choosing the right person is all the more important. However, with all of the different responsibilities that come with HR for your small business and business ownership in general, you may fear that you won’t be able to devote enough time to the hiring process—or worse, fall victim to hiring mistakes that lead to you choosing the wrong employee for your business.

Don’t worry; we’re here to help. In this guide, we’ll break down different hiring mistakes employers make—everything from ignoring the cultural fit to not checking references—and offer tips on how to avoid them. This way, when it comes to hiring a new employee, you’ll know exactly what to do to find just the right person for your business’s needs.

Top 10 Hiring Mistakes Employers Make

As we’ve mentioned, hiring the right employee can be a difficult process, and even more so for a small business owner. In discussing these common hiring mistakes employers make, therefore, we’ll help you start off on the right foot when beginning the search for your new employee.

1. Not Defining Job Duties Clearly

You can’t hire the right person if you don’t know who you want. One of the common hiring mistakes employers make is announcing they’re hiring without first determining the essentials of the position and writing a detailed job description.

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 in a job posting, to recruiters, or to your current employees, will not only help attract qualified candidates who understand the role but can also help you assess each one’s suitability based on the specifications you created.

Additionally, sitting down and putting your thoughts on the position into writing will also help you ensure that you really do need to hire an employee for this position. Conversely, you may find that in writing out the job description, you or a current employee would be better suited to take on the responsibilities in the new role. Or, perhaps you realize that the job duties don’t amount to a full workload and would be better suited for an occasional contractor vs. a full-time employee. Regardless of the end result of the job description process, taking this step can help you avoid hiring mistakes.

Furthermore, as you write the job description, you should both outline the job duties clearly as well as describe the responsibilities in a realistic manner. If you sugarcoat or inflate the duties of the role, you won’t give candidates a realistic idea of what you’re actually looking for. An honest job outline can prevent mismatched expectations for a position and therefore, give you the most qualified candidates and eventually, the best new hire for the job.

2. Not Having a Process in Place

Another hiring mistake to avoid is not having a recruiting, hiring, and onboarding process in place. Although this may seem like a sizable task, even the smallest business can make a clear-cut, uniform procedure to utilize through the process of finding and hiring a new employee. To this end, you’ll want to decide how the process will start, progress, and end. When you put out the job description, do you want every candidate to send a resume? Do they also send a cover letter? These are points of your procedure you should determine before you begin the hiring process. Similarly, you’ll want to determine at what point you bring in candidates for an interview—do you do a phone screening first? Who does the candidate meet with if they come to your business?

Figuring out how exactly the process will work, step by step, will not only help you keep track of your progress, but will also allow you to put your best foot forward with the candidates. Moreover, ensuring that every candidate goes through the same process will make it easier for you to compare them when it comes time to make a hiring decision.

Furthermore, you should have a process in place not only for hiring externally but internally, as well. Your current employees should know when they’re eligible to switch roles in your business and how they can apply for another role internally. Ultimately, the process of hiring from within should fall in line with the process of hiring external employees.

3. Having Too Wide of a Candidate Pool

Perhaps one of the most parts of your hiring process is determining how to find candidates. One of the hiring mistakes employers make when starting their process is putting out the job posting everywhere and drawing candidates from way too many sources. Recruiting a new employee on top of all of your other business responsibilities is hard enough, and if you have too many candidates to choose from, the process is all the more difficult. To avoid this common hiring mistake, therefore, there are a few actions you can take.

First, related to the first hiring mistake we discussed, you can write a clear and specific job description. Having this comprehensive job description will help you attract candidates who are, hopefully, the most qualified for the position. Along these lines, however, you should also make sure that when you start to evaluate applications, that you weed through the ones that stray too far away from your description. If you take the time to carefully evaluate all the details of every application, you’ll never get through the process. To optimize your search, you’ll want to do an initial screen, comparing applications to the job description as you’ve posted it and removing any erroneous applications. Therefore, when it comes to deciding which candidates to interview, you’ll have a more manageable, and hopefully more-qualified pool, to choose from.

