“She Seemed Perfect For The Position.” What Went Wrong?

These are the exact words of a CEO I was recently talking with about a search to replace a candidate they had hired six months earlier and wasn't performing.  The CEO explained how they had spent a lot of time with the candidate, she had multiple interviews, she completed a DISC assessment, and simply put, “We all loved her for the position.” Yet, after all of this effort the person wasn't able to perform.  It all seemed very perplexing.

My partner, Barry Deutsch, and I have heard this same story many times in our  collective 50 years+ as recruiters and in our hiring best practices workshops. One thing we can all agree on is that something went wrong. Although no hiring process in the world will get 100% results, it is possible to raise the hiring accuracy to  the 80% level.  That is pretty good considering studies have shown that traditional hiring methods produce candidates that meet or exceed the hiring manager's expectations around 56% of the time. This shows that something is going wrong with hiring in many companies.

I started by asking two questions to better understand how they went about hiring this “perfect” candidate.

  1. I asked if she would email me the job description. It was very traditional. It was mostly focused on the candidate's background and experience, not the job. In reality it was a people description, not a job description. It had great detail about all of the experience they wanted the person to have, education, years of experience, all the behavioral traits, a very comprehensive list of duties, tasks, and responsibilities, and requirements for management and leadership. Over all it was well thought out and I know they spent a lot of time developing it.
  2. The next thing I asked her was, “Have you audited, not co-interviewed, but audited whether the people in the hiring process are even competent interviewers?” She said, “No.” So another classic problem reared its ugly head. What if just one wasn't competent at interviewing? Interviewing is only as good as the worst interviewer on the hiring team. People often assume that just because a person has hired in the past they must be good interviewers. This is just not true.

It was easy now to identify why this person, that everybody loved, may not have worked out.

  1. The job description didn't really define the real job. It defined a person everyone expected  or thought could do the job, because they had done it before. Not true. Just because someone has done the job before it may make them a great X, but it doesn't make them the right X for your position. This is positively the number one biggest hiring mistake.
  2. The people doing the interviews were not trained and since the job description didn't describe the real job, most just conducted a generic interview. They asked the same questions they were asked in interviews. They assumed what the real job was and asked if the person had ever done these tasks before. Which of course they had, as it was obvious from the resume.  Add to that the likability factor and is it any wonder why this hire went wrong?

If she wants to hire a successful person, the first step is defining success in the role. Few job descriptions actually do this. Most define a person's background and experience along with the very basic duties and tasks. Neither of which define success. If the person only performed the listed duties and tasks most would not consider this a top talent hire. She had to define outcomes. What level of performance is this person going to be held accountable to? Even the basic duties have an expected level of high performance. For example, process X number of invoices per hour, make X number of sales call per week, receive a score of X or higher on customer feedback forms, respond to all customers within 24 hours, and so on. Now this defines performance and success.

Then she had to develop interviewing questions that determine the person's ability to deliver this level of success. Now the people interviewing are actually interviewing with a purpose. Not just a free for all. Everyone understands what  the goals are and what questions to ask. It is not random. The people interviewing are now focused on determining the candidate's ability to deliver these results.

Finally, the candidate also knows what will be expected of them when they come on board. In some cases this will scare off those good solid below average performers. Once they know what is expected of them they may not want the job. This is a good thing.

Join the other 10,000 CEOs, key executives and HR professionals and download a FREE copy of our best-selling book, You’re NOT The Person I Hired. Just CLICK HERE  and under the FREE Hiring Resources section you can download our free eBook.

Retaining your best talent is always the best thing any company can do. Download our FREE Non-Monetary Rewards and Recognitions Matrix. It will help you retain your best people without additional compensation. CLICK HERE to download under the Free Resources section.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.



Hiring Mistake #5: Historical Bias

Hiring Mistake #5: Historical Bias of focusing of past experience instead of past successes

A major mistake occurs in the hiring process when interviewing candidates. There is a tendency to equate, extrapolate, and extend experience to be the same as results. There is an enormous gap between experience and results. Historical experience DOES NOT EQUAL results.

A candidate who has obtained results will have “enough” historical experience; however, the candidate who has lots of historical experience may not have obtained good results.

