The Worst Recruiting Mistakes

Late last year, I checked with my recruiting friends (yes, I still have a few left) and colleagues as to what they thought were the worst recruiting mistakes that companies make. What they said is below. What do you think are the worst?

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Not having the hiring managers also “recruit” during interviews. They need to understand these engineers and others have other recruiters contacting them. They should be selling the company not just doing a rough interview.

  • Hiring candidates based on presentation skills for technical jobs, instead of asking detailed technical questions. Conversely, rejecting technical candidates based on foreign accent who may be an excellent fit.
  • Giving too much credibility to reference checks.
  • Ignoring workers over 50 years of age. I had an excellent track record with engineers over 50; most have excellent work ethics, and are consistent performers.

Low ball offers vs. paying market rates. They may get a hire but chances are the hire will not stick around or not feel valued so performance may be affected. Short-term “gain,” long term loss.

Not returning calls from candidates who have interviewed at the company.

  • Not writing a functional job description and not allowing the recruiter access to the hiring manager to vet the job description.
  • Posting to very general sites and waiting for the right person to drop out of the sky.
  • Not hiring a recruiter as soon as the hiring manager gets the funding to hire someone.
  • Hiring managers not available to discuss details and reports or to interview in a timely manner.
  • Trying to build a candidate pipeline by running open positions that aren’t real (& PO’ing the candidate base).
  • Dragging their heels … until the candidate is hired by a competitor.
  • Skipping due diligence.
  • Not openly communicating needs/requirements to recruiting teams.
  • Not informing recruiting teams of jobs closed … or opened, for that matter.
  • Keeping recruiters in the dark … becoming a black hole.

Lack of or no feedback to candidates — I’ve heard time and time again that candidates (myself included) don’t receive feedback during the application process. It’s especially inconsiderate not to hear anything back after an initial conversation (email or phone) has taken place. Re: applying to an ATS/online — does it really make it to a recruiter, or does it fall into the infamous “black hole”?

Putting someone through the interview process just because it’s an executive’s cousin (unless they are truly qualified) … it never ends well.

Sharing the company’s “dirty laundry” with top candidates.

Quantity over quality.

Undervaluing the pay scale for the position. Also, it’s a bad business decision to postpone hiring –especially for key positions. It does a few things: you can throw too much money at the problem because you’re trying to get the word out; for a recruiter you are always behind the curve on the need; and it can open the company up to bad hires because managers sometimes get desperate to hire. This results in a lowering of standard requirements.

There are so many, but No. 1 to me is hiring an inexperienced recruiter just because he or she is lower on pay to get the job done only a senior person can do. You get what you pay for.

  • Choosing a candidate strictly on skill fit and not taking into account cultural fit.
  • Selecting a candidate because they fit the salary range.
  • Not conducting a background check or checking references; while we assume references will only say good things, I have gathered great information that has caused me to not select a candidate.
  • Not developing questions that vet for the core competencies, key criteria of the position, and cultural fit. Taking the time up front saves time in the end.

Keith Halperin is currently working as a senior contract recruiter and performs additional sourcing work. He has worked in recruiting, placement, search, and research for highly diverse clients (from startups to Fortune 500 firms) throughout the San Francisco Bay Area since 1986. He conceived, designed, and implemented corporate recruiting strategies, and developed a white paper for a $70 million, five-year NASA CS recruiting project. He developed the Recruiting Process Methodology, a comprehensive open-source roadmap of recruiting. He co-founded MyIPOJob job fairs for pre-IPO companies, and founded Recruitersforum, an online job site for all types of recruiting positions.


18 Comments on “The Worst Recruiting Mistakes

  1. Keith, it’s impossible to pick just one No. 1! What I’ve seen is that people guilty of one often compound it with many others from this very comprehensive list.
    ONly the best,

  2. Most recruiters I know have un-realistic workloads – some recruiters I’ve spoken to have over 50 positions they are recruiting on… mistakes are bound to happen when your workload doesn’t allow you luxury of focusing on quality over quantity or getting back to the hundreds of candidates flooding your ATS. However – what I read in this article is alarming to me as a recruiting professional. Are people aware they are openly discriminating? A few of these examples are not “mistakes”… they are conscious acts of gross negligence at best and definitely engaging in illegal hiring practices.

    “rejecting technical candidates based on foreign accent who may be an excellent fit.” – this is a case of discrimination based on race or national origin (or both).

    “Ignoring workers over 50 years of age.” – a case of discrimination based on age.

    If you are unaware that these are illegal hiring practices, then I suggest a refresher course on EEO law. If you are aware of EEO law and are still applying these illegal hiring practices, then I suggest you find a different profession.

  3. @ Ron: Definitely true. Feel free to add your own…

    @ Dominic: “Most recruiters I know have unrealistic workloads” Absolutely true. We’re either drinking from a fire hose or wondering how much longer than keep us with this hiring freeze/ fewer reqs/RIF. (It’s not as if most firms would decide to avoid laying us off by having us do useful things like cleaning up the duplicate resumes in the ATS or working to create talent pipelines….)

    “Are people aware they are openly discriminating?”
    “I’m shocked, shocked that there is discrimination going on in this establishment!” In an ideal world, we would work diligently to curb all aspects of illegal or improper discrimination and report instances when they occur. In reality, if you do this too diligently, you’ll be unemployed. The reality is that you discriminate in such a way as neither you nor the company can get sued- a kinder, gentler (or more subtle and insidious) discrimination…

    Let’s go through your examples and a couple others and see how we can do a “workaround”:
    The goal: “rejecting technical candidates based on foreign accent who may be an excellent fit.” What you say: “Candidates must have excellent spoken and written communication skills”.
    The goal: “Ignoring workers over 50 (or 40 or 30) years of age.” What you say: “*Do you have 10+ years of experience in your field? That may not be a plus.” Anything that mentions “fun”.
    The goal: “Keep out people like ASDs who prefer to work by themselves or have some privacy”: “*open office space ideal for team work”
    The goal: “Hiring all sorts of upper middle-class, (mainly white) people, just like us”: “**BA/BS degree from a top college or university”.
    With the possible exception of one, these don’t actually openly discriminate, but they do have that effect…
    I can go on and on, and will probably will, in a future article…

    *From an actual Craigslist recruiter job posting.
    ** From an actual Ventureloop HR job posting.

