Common Mistakes In The Hiring Process

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What is your HR department doing wrong?

I have spent most of my career on the hiring side of the table, but here is my most honest advice from both sides of the spectrum during the job application and hiring process.

Let’s start with compensation, since that’s what most people say they care about (in practice, I’ve found this to not be true, but I digress).


I have two very dear friends who happen to be sisters. Although genetically similar, in methodology they have proven to be distinctly different.

One of them, in a job interview, was asked how much money she made in her former/current role. She made $45,000 at her current position. She told them she made $60,000. They said, “Awesome. We can certainly match that.” That’s how my friend got a $15,000 bonus. 

Her sister, in a similar negotiation while moving to a new location, told them she made $55,000, “But I understand the economic climate is different here, and I’m willing to adjust for that.” That’s how my friend took a $10,000 pay cut.

If an interviewer asks you how much you made at a previous position, you don’t have to answer. Instead, ask them how much they expect to pay for this role. Companies are required to “prebook” a range for a position before they hire for it to help prevent pay discrimination. If their range is lower than what you were expecting, you can and should ask for what you believe you are worth —  just back it up with why.

Most companies are discouraged from asking about your previous pay or requiring you to submit a pay range, although there are plenty of loopholes around doing so. It's important to note that they aren't asking to intentionally screw you; they're just negotiating for the company's best financial interest. There is no requirement that you must truthfully disclose your former pay during a job interview.

When you are negotiating for pay, it’s important to not be shy or nervous. Pay is something that’s often uncomfortable to discuss, but not embracing it will put you in a situation that you aren’t comfortable with.

If you accept a job at a salary you aren’t comfortable with, that’s only going to get you in hot water. There is no “I’ll spend a few months at this range and then they’ll have to acknowledge my value and bump me to my desired pay range.” No one wins if there is no honesty upfront.

As a business owner, don’t list a job if you don’t know what you’re willing to pay for it. Figure out what you are willing to pay for your HR and operating team to onboard that person. If you haven’t done this yet, do it now. In a similar vein , if there’s someone who you have been talking about terminating for longer than two months, you’ve wasted enough management time — it’s time to terminate them.

Scheduling Interviews Based On Specific Education Requirements/Classes

What’s the one thing that has been consistent across my very best team members? They don't share a common educational background. I've worked with incredible people with master's degrees. I've worked with incredible people who didn't get their GED.

An educational background only shows one type of intelligence, one type of success. The most successful organizations do not succeed because they have cloned one person a thousand times. The most successful organizations succeed because of the strength and diversity of their teams.

If you want to weed people out, ask for a well-written cover letter. If you are serious about applying somewhere, write a cover letter. My best team members share this in common. They explained why they wanted the job and how they would be a benefit to the company.

Inconsistently Asking Interview Questions

If you’ve asked five different applicants 35 different sets of questions, you have no authentic baseline to compare from. That’s  just enough information for you to select based on personality  —  not skill set or work ethic.

To hire successfully, have a standardized interview process that's designed to highlight the skills or behaviors that are important to your company and important for this role to succeed. Spend more time identifying what you want than the time you spend looking for that thing.

Document all the questions that are the most important to your organization, and have a baseline to compare all applicants. While you’re at it, have your best and most successful current team members answer the same questions. Their responses may surprise you and help you better identify what you are looking for in new hires.

Promoting From Within

This can be great. It's certainly a great plaque on the door for company morale. “We promote from within” shows that positive performers are positively rewarded. But a huge switch in department without any former experience is likely not a good idea, no matter how passionate or caring the team member.

The same goes for leadership roles. Just because someone is an excellent performer does not mean they can be an excellent leader. You need to know what skills you are looking for in that position. You could end up losing a talented performer in their initial role, and setting them up for failure in a new position, if it isn't the right fit. There is massive benefit in having strong performers in the roles they excel at. Remember, promotion is not the only way to reward positive work.

Ultimately, human resources is a department that leads the future growth of the company, and the effort behind it must match the uniqueness of the responsibility.

Previously published at For more of Darby Cox's writing for Forbes subscribe to our newsletter.

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