Several years ago I managed a team of engineers at a consulting firm. To account for some substantial growth, we decided to add an additional person to my team. We did the usual recruiting – we posted the job, screened resumes and brought in a bunch of (we hoped) shining stars to pitch us on why we should hire them. One candidate in particular seemed to stand out. Sure he was a little quirky, but in the IT industry a lot of great people are a little odd – most mainstream folks don’t fall in love with linux distributions and spend all night writing elegant scripts to update default printers. We LIKE quirky people.

My first clue that we might have made a judgmental error in hiring this guy was when he showed up 3 hours late for his first assignment. The final straw was when he called in sick to work on a day he was assigned as a key resource to a major project by emailing a picture (I swear I’m not making this up) of two chopsticks taped to his arm with duct tape, claiming his carpal tunnel was acting up and he couldn’t type! We finally terminated him but not before he annoyed some major clients, frustrated his fellow engineers, and absorbed countless hours of management time in coaching and attempts to resolve his performance issues.

Making a bad hire has negative consequences no matter what industry you’re in, but if you are a professional services firm, the consequences are immediate and profound. Loss of clients, loss of revenue, loss of good people and a tremendous waste of time are all part of the fallout from one poor decision. So how can you avoid a bad hire? Here are some important tips and techniques to ensure that you are getting what you expect when you bring a new team member on board:

Ask Tough Questions – Get specific in the interview if you are hiring for a position that requires technical skills or specific industry experience. Asking general questions allows your candidate to present his/her carefully practiced answers. Drill down into specific situations – when did you install that email platform? How many users were on the system? How long did the cutover take? What challenges did you encounter? How did you resolve them? If you are having the individual meet with several team members, assign your most technical person to grill the candidate. It’s ok if you make them a little uncomfortable – your goal is to find out the extent of their knowledge and experience, but it’s also a great way to see how they respond under pressure.

Confirm Certifications – Don’t assume that someone really has the credentials they claim on their resume without checking. You can confirm degrees with the issuing institution, and professional certifications with their originators. Find out when the credentials were earned, whether they have expired, and whether the certifying organization has any feedback they can give you about the candidate. While they are not the Better Business Bureau, most organizations that issue professional credentials will keep track of any complaints they receive about an individual and may even revoke the certification for certain behaviors.

Check Extra References – While every candidate can dredge up at least three people who are willing to say nice things about them, it doesn’t mean they are actually great employees. First look at the titles of the references you are offered. Are they supervisors and high level managers or are they co-workers or friends? Use LinkedIn or inquire within your professional network and see if you know someone outside of their stated references who worked with them at a company they listed on their resume.

Institute a 90 Day Probationary Period – Whenever a new employee starts, you should have a 90 day period to evaluate their performance and decide whether or not to retain them as an employee. Over the first three months you will be able to see them in action and observe their skills and abilities in live situations. Solicit feedback from clients, team members and other individuals in the organization throughout this period to make sure you are getting an accurate picture of their performance.

Any new team member you hire is bound to make a few mistakes in the first weeks and months after they come on board. Transitioning into a new job is stressful at the best of times, and you do need to use your judgment about whether your new hire is truly tanking or just exhibiting some new job jitters.


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