A high percentage of hiring executives and managers make the mistake of accepting historical experience as proof of obtaining results. This mistaken perception leads to the hiring of candidates who are only “partially competent.” They can’t walk the talk!

Have you ever hired a candidate who had all the boxes checked on the job description for the experiences you listed, but couldn’t get the results you needed in the job? This hiring mistake is Number 5 on our list of the Top Ten Hiring Mistakes – Historical Bias. Many hiring executives and managers have trouble making the leap to measuring and validating a candidate’s past results in the interview (perhaps they never been trained, or read our book, or attended our workshop – You’re NOT the Person I Hired). They fall victim to having an interview bias toward historical experience instead of results.

You might want to view our series on hiring mistakes starting with:

Can You Avoid the Most Common Hiring Mistakes?


Interviewing Candidates Like You Would Pick a Heart Surgeon

Suppose you need emergency heart surgery to open a blocked artery, and you have a choice of two surgeons.

The first surgeon has 20 years’ of experience and has performed more than 1,000 open-heart procedures. The second is only in his third year of practice and has less than 50 procedures under his belt.

At first glance, the more experienced surgeon would seem the obvious choice. But what if you knew this surgeon has only a 50 percent survival rate, while the second has yet to lose a patient?

Think it might change your choice of surgeons?


Experience Does Not Equal Results

As we mentioned earlier, there’s a big difference between experience and results.

Failure to understand this difference, is the primary cause behind Hiring Mistake #5: Historical Bias.

Historical bias occurs when hiring managers base their primary hiring decision on past experience/past history when assessing job candidates. They use past experience rather than past success to guide their hiring decisions.

What’s the difference?

Past experience is being in a certain role, having a certain skill or possessing certain knowledge based on years of collecting it, doing it and using it. Past success is the application of that skill, knowledge and experience.

For example, I may have spent the last 15 years developing my computer skills, which looks great on the resume. But unless you go beyond that experience and look at my actual success in applying those skills on the job during that timeframe, you have no way of knowing whether I can apply those computer skills to produce the specific results you need in your company.


You Make False Assumptions in Measuring Candidate Past Experience

In most cases, historical bias results from false assumptions regarding the candidate’s ability to perform on the job.

Let’s play this out in an example. Suppose you want to hire an sales professional. When you take a historical approach to hiring, you assume that if the candidate has worked in sales in a specific industry for a particular period of time, he should be very effective at selling in that industry, in that channel, and to the people who buy that product.

The problem with this assumption is that it doesn’t measure the candidate’s past success against the results you need in your environment. All you’ve done is check off the fact that the candidate has 12 years of experience in your industry, AND you made the FALSE ASSUMPTION that he’s a good sales rep because he has done it for so long. For all you know, he could be a lousy salesperson with a sales manager who tolerates mediocrity.

Have you ever made this mistake? Stupid question – of course you’ve make this mistake. In over 2,000 presentations over the last two and half decades, and over 1,000 executive search projects, I have yet to meet a hiring executive or manager who will not readily raise their hand on that question. In fact, most hiring executives and managers will admit to making this mistake over and over.

Here’s a more painful question: how many of the managers who work for you keep making this same mistake?

Hiring based on past, historical, and chronological experience has another problem: the lack of objective measurement criteria.

The traditional process of assessing candidates is based on the wrong assumption of “haves.” Do you have “X” amount of this knowledge with this product, or distribution channel? Do you have “Y” years of performing this particular task? Do you have “Z” amount of work in this niche, industry or segment?

These criteria may or may not lead to success. But you’ll never know for sure since you aren’t measuring the candidate’s past success, and you aren’t relating it to what you need on the job.

Eliminate Historical Bias

To avoid Hiring Mistake #5, and the false assumptions of past experience, DO THE FOLLOWING:

  • Define the success you’re looking for in the future. Go beyond the traditional hiring criteria of education, credentials and years of experience and define the success factors for the job. These are the quantifiable, measurable results you need for that specific position. (see: Overcoming Hiring Mistake #1: Inadequate Job Descriptions.)
  • Validate comparable and similar successes the candidate has achieved. During the interview, ask success-based questions that get the candidate to illustrate how they have produced similar results to the ones you’re looking for. Ask for multiple examples of those results.
  • Draw a bridge between the two. Determine whether the candidate’s past successes are good predictors of the future results you need accomplished. If the candidate has produced similar, comparable and like results, he should be able to produce the results you have defined.