Furthermore, another way to narrow your candidate pool is to decide exactly how you’re going to recruit for the position. Are you going to post the job on a variety of job boards? Are you going to encourage your employees to recruit for the position? If you’re not strategic about your recruiting strategy, you could easily wind up with a large candidate pool, some of whom may or may not be well-suited for the role. Conversely, if you consider the best way to find candidates for your role, for example, if you’re hiring a social media manager, posting the job on Facebook might be more likely to lead to a concise pool of qualified candidates.

4. Not Preparing for the Interview

Although the first three hiring mistakes employers make that we’ve discussed are generally related to the early stages of the process, you should also be aware of hiring mistakes to avoid when you interview candidates. Interviewing can be a daunting and time-consuming task—but it’s a crucial part of finding the right employees for your business. This being said, an interview mistake you certainly want to avoid is being unprepared.

Even though you may have to go through many interviews before finding the right employee, you’ll want to prepare before each one. Review the candidate’s resume, prepare questions ahead of time, and consider what you want to know from this individual specifically. Consider how you’ll begin and end the interview, how you’ll address any questions the candidate may ask, and if you’ll schedule time for your current employees to meet with the candidate.

If you’re prepared ahead of time, you’re more likely to get the most out of the interview process. Moreover, showing that you’ve prepared for the interview will leave your candidates with a good impression—whether you hire them or not.

hiring mistakes employers make

5. Talking More Than You Listen

Another one of the hiring mistakes employers make in regards to the interview process is talking too much. Sometimes interviewers feel they need to fill awkward silences, or sometimes, they end up trying to convince the candidate why they should work at the business. Although it is important to have a two-way conversation during an interview and inform the candidate about the role, it’s okay to have some quiet moments. Let the candidate respond to your questions, ask their own, and fill any silences as they see fit. Watching how a candidate handles this process and listening carefully to what they say can ultimately help you determine if they’re a good fit for the position.

Understandably, job interviews can be uncomfortable for both the interviewer and the interviewee. If you feel you need help getting the conversation started, find an interesting point from the candidate’s resume and start from there. Or, simply ask the candidate to take you through their experience. Hearing about the candidate’s background directly from them can help spark talking points or questions for you to follow up with.

6. Ignoring Cultural Fit

The most qualified candidate on paper may not fit into your business’s culture at all. Although a person might have the background and experience that should make them well-suited for the position, this doesn’t necessarily mean they actually will be right for your business. If, for example, your business is fast-paced and casual, but your candidate is extremely formal and meticulous, they’re probably not the best fit, even if they have the experience and qualifications for the role.

Ignoring company culture and solely focusing on capability is another one of the common hiring mistakes employers make. Testing out a candidate’s culture fit, therefore, is a crucial part of the interviewing process. One way to evaluate how a candidate fits into your business culture is to have other current employees meet with and interview the candidate. Your employees can engage in casual conversation and get a sense of whether or not the team would work well with the candidate and vice versa.

Another interesting way to test a candidate’s cultural fit is to ask creative questions that aren’t necessarily related to the responsibilities of the job. For example, you could ask, “What was the last book you read?” or “What do you like to do in your free time?”. Some candidates who are nervous in interviews may feel more comfortable and let their true personality shine through when asked a lighter, more personal question.

Although you don’t want to hire a candidate solely because they’re a culture fit, this is an important aspect to keep in mind—for you, as well as your team—to find the best candidate for your business.

7. Trusting Your Gut Too Much—or Too Little

We all have those moments where we have a gut feeling about someone—whether positive or negative. Unfortunately, sometimes these gut feelings don’t translate well to the hiring process, and although you may feel very strongly about a candidate, they’re really not right for the role. This being said, it’s important to avoid falling into the trap of trusting your gut too much. Try to make sure that you evaluate every candidate based on the same criteria, regardless of how you feel about them. This can be easier said than done, but it’s important not only to make sure each candidate has a fair shot, but also to make sure that you’re truly finding a person who can do the job, work with the team, and help your business succeed.

