5 Common Bad Hires and How to Prevent Them

By Roy Maurer Nov 2, 2017
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Recruiters and hiring managers both dread the same scenario: After the first month on the job, the new hire is not the person who shone brightly during the interview and screening process.

Maybe he or she needs more time to acclimate, but warning sign behaviors could also signal that a big mistake was made.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Screening and Evaluating Candidates]

Here are five types of typical bad hires and how to prevent them.

The Bad Attitude

​A new hire with a jerky attitude is one of the biggest nightmares for a hiring manager. Offering constructive criticism from a fresh perspective could enlighten co-workers, but being disrespectful or insubordinate, endlessly complaining, or expressing that things were better "in my old job" are troubling.

"A poisonous attitude is not consistent with a high-performing culture, and this kind of behavior has a strong negative effect on all employees who come into contact with the new hire," said Kelly Marinelli, SHRM-SCP, an attorney and president and founder of HR consultancy Solve HR in Boulder, Colo.

To avoid this problem, beware of candidates who are confrontational or negative from the get-go, said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at recruitment software company CareerBuilder. "If they can't be positive in the interview, it could be a sign of worse things to come."

Marinelli recommended requesting feedback from others who come into contact with the candidate on interview day, such as the receptionist, the parking attendant or the server at lunch. "It's tough for [someone with] a bad attitude to maintain the facade ceaselessly, so you may get lucky and catch this bad hire in the act before it's too late."

The Flimflam Artist

​New hires who lack the skills they said they had are another huge letdown for hiring managers. Maybe they're interview aces but they embellished or exaggerated their qualifications and experience.

"Good interviewers can assess the level of understanding of certain skills, but it's always possible that a candidate lacking in the appropriate skill level but who is a great communicator could slip through the cracks," Marinelli said.

These types of hires quickly lose credibility, which impacts trust and working relationships, added Sharlyn Lauby, SHRM-SCP, author, speaker and president of ITM Group Inc., an HR consulting firm in Weston, Fla., as well as writer of the HR Bartender blog. "Depending on the skills they embellished, they could hurt someone or cause damage. There's a potential liability to the business."

​Lauby recommended verifying candidates' skills and experience with background checks where appropriate and using behavioral interviewing questions to get a sense of a candidate's depth of experience with a skill.

"My favorite way to avoid this disappointing new hire is to include a work task assessment in the hiring process," Marinelli said. "It's not just a test to see if candidates actually possess the skills they are representing, but also a great opportunity for them to see if they actually enjoy performing the work that the employer needs in the role."

Marinelli cautioned HR and hiring managers of the importance of ensuring that a new hire is properly trained in company-specific processes and tools. "Make sure new hires have a full and complete opportunity to perform in the new role before labeling anyone a bad hire," she said.

The Helpless One

​There will be an expected learning curve for all new hires, but if new employees can't get a grasp on the tasks discussed during the hiring process within a reasonable amount of time, make the same mistakes continuously, or require oversight for even the simplest of assignments and are unwilling to make decisions on their own, they become more of a chore than an assist.

"There is an expectation that after a certain amount of time and training, employees are able to do certain tasks on their own," Lauby said. "If that doesn't happen, the company needs to understand why. Is it the employee? Or has the organization failed in some way to give the employee the tools they need to be successful?"

Many organizations are asking candidates about their "self-learning" skills, she added. Candidates could be asked a question like, "Tell me about a time when you had to learn something on your own. What was it that you learned, and how did you go about learning it?"

The Ghost

​These are the workers who can't be found. They just started but they already come in late, leave early or disappear during the day with personal excuses, or they immediately ask for vacation time.

"Of course, there may be many understandable reasons that your new hire is late or requesting time off, but you don't want it becoming a habit," Haefner said. "Make sure you have a conversation about paid time off and punctuality before a candidate is hired so you can identify any legitimate barriers to them keeping their contracted hours."

The Climber

​New employees who quickly begin angling for a new position could be a problem. In some workplaces, this isn't an issue at all, Lauby said. "But in workplaces where paying your dues is an important part of the culture, it can create some friction. Other employees might feel that the new employee is being disrespectful even if the new hire is highly qualified."

Climbers may be able to be identified during the interview and screening process by asking about their expectations, she said. "We have a tendency to cringe at the traditional interview question 'Where do you see yourself in five years?' but it could be an indicator of candidate expectations. The other thing is for the organization to set expectations. If the company expects employees to work their way up, let the candidate know. Don't let it become a surprise."

Employers could also consider using the climber to their advantage, Marinelli said. "Direct this hire's energy toward learning, growing and stretching in the role, and you may find there's a diamond in the rough that you can turn into your best employee. The downside, however, is when the climber loses interest too quickly because no immediate promotion is forthcoming. This hire can quickly turn into the bad attitude example if employers aren't careful."

Spotting a climber in the interview process is complicated, she added. "When you ask an interviewee about future career plans, goals and dreams, most are unlikely to say they'd like to stay stationary. You can't assume every potential hire who wants more in the future is a red flag. Then again, if you have an interviewee who is asking about other jobs during the interview, you can be relatively certain that it's a problem."

Learn from Past Hiring Mistakes

​Experts recommend that HR document what went wrong with bad hires and incorporate what was learned into the organization's hiring process going forward. "A good hiring process requires not only preparation but consistency, documentation and continuous analysis of data so that successful methods can be captured and continued, the need for training can be identified and addressed, and poor processes can be discontinued or adjusted," Marinelli said.

Additional tips include:

  • Be clear about your company's values, culture and the role, from the job description through the interview process. "The key to a successful hiring process is to provide a clear definition of responsibilities for the job, as well as the cultural fit required for success," Haefner said. She added that in order to improve the chances of hiring the right person, recruiters shouldn't just recycle the past job description every time a role needs to be refilled. "Take a new look at your needs and the skills you need added to your team," she said. "Also, remember to keep an eye on the intangibles. A candidate's skill set isn't limited to functional abilities—it also includes how well he or she works in a collaborative environment." Clearly identifying the company's values and culture helps interviewees opt out before they become employees if it isn't what they're looking for, Marinelli said. "For instance, if the company's values include intensity and drive, and a candidate is looking for a laid-back environment, it's best to know this upfront."


  • ​Practice team hiring techniques by involving future co-workers. "One of the best things about peer interviewing is that applicants are able to get a more 'boots on the ground' idea of what it's like to work for your company," Haefner said.
  • Involve subject matter experts during interviews in order to ask specific, technical questions to determine the potential hire's level of expertise. "Subject matter experts are a must in the interview process," Marinelli said. "If they are not available in person, employers should consider videoconferencing them in or having them participate by phone. If there is no internal subject matter expert available, employers should consider bringing in an outside resource to participate in the interview process, especially for critical roles." 
  • Be diligent about reference checks. "View reference checks as a valuable opportunity rather than as a chore, and go beyond simply verifying titles and dates of employment," Haefner said. "Ask the right questions and you may receive insight far beyond what you've learned from a resume or even an interview."

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