20 Reasons Why Weak Managers Never Hire A-level Talent

Talent acquisition functions spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars designing processes to hire top performers, innovators, and game changers. Unfortunately few of those dollars or hours are spent fixing the biggest roadblock in recruiting A-level talent: weak hiring managers. Everyone seems to intuitively know that managers are the weakest link in any hiring process but few have had the time to research the topic and to identify the specific reasons how weak managers hurt the overall hiring effort.

As part of a larger project I’m currently working on (developing a “bad manager identification” orBMI program), I have been able to compile a long list of how weak managers hurt both the speed and the quality of hire.

If you decide to initiate an effort to train managers on how to hire, these factors and their related negative impacts could be crucial in building the business case for training hiring managers and rewarding them for great hires.

The Costs of a Bad Hire

Most would agree that managers do an OK job when they are trying to fill the typical requisition. However, everything changes when you’re trying to recruit the most difficult and desirable candidates. When recruiting A-level talent, undertrained, low-skilled, egotistical, or disinterested managers can be a top factor in losing great candidates. In addition to losing top candidates, the resulting bad hires require more costly training, they take up more of their teammate’s time, make more errors, upset customers and are much more likely to require performance management. Some may accidentally be promoted into management positions, where they will repeat and perhaps exceed the recruiting mistakes made by their original hiring manager. Remember that if your company has high retention and low firing rates, the costly damage that a bad hire can do is likely to last over many years.

What Google Does to Limit the Damage of Weak Hiring Managers

“We do everything to minimize the authority and power of the manager in making a hiring decision.”

“Managers often want to hire people who seem just like them.” So… “hiring decisions are made by a group.”

–L. Bock, Google VP of People Operations

The Top 20 Reasons Why Managers Are Unlikely To Hire Great Candidates

The top ways that hiring managers can hurt or prevent great hiring are listed below. For easy scanning, I have bullet broken them into four categories, I) general factors, II) factors related to a manager’s hiring skills, III) factors related to weak management skills, and IV) factors related to a ego and inflexibility.

I) General Factors That Prevent Great Hiring

  • A-level talent will not work for weak managers — when weak managers try to hire superior talent, they cannot succeed because top candidates can spot and accurately assess a weak manager even before applying by using their extensive professional or social media networks. If a top candidate somehow gets to an interview, their ability to ask probing questions to the hiring manager will bring out answers that will cause them to immediately drop out of the hiring process.
  • Weak managers probably have weak teams — the very definition of a weak manager means that they are not capable of attracting and retaining top talent. As a result, when the top candidates meet and interact with their mediocre team during the interview process, there is a high likelihood that they will be immediately discouraged. Top candidates want to work alongside the very best teammates because they want to learn from them. A-level talent will also immediately realize that they won’t be able to achieve their goals while working with this mediocre team.
  • Weak managers have limited resources to offer — because of their poor performance, missed deadlines, and failed projects, weak managers are less likely to have large budgets. Top candidates will inquire about the available budget and resources in the department and they will be turned off when they learn that the resources available to them are below average.
  • Weak managers are likely to be assigned low-level recruiters — some recruiting managers have a policy to assign the best recruiters to the most important jobs and the best managers. The best recruiters themselves often lobby their recruiting manager for the opportunity to work with the best hiring managers who are likely to produce high-quality hires. Even though it’s not an official policy, it is not unusual for contract recruiters or the weakest and most inexperienced recruiters to be assigned to the worst hiring managers. This may occur either as a subtle form of punishment or because these recruiters are all that are left after more senior recruiters have their choice. No matter what the reason, without the support and coaching of top recruiters, the odds of a weak manager getting a great A-level hire are almost zero. Incidentally, is also true that external executive search and third-party recruiters are unlikely to put the most effort into a search that is unlikely to succeed as a result of the roadblocks put up by a bad hiring manager.

