It’s one of the most exciting yet daunting rites of passage for an entrepreneur — when you’ve built the business enough to start hiring team members and employees to help you grow.
You might offer the job to a trusted friend or colleague (or maybe even a family member). You might post the work on a freelancing site, like Upwork or HireMyMom. Maybe you’ve even gone through the process we’ve outlined for you before, on how to hire and work with an apprentice. (If you want to know the pros and cons, here is a good article from the Time Doctor blog to check out)
You’ve collected all their resumes, narrowed it down to your top choices, did video interviews with the best candidates, and finally made an offer to the newest member of Team You.
But after just a few weeks on the job, you start to get a sinking feeling in your stomach. The red flags are beginning to fly like yellow cards at a World Cup game.
Did you make a mistake? Was this the right person? Is it them… or you?
Fortunately, we’ve had a lot of experience hiring (and unfortunately firing) in our time. While we usually do well and have refined our process down to a pretty fine science, nothing is ever perfect.
We’ve definitely made mistakes and ended up with folks on our team that just couldn’t continue; and we had to learn not only how to spot these bad (for us) hires, but how to deal with it and learn how to avoid it going forward.
In this post, we’re mostly going to be talking about the consequences of hiring independent contractors and virtual team members that don’t work out, as this seems to be the most common situation among readers.
If you are hiring full-out employees, especially in the same places that your company is domiciled, there might be even more that you have to do to deal with a bad hire — you should probably talk to a legal professional about that, we’re just website brokers with a blog and some life experience to dole out.
Conservative estimates from business schools and organizations pin the costs of firing a wrong hire at (at least) 20 percent of their salary. Since these are traditional sources, you can assume they are talking 20 percent of their annual salary.
There are often sunk costs of training and salary that are now lost, termination costs, costs to hire a replacement — and this doesn’t even take into account intangible expenses, like team morale and customer trust. Who knows how those might hit your bottom line.
This is all to say, we want you to avoid getting in too deep with the wrong person, as the longer you keep them on board, the worse it will get.
But it isn’t always easy to spot a bad hire. Here are some of the most common red flags we’ve seen in our own organization and in the businesses of friends.
Be honest. Have you ever hired a designer or developer to work on a site for you, only to have them come back asking the most basic questions about WordPress?
If they’re the experts that they professed they were in their interview, but somehow you know more about the system than they do (and you don’t know a ton!), then something is very, very wrong.
It’s no secret, lots of folks put their best selves on display in an application and interview situation. They want to land the gig! In the best of cases, they plan to just figure it out as they go along.
This isn’t always a break point, as skills can be learned, but fit is a golden asset.
Still, you have a right to be a little concerned with what else they might not have told you or been forthright about in their quest to join your organization. Spidey-senses activate.
It can be overwhelming and frustrating to come to a new organization and have to learn how they do the things you’ve been doing differently for years.
Or maybe, they are coming in and seeing what they perceive to be a flaming dumpster fire, that is passing as your day-to-day operations.
A well-adjusted excellent hire will come forward with their concerns, to do what they can to acclimate or be part of a solution in improving some of the gaps they perceive.
Then…there are those who aren’t so well-adjusted.
They are constantly snipping and snarking on your Slack channels, hanging out by the water cooler to gossip, and questioning your authority and decisions publicly and crudely.
With a bad apple like this, your biggest concern is getting it out of the bushel and away from your other apples (team members, contractors, clients, colleagues) before they spoil everything.
As we said before, many of you are probably running some version of a virtual office or company.
You are hiring independent contractors and virtual staff that are professionals at what they do, and don’t need to be micro-managed. You should be able to just give them their assignments and a bit of background or clarification, and they can complete the work without hand-holding.
This isn’t how lots of people are used to working, though, and the adjustment can be a rocky one. You want to be available to help them get set up, but you can’t spend hours a day telling them every single thing they have to do — nor can you devote the resources of others to spend their time doing this.
It’s one thing to have a new hire that needs a bit more assistance as they get onboard and learn the tasks of their position. It’s another to have a new hire that needs a babysitter to ensure that work not only gets done well, but that it gets done at all.
This is, in part, the bad time management problem above. But it goes way deeper.
Maybe as soon as they were hired, they hit you with “Oh, by the way, I have this 10-day cruise I already had planned, and won’t have my laptop or wifi access.” Or perhaps they are always late getting to your team calls and meetings.
Perhaps you’ve seen them sharing a ton on social media about their personal projects, but you have a growing list of incomplete tasks and deliverables mounting that makes you wonder what they are spending their time on.
