Employers: Regret Your Recent Hiring Decisions? Want A Re-Do? Here is the secret to avoid bad hires...

Stephen Viscusi

Executive Recruiter, HarperCollins Best-Selling Author & TV Personality

I own a global retainer based search practice in NYC. www.viscusigroup.com. Like all recruiters we poach people from my clients’ competitors, so they do not have to. Every few months, I get a very particular type of client come into my office. These hiring managers always have the same look on their faces, like a dog who chewed up your very expensive boots but really do regret it. Regret is the operative word here because that is precisely why they are in my office. Far more often than you would imagine, managers from big, powerful, successful companies with large and capable HR departments drag themselves into my office and explain that they have made a huge hiring mistake. Nine times out of ten, the mistaken hire is someone in sales and the manager was duped by some unreliable references. They come to me for advice and to ask for guidance moving forward. (Fire them at once I always say!) Today, I’m going to let you in on the Viscusi hiring secret I share with them.

The trick is much simpler than you may think. Slow down when making a hire today! All of the biggest hiring problems people have today stem from the fact that everyone is in such a hurry to hire. I understand this impulse. We want to have all hands on deck, but it is impossible to get to know a candidate and thoroughly vet them moving at the speed of light. What do you tell your clients about difficult projects? It takes time to get something good, right? Or, just as often your boss or the HR department is pressuring you to make fast hire. Bosses, threatening to take the positions away, bewildered why the hire was not made yesterday, indicating it is a reflection of your job performance. If this is your boss, you may want to start looking yourself! Let’s face it, employees and sales people in particular, which is what I recruit, who are smart enough to sell your product are smart enough to sell themselves too. These people know that if they can figure out a way to use a major player in their field as a reference, hiring managers will eat that up. So long as the candidate has taken this fancy name to a couple of snooty business dinners where they had a good time, what reason do these big-shots have to give a bad reference? And unless you ask explicitly, why would the reference offer the fact that they have never done business with a candidate? Sales is a business of relationships and no one is trying to burn bridges. 

So how can you slow down and get a better read on a sales candidate? Let’s start with the references that’s often where hiring managers get played. If someone gives you a list of references, you are best served keeping to that list. The last thing you want is to call someone at the candidate’s company who isn’t listed as a reference and who doesn’t know that they are out looking for other jobs. This sort of snooping can get the candidate in a lot of trouble and throw you into the mud as well. Still, just because you can’t do your own investigative work doesn’t mean you should accept the references without scrutinizing them. When hiring a sales rep, you should always ask the references: “Have you ever bought anything from this person, and if so what size was the order?” As easy as it is to give a general good reference, very few people will lie for someone else in this situation. More likely, they’ll try an answer like this: “Well, I like them, and I would definitely buy from them in a different situation, but it doesn’t make sense for me now because we don’t keep stock of their product.” If this is what they say, their reference is as useful as a bathing suit in the Antarctic. This begs the question of how they know each other, and the answer is usually that it is only a social relationship. The candidate might have tried to win the reference’s account, but even though it wasn’t winnable the reference was all too happy to take their ticket to an industry dinner, where they had drinks and became friends. And that is where the story ends. Employees can buy a reference for the price of a fancy dinner, golf or industry event! It’s as easy as that. You might think I’m kidding, but I know a guy who landed a VP job, because he was able to buy an entire table for a face event everyone wanted to be at, and designer clients guest never specified his product. Trust me, when the reference blames the product a rep sells on why they never bought from them you are looking at a bad reference, or worse a “sympathy reference”--like the date you went on because you felt sorry for the guy. Bad references should, of course, make you think twice about your candidate. We call this a “mercy reference”!

Even if the references check out that should not be the end of the road. References should be used to corroborate the story about a candidate, not create it. Spend some time with the candidate yourself. Take them out to lunch or dinner. If you do not like eating with them, you will not like working with them. And if you notice something that seems to contradict a point one of their references made, call them back and ask about it again. Remember, this is a process. You can and should go back and verify your work. Here is another area where you get in trouble if you are rushing. Do not hire with your gut! Hire on facts. If you’re unsure about something, don’t assume that it will be okay because the person seems trustworthy. Take the time to make sure. 

Finally, if you feel you made a mistake on a recent hire, you’re probably right. Cut ties fast and fire the person. Fire fast I say. It doesn’t get better. Job performance usually peaks within the first couple months in a new position. People wait too long to see how new hires work out and are too afraid of lawsuits, which are exceedingly difficult to bring. Admit you made a mistake, offer a generous severance package and move on! And for God sakes, learn from your mistakes. Do not let your boss, pressure you to hire fast! That is often the problem. You would be amazed by how often these stories repeat themselves. I have a lot of business because of impatience and a lot of other headhunters will tell you the same.


​Please “like” this or comment; and share it. Stephen Viscusi is the CEO of The Viscusi Group, a global executive search practice specializing in the interior furnishings industry located in New York City. Viscusi is the author of the HarperCollins book "Bulletproof Your Job". You can visit his website at www.viscusigroup.com or follow him on twitter at @Stephenviscusi, Instagram at Stephenviscusi and Facebook  Write him at Stephen@Viscusigroup.com