II) Factors related to a manager’s hiring skills and capabilities

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  • Weak managers fail to do candidate research — many managers, in this case, both the good ones and the weak ones, fail to do adequate research into the background and the needs of top candidates. But weak managers sometimes don’t even bother to review the resume before an interview begins. This “no research” approach might be OK for most average or active candidates (because they have “easy to meet” job acceptance requirements), but A-level talent haas extremely high expectations and a detailed list of requirements that must be met (and deal-breakers that must be avoided) before they will accept the job. The very best managers proactively identify and then meet each of the major job acceptance criteria of A-level talent.
  • Weak managers are bad salespeople — a weak manager is certainly capable of selling an average active candidate. However, it takes a much stronger set of sales skills and knowledge of the current market to sell the currently employed, top performers, game-changers, and innovators. Weak managers fail to conduct research and are not up-to-date on the latest recruiting sales and closing approaches. As a result, it is unlikely that weak managers will be able to close most of the best candidates.
  • Weak managers are unlikely to innovate during recruiting, driving away innovators — weak managers simply don’t innovate very often. That is OK in most cases because the average hire doesn’t expect anything unusual during the hiring process. However, A-level talent and innovators will view the level of innovation and technology usage (e.g. live remote video interviews, simulations, real problem-solving contests) that they encounter during the recruiting process as an indication of the rate of innovation and technology usage in the job and the firm. In addition, if they aren’t offered the opportunity to innovate during the interview, their capabilities will be undiscovered and their frustration will likely cause them to drop out of the recruiting process.
  • Failing to do benchmarking and competitive analysis may result in noncompetitive jobs and offers — you cannot recruit in isolation, so hiring managers must be up-to-date regarding the benchmark standards for top candidates in the current recruiting market. Unfortunately, weak managers are frequently unwilling to spend the necessary time required to analyze what competitors are offering and to make adjustments to ensure that “their job” is compelling and clearly superior to what the competitors are offering. Weak managers are also unlikely to monitor a competitor’s hiring cycles, so that they can focus their recruiting during times when they can avoid direct head-to-head competition with competitors that possess a strong employer brand.
  • Weak managers don’t know how to manage competing offers — if the A-level candidate is currently employed, there is a high probability they will get a counteroffer from their existing boss. Even if they’re not employed, top candidates are likely to get one or more offers from other firms. Unfortunately, weak managers are often inflexible and are not willing to even make a counteroffer. Those that are willing to make one, often lack the skills necessary to successfully negotiate with the candidate and their own compensation department. The end result is that candidates who are in the highest demand will be lost.
  • Managers who are not up-to-date in their field frequently write poor position descriptions — weak managers are often behind the times in the latest tools, technologies, best practices, and approaches in their technical field. As a result, the job descriptions and the position announcements that these managers help to create or that they approve will signal immediately to exceptional candidates that this job will not be exciting or challenging. As a result they will not even apply for the position.
  • Weak technical skills may lead to poor candidate screening — weak managers who are behind in their technical field will also make errors during resume screening. When they are asked to screen through a stack of “finalists” resumes who are presented to them by the recruiter, they may make serious errors in the ranking of top candidates. As a result of their low knowledge level, some of the top candidates may never be invited in for interview. Obviously their weak technical skills and knowledge will also come through during the interview.

III) Factors related to weak management skills and capabilities

  • Weak managers are poor decision-makers — managers who make numerous poor decisions would have to be labeled as weak managers. It’s highly likely that a manager that uses a poor decision-making process for business decisions will also use a flawed approach to make hiring decisions. The net result will be that the best candidates may be screened out early or they will not be selected as the finalist.
  • Weak managers are slow decision-makers — weak managers are often indecisive. Even if a manager uses a good decision-making process, if they are slow at making the final decision in hiring, it won’t matter because the best candidates will be gone weeks before they can make a final decision.
  • A poorly managed interview processes signals weak management — weak managers often develop and execute weak interview processes. Unfortunately, top candidates will project your ability to manage them based on how well you manage their interview process. If the interview starts late, include weak interviewers, are disorganized, or they include inappropriate, illogical, or illegal questions, the candidate will likely assume that the manager who owned the process is a weak manager.
  • Poor feedback during the hiring process indicates poor feedback on the job — if a manager is weak at communicating and providing feedback during the hiring process, most top candidates will assume that those weaknesses will also exist after they accept the job. Therefore you are likely to lose any candidates who receive mixed messages and slow or no feedback.
  • Weak managers are more likely to be biased and to generalize — in some cases, managers produce poor business results because they use their own biases and generalizations to make judgments. Weak managers are less likely to understand the value of diversity and in all too many cases, they end up hiring people that look and act “just like them.” This may result in candidate slates with low diversity and below average diversity hires.