Keep in mind that you’ll never find a candidate who has accomplished the same exact success that you’ve defined as a result needed in the job. Instead, look for examples of past successes that are similar in size, scope, effort, time frame, complexity, budget and number of people involved. The more closely the examples match your defined success factors (expected results), the more predictive they will be of future success on the job.”

Does this mean that hiring executives and managers should throw experience, knowledge and credentials out the window?

Of course it doesn’t mean that. Many jobs require a certain credential, professional designation or experience with a particular product. Just don’t base your hiring decision solely on historical and past experience.

Keep in mind that past experience is not a proven predictor of success for your job opening. Past success/results, and how they help predict whether a candidate can succeed in your work environment, will always lead to better hiring decisions.

What’s your action plan to eliminate Hiring Mistake #5: Historical Bias – from the interview tactics used by other executives and managers in your organization? One of our previous posts got to the issue of how you can STOP all your executives and managers from making this hiring mistake and the other 9 from our Top Ten List:

An Easy Hiring Mistake to Fix

Consider taking our FREE Hiring Assessment to determine if you have an effective hiring process designed to hire top talent. Click here to take the FREE Hiring Assessment.

Barry Deutsch


P.S. You might consider reading our FREE e-book on hiring top talent, a best selling guide in the hands of over 15,000 CEOs and Key Executives worldwide who have dramatically improved their hiring accuracy.

Why Hiring Fails: Hiring Mistake #2 – Superficial Interviewing


Next to not defining success, superficial interviewing is the second most common mistake made in the hiring process that leads to hiring failure.

There are two key elements to effective interviewing: Asking the right questions and validating the truth in the candidate answers.


Asking The Right Questions

Where do most CEOs, Executives, and Managers learn what interview questions to ask in an interview?

After having presented our program to over 30,000 CEOs, Executives, and Managers in the last 20 years, the vast majority tell us that they learned what interview questions to ask when they were originally interviewed 8-12-22 years ago. These questions form a collective group I like to call the 20 standard, stupid, inane, canned, silly interview questions based on tribal hiring. They are tribal in the sense that we blindly follow the questions the generations before us have asked, assuming that if they asked those questions, perhaps you should also ask those questions. What do these questions sound like?

  • Tell us about yourself
  • Why are you here today?
  • What do you know about us?
  • What do you want to be in 5 years?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Would you like to do this kind of work?
  • How strong are your computer skills?
  • We like team players – how do you feel about working in a team?

What we get as answers from these questions are the practiced, rehearsed, canned responses that are a complete waste of time. These questions do not reveal any insight regarding someone’s performance ability, past success, ability to deliver your success expectations, character, values, and typical behavior?

Why bother?

Instead, let’s just pick people off resumes and hope for the best – we’ll probably have as much luck. Let’s talk about luck for a minute. The entire process of asking the 20 standard, stupid, and canned interview questions focus on picking candidates who are the best at answering these questions. These questions have NOTHING to do with real work. They are an artificial set of questions designed to measure how well someone interviews – NOT how well someone will do in your open position. If we get a great employee – I’ll suggest it’s more a function of luck than any effective interviewing process or methodology.

Have you ever selected a candidate that said all the right things in the interview and then quickly fell apart after being hired? Of course you have – that’s where we got the title of our book and popular Vistage and TEC Speaker Program, You’re NOT the Person I Hired. How about this scenario: Have you ever hired a candidate that was not a good interviewee – quite, reserved, shy, introverted – you took a risk and hired the person. They turned out to be one of your better hires. Their on-the-job performance level was outstanding. Of course this has happened to you.

How is it possible that sometimes the best interviewees are not the best performers and sometimes the worst interviewees are the best performers?

It happens because the traditional and tribal process of asking the 20 standard, stupid, inane, canned, and silly questions force us to judge candidates on how well they can interview, NOT how well can they do the job. Layer on top of that the fact that we accept superficial responses to these questions and you’ve got the likely probability your candidate will fail to achieve your expectations.