On the other hand, you should also remember that we get these gut feelings for a reason, so you should still pay attention to your instincts. If the candidate checks all your boxes, and yet, you still feel strongly that something isn’t right, take that feeling into consideration before hiring them. At the end of the day, it’s a balancing act—don’t use your gut as your sole measure of a candidate, but don’t ignore it, either.

8. Not Prioritizing Your Hiring Qualifications

In an ideal world, you would find the potential employee who meets all of your qualifications, they wouldn’t be missing any skills or knowledge you’re looking for, and you would have no concerns about hiring them. Unfortunately, however, it’s unlikely that you’re going to find a “perfect candidate.” Therefore, it’s important to prioritize your hiring qualifications and decide how you’re ultimately going to evaluate candidates and reach a decision.  To explain, if you’re hiring for a product manager for your retail business, what’s more important to you: experience in product management or experience in the retail industry?

Although you may have listed a number of qualifications on your job description, when it comes to finding a candidate, you’ll probably have to decide that some are more important than others. Using the above example, you may ultimately determine that you can teach an employee about the retail industry and would rather they have robust product management experience. One of the hiring mistakes employers make is not thinking about these prioritizations during the process and feeling overwhelmed when trying to evaluate the candidates they’ve seen and ultimately decide who to hire. By considering what characteristics you can sacrifice and which are non-negotiable, you’ll be able to more easily reach a decision.

hiring mistakes employers make

9. Not Checking References

Finding the perfect employee isn’t easy, so when you think you’ve finally found the one, you may feel inclined to skip the time-consuming step of checking their references. This is one of the common hiring mistakes employers make and certainly one you’ll want to avoid. It may seem inconsequential at first, but checking a candidate’s references can give you unique insight into this person’s background and how they will work with your business. Although you may be afraid that you’ll learn something that will change your opinion of the candidate, it’s better to know now than to hire the person and face an issue, like employee turnover, later down the line.

Of course, the reverse is also true. You may reach out to a candidate’s references only to uncover additional reasons why they’re perfect for the position you’re hiring for. Regardless of the final result, talking to references who have worked with the candidate before and can speak to how they might contribute to your business is an invaluable step in the process.

10. Rushing the Process—Or Holding Out

The final point on our list of hiring mistakes employers make is rushing through the hiring process just to fill a role quickly. Even if you’d rather have an employee in the position sooner rather than later—especially if you’re hiring your first employee—you want to give the process the time it needs. To explain, if you rush 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 or business in the long run. Hiring the right employee for your business 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 offer up the job just to fill the role.

On the other hand, as is the case with many issues we’ve discussed, holding out for the “perfect candidate” is also a common hiring mistake. As we mentioned earlier, although you may want to find the person that meets every single one of the qualifications you’ve laid out, you’re more than likely not going to find that person, if they even exist. If you continue to pass on worthy candidates because you’re holding out for a better one, you’ll not only be missing out on potentially excellent employees, but you’ll never fill your open position.

Common Hiring Mistakes and How to Avoid Them: The Bottom Line

More than likely, you’ll make some sort of mistake—hiring or otherwise—during the time you’re in business. It’s important to remember, however, mistakes happen and there’s always a way to work through them. However, reviewing typical hiring mistakes employers make, like the 10 we’ve explored above, can help you put your best foot forward in the recruiting process. If you keep in mind not only these common hiring mistakes but also the tips we’ve mentioned on how to avoid them, you’ll be best suited to approach your hiring journey in the most-effective way.

Furthermore, there are always resources available to you, as a small business owner, to make these processes easier. Utilizing a recruiting or HR software, for example, can help you stay organized and offer you additional assistance when it comes to hiring new employees. At the end of the day, although you’ll have to devote time and energy to get there, there’s no doubt you’ll be able to find and hire the right employee for your business.

Editorial Note: Fundera exists to help you make better business decisions. That’s why we make sure our editorial integrity isn’t influenced by our own business. The opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations in this article are those of our editorial team alone. They haven’t been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the companies mentioned above. Learn more about our editorial process and how we make money here.
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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