IV) Factors related to a ego or inflexibility

  • “C” level managers won’t attempt to hire “A” level talent — Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, is a supporter of the premise that weak managers seldom hire A-level talent. They often don’t even try to hire superior talent out of fear that the new talent might challenge them or even take their job. Hiring talent with skill levels below them may increase their sense of security.
  • Weak managers may overreach in their job requirements — weak managers are often unwilling or incapable of training and developing new hires. So in the cases where a hiring manager is willing to seek out superior talent, they often set the minimum job requirements or specs (skills, education, and experience) unreasonably high so that they will not need to train, coach, or mentor the new hire. Unfortunately, setting unreasonable job requirements will reduce the available talent pool, so few qualified candidates may be available at the salary the company can offer. At the very least this “overreaching so that they will need to coach” will make the recruiter have to look much further, and that alone will delay hiring. These unreasonable job specs may also result in an unfilled position.
  • Weak managers may insist that the job remain unchanged — weak managers are often inflexible, unwilling to change, or to make an exception for any individual. This can be a problem because top performers, game-changers, and innovators already know that they are in high demand. And as a result, it is not unusual for this type of candidate to begin the interviewing process with an expectation that the job duties and the assignments will be negotiable. And as a result, they expect the job will be at least partially be tailored to their specific interests and needs. The arrogance of the hiring manager may cause them to refuse to even consider a change in the job. They might also refuse to even consider a change because they fear the possibility of having to explain to their current workers why this individual received something that they did not get.
  • Weak managers may be incapable of making high salary offers — currently employed top performers, game-changers, and innovators almost always demand top salaries. Some weak managers are insecure and they certainly don’t want any team member making close to what they get paid. Others are simply not capable of successfully negotiating with compensation, so they never even try to get the highest salary offer. Even if they are capable, they often make no attempt to get the highest offer because once again they fear having to explain to current team members why this new hire is starting at such a high rate of pay. As a result, a level talent will frequently refuse to even consider what they view as a lowball offer.

Final Thoughts

Once you get over the shock of learning how much damage weak managers can do to hiring, you need to take action. The most logical first step is to provide every new hiring manager with hiring training and support information. That training would also be offered to the hiring managers with the weakest track record in recruiting.

As a second step, recruiting management should also consider implementing a service level agreement that spells out the specific expectations for both the recruiting function and the hiring manager. Hiring managers that don’t meet their SLA requirements would be provided no corporate help and they would be required to cough up the money to pay for a third-party recruiter.

A third action step, if you have the courage, is to prioritize your hiring managers based on their track record. Those hiring managers who earned the lowest priority would go to the bottom of the requisition queue and they would get the lowest priority in resources and recruiter assignments. Taken together, the shock of receiving slow service, having the least-experienced recruiters, or having to pay for third-party help may be enough shock to get these weak managers to follow the rules and to repeat the course covering great hiring.

One last thought: Why not take a trip over to HR and demand that it implements a “bad manager identification program.” If a weak manager is destroying your chances for recruiting A-level talent, imagine what damage they are also doing in the areas of productivity, retention, and innovation!

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



17 Comments on “20 Reasons Why Weak Managers Never Hire A-level Talent

  1. 100% true. In short, many mid-level managers are INTIMIDATED by talented people and do not let them get hired or advanced, possibly fearing for their own position. They want weak timid people they can boss around. The real go-getters do not go through. I have experienced this myself.

  2. The last 10 years have produced hiring managers that do not have the experience to recognize talent. In addition, they do not hire candidates that are senior, rather than saying, I can learn from this candidate, they tell HR that they do not fit in to the team culture.

    “A” Players are being overlooked because fear has taken over because of the all the layoffs.

  3. John, your observations are factual in many organizations. These same weak managers are the same people that were hired to manage organizations. It only reflect that those who hired these managers have the same level of competencies, “Birds of the same feathers flock together”.

    On the other hand, many HR professionals do not have the competencies of firing these types of ‘weak managers’. The lost and roadblocks created by these managers are somehow reflective as deficiency as well to the HR Organization.

    Instead of creating a well diverse, top talented people with leadership qualities who will advance progress of the entire organization …they are condoning or baby sitting ‘weak managers’ promoting stagnation of the organization.

  4. As an HR generalist who “coaches” many hiring managers – its been my experience that they lack the necessary interviewing skills to hire great people. They practice the traditional Q/A approach instead of facilitating a meaningful dialogue. BillK

  5. @Dr. Sulivan- an expansion on this point:
    “Weak managers may be incapable of making high salary offers”.