The first step in overcoming superficial interviewing is to ask the right questions. We’ve designed a simple system for interviewing based on 5 Core Interview Questions. The first three questions are based on the most important traits of success. The second two questions are based on whether the person can meet your expectations and achieve them in your unique culture or environment.

We’ll get into the 5 Core Interview questions and the rationale for asking them in a later blog post. To whet your appetite and not leave you hanging, here are the 5 Core Interview Questions. These are based on a collective 75 years of executive search with my partners, over a 1000 search assignments, 250,000 candidates interviewed, and 30,000 hiring managers and executives that have been through our “You’re NOT the Person I Hired” program. In addition, we’ve conducted surveys, research projects, and tracked successful candidates over a 25 year period. All of those measures and activities have brought us to these 5 core interview questions:

  1. Initiative: Can you give me an example of where you’ve demonstrated high initiative in your last position – going above and beyond the call of duty?
  2. Flawless Execution: Could you share with me a task or assignment – – and you had to overcome significant obstacles and hurdles?
  3. Leadership: Could you illustrate your leadership by telling us about an example – where you either were part of the team or led the team? What did you do specifically to help the team achieve their goals or results?
  4. Success Factors: One of our most critical success factors for this role is X. What have you done that is most similar, comparable, like that expectation?
  5. Adaptability: How would achieving this success factor in our environment differ from attempting to achieve it in your previous company?


Superficial Interviewing

Superficial interviewing is the process of taking whatever the candidate tells us and accepting it as the truth.

Let’s think about truth in interviewing for a moment. Think back on all the candidates you’ve ever met in the hiring process. What is the percentage of candidates who have lied, embellished, or exaggerated what they have done or what they thought they could do for you. If I think back over my last 200 presentations to Vistage and TEC groups, almost everyone thinks the number is 100%. I’ll suggest it’s somewhere between 120% and 140%. You might wonder – how could Barry come up with a number like this? It’s because candidates lie, embellish, and exaggerate more than once – 17 times on their resume, 26 times in the phone interview, 38 times in the face-to-face interview.

Many candidates feel comfortable lying, embellishing, and exaggerating because they know you’ll never probe, validate, verify, vet, check-out, confirm, cross-reference, or triangulate their responses. They feel it is okay to claim accomplishments their peers or bosses achieved, give themselves inflated titles, make up their education, and completely misrepresent their responsibilities.

Layer that on top of our usual level of desperation to get the job filled, and now you’ve got hiring executives and managers who don’t want to know the truth. You meet a candidate that you have a great rapport with immediately, and you’ll stop asking questions and start selling the job. If you keep probing, you might discover the candidate’s warts – you don’t want to know their warts – you’re already in love and you want them to get the job.

Our methodology of getting to the truth in interviewing and moving beyond asking silly questions that generate superficial responses is called the “Magnifying Glass Approach.” It encompasses asking for examples, peeling the onion on every claim, and obtaining precise details on the examples, such as starting points, quantification, budget, resources, names of those involved, costs reduced, metrics improved, goals hit, difficulties overcome, and solutions generated. It’s done by asking the candidate WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHERE, WHEN, and HOW?

It involves DOCUMENTING the details from their examples. It’s a form of interviewing that is rigorous and objective. It is IMPOSSIBLE for a candidate to make it up fast enough. They can either immediately substantiate their claims of achievements, results, and accomplishments with great detail and depth, OR they will self-implode before your very eyes within seconds.

Most hiring executives and manager ask the candidate a question, hear the response, then think to themselves “good answer”, and then move on to a different line of questioning. We glaze across the top of the interview thinking we’re doing a good job of collecting information. Instead of asking 15-20 different superficial interview questions that generate canned responses, let’s ask very few – but dig deeply into each one.

One of the most significant reasons behind hiring failure is the lack of time invested in conducting a rigorous and probing interview.

When should you STOP asking the 20 standard tribal interview questions, and STOP accepting superficial responses?

What Can You Do When Hiring Isn’t Working?

Question: We have a pretty extensive interviewing process in our company. We spend a lot of time making sure the person has the right skills and experience, yet our last few hires didn’t work out. We aren’t sure what else we can do to hire people, any suggestions?