You are never going to own all your hire’s time.
They have things to do outside the demands of their position, and really should pursue those things, as happy and well-rounded people tend to do better work.
But if those things are interfering with getting their current work done, then that’s never a good sign. In fact, it usually means that they have one foot out the door anyway — which is a problem for any team member, but especially for someone who was brought on recently.
Never, in the history of work and jobs, has a more irritating phrase escaped the lips of someone who is tasked to do something.
Now, it is entirely possible that they have good reason for saying this. Maybe you are asking them to do something that is totally outside the scope of what you originally agreed on, and they are letting you know that this is a request they aren’t comfortable fulfilling without adjusting that contract.
Or maybe this is a knee-jerk ego/fear reaction, when what they really should say is “I don’t know how to do that.”
But often, this is something that it uttered by folks who simply want to show up and get paid, and not do anything outside the checklist of tasks to be done.
That might be great for some positions within your organization, but we’re guessing you are hiring folks who are not only interested in doing what they are good at, but also growing and learning new things that will help your company grow in the process.
“That’s not my job” is the Hindenburg of red flags for a non-team-player.
A break up line that sends shivers up the most calm and reserved of individuals, “It’s not you, it’s me” has gotta be in the Top 10 most terrible justifications ever.
Yet, the phrase has gotten a bad reputation among folks who use it haphazardly because they are total wusses.
Sometimes, it really is a situation where you think they are great at what they do and/or who they are, you just can’t see it moving forward in any sort of productive way.
That happens with hires as well.
It doesn’t have to be a bad fit to not be a good fit. Or, maybe it’s just a bad fit all around. There are two specific times we see this happen most often.
As we said before, skills can be learned, but a good personal fit is something that doesn’t just happen every day.
There’s a distinct possibility that you hired this person to do something that you both agreed they would try out and get up to speed on — but that never ended up coming to fruition.
Though they tried their hardest, their skills and experience just isn’t a good fit… for this position.
But you like them. Everyone on the team likes them. They are devoted and have good ideas.
They might be bad at this current role, but would excel and shine in another. They might be the person who moves the dial on your business in a way you’ve never thought of before.
This person is a total rockstar, and not just as an overused buzzword.
When you looked over their qualifications, interviewed them, and started working together, you were in awe of what they could do. They’ve built out and scaled your business in ways you never imagined when you first put up the job posting.
But everyone hates them. Including you a fair bit.
They might be great at what they do, but they are a terrible fit in your culture. So while their work and deliverables may be soaring, everyone else’s tasks are floundering as they grow resentful and bitter.
This person is also, likely, filled with an ego that challenges you in an unproductive way. As the saying goes, these people simply don’t “know their role” — which makes you throw up in your mouth a little bit.
You never wanted to be the kind of boss who disliked a team member and must constantly break up team scuffles that they started, but here you are.
It can be far too easy in situations like this to get caught up in your own insecurities and thoughts. How did you let this happen? What went wrong in your process? Who can you find to do the job if you let this person go?
These are all legitimate questions and concerns, but you are paying attention to the splinter in your thumb rather than the leg that is gushing blood.
For now, deal with the biggest problem — what to do about this hire?
The only way to really know what is going on with someone is to ask them directly.
This is likely going to be an uncomfortable conversation, especially for them. No one likes being told they aren’t doing a good job or need to seriously adjust their personality to function with the rest of society.
Expect any of the following: yelling, crying, defensiveness, hostility, storming out.
Or it could go great, and you could have a really candid conversation with someone on what they need to do to improve. Who knows, in five years, they might just be your star team member.
Do your homework before you sit down with them. Have specific situations or tasks that you noticed or were brought to your attention and ask what went wrong with them. Asking questions instead of assuming you know how to fix it will allow for better conversation as they are explaining rather than defending.
You need to really determine if this is a problem with them, or something you have done.
This is where you need to jump back and review that section on making sure the hire is a good fit.
The biggest decision you need to make at this point is whether you see this person as a valuable enough asset in your organization to move them elsewhere, and whether or not you have an “elsewhere” to move them.
Just as it’s easier to retain clients than it is to find new ones, it is easier to keep a good person who is a bad fit than to find new people.
Yes, you will have to hire someone to do their job, that is an obvious move here.
But if you have the flexibility, and want to continue a professional relationship with your original hire, maybe figure out what they are good at and what they like doing.