    Strong, medium, or weak managers often can’t get the best talent because their company neither pays the best, has the best benefits, quality or work life/work-life balance, opportunity. or anythjing meaningful. My suggestion for hiring managers is to first find out what percentage of median you’re able to pay (or your company is with one or another of these other factors) and look accordingly for that type of person. You might get someone exceptional willing to work for you when you don’t have anything special to offer, but DON’T COUNT ON IT.


  6. Hello Keith – I respectfully want to offer a different paradigm. We need to be more specific relative to what level we’re hiring – but, if its a good fit, the right challenge and a good culture – people will accept a somewhat lower salary. Especially with some of today’s younger executives. BillK

  7. Very comprehensive assessment of these issues. As an HR professional I’ve witnessed many, if not most, of these situations taking place in organizations over the years and it is truly unfortunate for all involved.

    A separate, but related problem stemming from ineffective management is that if and when one of these folks accidently or intentionally does manage to hire top talent, they inevitably find several opportunities to inject countless obstacles to prevent that person from living up to their potential or finding sustainable success in the organization.

    Whether out of ego protection or some other misplaced justification, they do whatever it takes to ensure that the top talent remains below the radar. Even if not dealing specifically with weak management, you’ve outlined quite a few excellent points that should be considered during any hiring process.

  8. My perspective may not be a good fit for this forum (blog)? Too much theory, not enough application. What do we do with those marginal managers who aren’t bad enough to terminate, but have marginal people management skills? As an HR Director responsible for management development I am frequently asked to give them some management training (or as they they say, “Fix’m”). I know the problems weak managers create, and I’ve seen very few organizations who either know how or are willing to invest the resources to fix the problem.

  9. Interesting article – and with the advent of sites like LinkedIn it’s even easier than ever to research hiring managers.

    On the subject of minimizing the damage from a weak hire, I read that Zappo’s offers a $1,000 payment to people on their first day to quit. This removes someone who isn’t fully committed to the culture, and is a lot less expensive than having to deal with the toxicity of an unhappy person down the road.

  10. This article is “spot on” and is evident in the various firms that I have worked with as a executive management coach and consultant. Managers who are INTIMIDATED by talented people are a detriment to their firm – a good manger will always strive to hire the best talent available as it helps them and their firm grow and be competitive – it sets them apart from the crowd

  11. @Bill: We actually agree on this- a company can hire a superior person with less than a superior salary, but the company needs to have SOMETHING superior. More often than not, all many companies have is an overblown sense of their own worth.

    IMHO, empowering the hiring manager to make good hires and requiring them to do so as part of their jobs is best. If an otherwise competent manager is unable to do this, they should be trained to do so, and if they are still unable to do so, hiring should be removed from this person’s duties, and if that isn’t possible, they should be fired- they aren’t doing their job properly. Not doing this leads to some very bloated, bureaucratic, and dysfunctional hiring procedures. Furthermore, it might be best for companies to invest in creating what I call “Robust Organization”: an organization whose structure and practices are so effective and efficient that there are no indispensible people required for it to succeed. i.e. “We can make lots of money without having to hire superstars!”

    It puzzles me when people are surprised by typical organizational results- ISTM that most for-profit organizations have a thin veneer of pragmatic, profit-oriented rationality over a huge, slimy structure controlled by the GAFI Principles (Greed, Arrogance, Fear, and Ignorance/Incompetence) which actually dominates how the organization runs. Consequently, talented/thoughtful/courageous people are a threat to the status quo, aka “the firm”.


  12. I was hired by different team manager and placed in another team and found my manager jus cares for people of his own community and place or for people who jus butter him. I am very straight forward in work, like to be hardworking striving to achieve higher roles & responsibilities, but due to my immediate boss way of behavior, i am unable to progress and i find this happening not in jus one place but in many companies. They realize my potential and say you are hardworking, whenever i put my paper. why dont the guys recognize and bring top performers above and give the chance instead of having exit interview where they ask why r u leaving..

  13. Age discrimination is one big reason A-level talent is not hired. If you’re over 40 or 50, you’ll just be declared “overqualified” and never even given a chance. And then they’ll whine about not being able to find talent.

  14. I am working in a international BPO. My company has weak middle level management. I am working as a Team Leader.I know there are certain things which are not right or needs to be change but they are not supportive. How can I motivate them or change those things? Can anyone help me?

  15. I’ve had my experience being hired by extremely well HM and bad ones. The extremely good ones are the ones that give one interview and make a decision and are confident. The weak ones are the ones that keep asking for more cannidates and multiply interviews with multiply people.

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