Companies often think that because they have an extensive interviewing process everything should work out. Extensive usually means that they conduct multiple interviews, review the person’s skills and experience, ask a lot of questions and the candidate meets a lot of people in the company. Unfortunately, none of these have much to do with making a good hire.

First off, skills and experience are completely irrelevant in hiring. They are important, just not relevant. You proved this by the fact that you spent a lot of time assessing the candidate’s skills and experience, yet they still failed. Why? As a hiring manager, what you care about is the candidate’s ability to apply those skills and experiences in order to achieve certain results. If they can’t then they may be a good candidate, but they aren’t the right candidate. The focus of an interview should not be on “Have you ever done X?” but rather, “How would you do X?” The first question focuses on their past. The second question requires them to explain how they will apply their skills and experiences. It is always better to ask, “How would you?” than “Have you?”

Secondly, interviewing requires competent interviewers. I would like to know if you have ever sat in and assessed others during their interviews to determine if they are even competent interviewers? So often we just assume that everyone is a great interviewer, when in fact they are not. Your interviewing process is only as good as your worst interviewer.

Join the other 10,000 CEO's, key executives, and HR professionals who have downloaded a FREE copy of our best selling book, “You're NOT The Person I Hired.” Just CLICK HERE for your FREE ebook.

Want to assess your hiring process? Download our FREE 8-Point Hiring Methodology Assessment Scorecard. How does your company rank on these critical points? CLICK HERE to download.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback. If you liked this article and found it helpful, please forward it to others.

Brad Remillard

Is Experience Overrated in Selection?

Ad Age Blog

Anthony Young posed the question in a posting on the Ad Age Blog whether experience was overrated in selecting advertising agencies. Here’s a short excerpt of what he said:

In new business, agencies frequently like to speak to their experience, but do clients place the same importance on it? In a recent new-business meeting we had with a prospect, I insisted that we not present any credentials or client case-studies. The pitch team was unsure but agreed to go with it. The clients' feedback: Of all the agencies they met, we impressed them the most.

We can extend this idea of “is experience overrated” to hiring and a variety of other selection issues. Here was my response to this comment about using experience as “selection” criteria”:

You make a very good point asking the question of whether experience allows you to predict future performance. This is the tribal methodology employed by most companies, whether it's in the hiring process or the selection of vendors, suppliers, consultants, coaches, and service firms.

We've written an entire book on this subject,  based on 25 years of research, why hiring at a managerial and executive level fails over 50% of the time. One of the primary culprits in this failure is an over-reliance on past experience.




One of the key problems in “selection” is that the “client” does not know what they want in terms of outcomes or results. Without a specific quantifiable definition of success, it becomes very difficult to select on past successes and draw the comparisons to whether or not your candidate/vendor can deliver your expected outcomes in the future. Without a definition of what success looks like in the future, most executives and managers fall back on the tribal approach of making selections based on prior experience.

Using prior experience fails often, but it's safe. It's comfortable. It's what we've always done. And it's CYA. If the candidate, vendor, or agency fails, everyone can point at the fact that they had the “right” prior experience – therefore the executive responsible for making the decision should not be held accountable for the failure. NOT defining future success for selection decision-making and NOT using it in the selection process is a wonderful technique of absolving yourself of accountability.

Using past success or performance is scary for most executives since they are uncomfortable putting their necks on the line to define future outcomes (and possibly being held accountable for communicating what they plan to do), and they've never been formally trained in how to validate past successes and use it to predict future success.

You state this eloquently when mentioning that companies are very slow to adopt to change because the entire “system” gives too much value to past experience – which is very conservative, cautious, and the antithesis of change.


If you would like to read the full article, please click the link below:

Is Experience in Media and Advertising Overrated?

What are your thoughts about changing your company culture from an over-reliance on past experience in selection criteria to focusing more on past success or performance?

Do you believe that the tribal approach of an over-reliance on past experience is inherently conservative, stifling, and cautious? Do you believe it limits or hampers creativity, imagination, and innovation?

Barry Deutsch

P.S. Download a copy of our 8-point Hiring Self-Assessment to determine if your hiring “selection” process (and you can use this as an extension to other decision making about suppliers, vendors, consultants, coaches, service firms) is capable of finding and engaging with top talent.