    @ Robert: Thank you. It’s my particular reality, but I think it may apply to many others out there- those of us who don’t get paid to speak at conferences or get five-figure consulting fees telling high-level recruiting leaders what they want to hear.


    Keith “Bitter and Envious” Halperin

  4. After an exhaustive selection process the Hiring Manager, supported by a Selection Committee, agreed on their preferred candidate. They obtained excellent in-depth reference checks. Their preferred candidate was told that a letter of offer would be forwarded after approval by the Final Decision Maker (the Hiring Manager’s boss). The Final Decision Maker reviewed the paperwork (without interviewing the preferred candidate) and made a unilateral decision that the candidate would not be offered the position. The position had a very high public profile so all other candidates knew about this mess and refused to take the position. The job was left to the Assistant to the previous incumbent.

  5. @ Brian and Howard: Thank you very much.

    @ Gordon: A fine example. This type of thing happens all the time at a major Silicon Valley “employer of choice” whose services most of us use every day…Much of the work that the recruiters do at this fine establishment is basically dotting Is and crossing Ts in the hiring packets and other such administrative-level work to keep the powerful, arbitrary, and capricious Hiring Committee’s whims satisfied. THIS is recruiting?



  6. @ Keith: I have a way to stop this type of destructive behaviour. The SaaS version is in development.
    Can’t wait to bed it in here in Australia before launching it internationally.

  7. its easy. The people doing recruiting in most organizations are NOT qualified.

    Many times, they do not understand the industry they are hiring for, example – many tech companies have HR people with no background in technology as their first line – the ones that pick and sort resumes and pass them on to technical managers.

    Secondly, people do not hire the best candidates for the job for a variety of reasons – main one being that they are scared they will be displaced.

  8. @ Gordon: I will be very VERY interested to see how you can do a SAAS version of taking a cricket bat (or North American equivalent) to the heads of Greedy, Arrogant, Foolish, or Ignorant/Incompetent (GAFI) Founders, CXOs and Sr. Executives. But seriously, let me know what you’re up to off-forum.

    @ Doug: Thank you very much.
    “will some recruiters ever learn?” Some will, some won’t, some will try and fail, some won’t intend to learn but will anyway…

    @ Serge: Thank you. “The people doing recruiting in most organizations are NOT qualified.”
    Says who? How do you know? Have you objectively evaluated the recruiting abilities of hundreds or thousands of HR specialists and Recruiters as to the depth and broad understanding of a wide variety of industries?

    I have been recruiting for a LONG time, and am a multiple specialist- I’ve looked for over 200 different kinds of positions over the years. I am fairly confident that I have more than a slightly educated layman’s knowledge of ANY of the industries I’ve recruited for, but I like to think I’m a fairly competent recruiter.
    ISTM that a strong recruiter doesn’t need to have done what they recruiter for be a very strong expert in the fields, but they do have to be able to ask the questions necessary to get an overall effective assessment of a given resume/profile/candidate. When I am looking for a new position, or industry, I look on the internet (typically Wikipedia) so that I get an introduction, and what further questions I have I ask someone who knows…As the old saying goes:”Ignorance Is Temporary, Stupidity Is Forever.”

    Let’s say there was an incredible problem with incurably ignorant or stupid people mis-reviewing resumes. You can work around that at least two ways:
    1) You can very affordably outsource quality sourcing and resume screening
    2) You can automate resume screening using a tool that will prioritize resumes based on your criteria.

    In neither case will you eliminate the need for a skilled pair of eyes to looking at resumes/profiles, but it will limit the number of resumes that the skilled pair of eyes has to look at.

    As far as your second part:”main one being that they are scared they will be displaced.”- I agree with you. It’s the “fear” part of the GAFI principles in action.


    Keith “Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution?” Halperin

  9. They’re all things that we deal with on a regular basis. But I still think that the hiring manager not selling the organization to candidates who are looking at multiple opportunities is the biggest foul. Either that or delay in feedback/feet dragging.

    That being said, they’re all pretty typical in the day-to-day, and they all take the wind out of the recruiting process.

  10. In my experience running an executive career management and recruiting firm, here is what I have seen as the worst mistakes:

    -Companies that spend several months, lots of resources and time hiring the best candidate, only to bring them in without any formal training or “on-boarding” process, causing the candidate to get frustrated, feel ignored and worse yet, unimportant

    -Companies that hire someone using a well thought out job description, only to have the candidate leave in 90 days because the job was nothing like what was outlined in the job spec

    Both of these will end a quality new-hire within the first 6 months leaving a trail of paperwork, wasted money and a lot of people frustrated people. And more importantly, both can be avoided with good planning and strong on-boarding practices put in place BEFORE someone is hired.
    Ken Schmitt

  11. Hello again @Keith ! I think there’s a lot of good, specific content here. Your point about “Not returning calls from candidates who have interviewed at the company” is huge. Not hearing back makes candidates want to smash a printer in a field… Or for others, like myself, it means telling all my friends how much I can’t stand x company.

    I don’t think companies realize the danger of upsetting candidates these days. Candidates have computers. Candidates have networks. Candidates have ways to give companies bad publicity. ahhhhh

    BE NICE TO CANDIDATES. That is all.

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