Someone may be terrible at managing the logistics of operations, but exceptional at managing your social media and customer service areas. If you’ve been doing that up to this point, moving them to this better suited position might be scary in terms of pay and output, but would free you up to hire their replacement and then focus on other areas of the business you’ve been neglecting.
If the problem is a bad attitude or inability to meld with the team and company culture, then a kind but firm termination is in everyone’s best interest. Again, be prepared for potential yelling, crying, defensiveness, hostility, and storming out.
Make sure you have protected your assets they had access to (email, documents, passwords, financial details, etc.)
It will be worth it to go through everything before your meeting to prepare for “worst case scenario” and lock up those leaks before they are able to get in.
Do you need to assign their outstanding tasks to someone else? Do you need to reset passwords on accounts? Do you need to revoke permissions on various documents and programs?
Of course, most people will not do anything malicious with a termination. It is something that happens, we’re all grown-ups, and we learn deal with things like this. But there’s a reason that in some big corporations, a security guard stands over a recent fire as they pack their desks to make sure they aren’t trying to burn the entire thing to the ground.
We’re not saying that you should send Bubba to terrifyingly stand virtual guard over them. But people do crazy things when they are hurting and upset.
Hopefully you didn’t burn bridges when you declined their application and interviews, and left the door open for potential work in the future.
With hiring, the selection process usually goes one of three ways.
If your hiring rounds resembled Scenario 2 or 3 here, then you might just have a ready made back up built in. Contact the people you weren’t able to hire previously and see if they might still be available.
Maybe the hire doesn’t work out or you grow rapidly and need to hire fast again. If there are other qualified folks you’ve already vetted, why not ask if they’d be willing to give you a second chance?
We know this sounds nuts, but we’ve seen it happen both in our own business and with others.
Yep. This scenario sucks.
No way to make it sound better.
You did all that work, hired someone, paid to train them and bring them into the company culture, and it didn’t work out.
And you don’t have a Plan B.
So what can you do to make sure you aren’t in this exact same position again in two months?
The most common reason for a bad hire is that you rushed the process.
Maybe you were in a jam and just needed a human to do the best they could to get something done, but now that you’ve had time to step back and evaluate, you realize the carnage is not worth the siege.
Or maybe you had that mediocre pool to choose from, and — rather than re-opening the application process — you just made a choice.
Or you thought you had found the perfect person so you hired without digging deep, and they weren’t truthful in the process or ended up being that nasty toxic fit that we talked about before.
Whatever the reason, this time, you are going to be much more diligent and careful with your hiring heart.
There’s a reason the phrase “Slow to hire, quick to fire” is so commonplace, and it isn’t just because it is catchy.
Sometimes you need an outside perspective to see how things got so bad.
This is especially important if the bad hire affected the productivity and morale of the rest of the company. You are their leader, and they need to rebuild a bit of the trust they had in you.
Instead of getting into the down and dirty of gossip and speculation, try to get concrete answers.
If the problem was fit, take the time to better understand and write out your company culture, so you can be clear about that going in. Do this with your standards of hiring so you can see them on paper, but also so applicants know “what they are getting into.”
If the problem was skills, what are the non-negotiable things that a new hire absolutely MUST be able to do?
Create and circulate a list of questions for your team that prompt them to create a list of skills. Ask your whole team to revise and add to the resulting list of skills and description company culture.
By involving everyone concerned, you not only get unbiased input, but you give them an opportunity to let you know how they have been affected and how they hope to avoid the situation in the future.
Losing one bad hire is bad, but experiencing an exodus because of broken trust is terrifying.
Chances are, if you didn’t see the bad hire coming, it was because you didn’t vet them well enough in the interview process.
Sure, sometimes someone will sneak by, but it is supposed to be your job to make sure that doesn’t happen.
In addition to crafting some questions that will address the issues you team and colleagues might raise from the section above, consider some of these that we’ve seen come up again and again in hiring funnels:
These questions also happen to give insight into pretty much every red flag situation discussed above.
Ask any established entrepreneur, and they’ll tell you without hesitation that one of the top most challenging parts of their daily work is hiring and managing a team.
Anyone who says otherwise is flat out lying to you.
Even those who are great at it and enjoy it still recognize the hard work and emotional high stakes involved in entering into a professional relationship with someone.
If doing all this sounds overwhelming, and you’d rather just start a company with an established team and system, we have lots of plug-and-play systems with excellent hiring processes in place on our marketplace. Piggyback off the work someone else has already done, while you get your feet wet in other parts of the business.
While it might seem scary to take the leap, because “the worst” could happen, rest assured that even if it does, you will make it through.
Photo Credit: Thodonal