Hiring Mistake #3 – Inappropriate Prerequisites

Hiring Top Talent is NOT the same as ordering in the drive-through line

Hiring top talent is not the same as ordering in the drive-through line at your favorite fast food restaurant.

In many companies, the hiring process is a comprised of picking items off a short list. “I’ll take a cheeseburger, no onions, fries, and a medium vanilla shake.” What does this sound like outside of our fast-food metaphor: “I’ll take a CPA with an MBA, 12 years of experience, previous supervision of at least 14 accountants, and good international accounting experience.”

Once you fall victim to using this fast food approach of defining work, checking boxes, ordering off the menu – then your entire hiring process of how you write the ad, where you place the ad, the interview questions you ask, how you measure a candidate’s real motivation, and what you do with the person after you hire them – is focused on attracting candidates who best fit the tribal box-checking approach. Most job ads contain a long list of prerequisites, such as 12 years of industry experience, an MBA, a CPA, or this skill or that certification. As the resumes come in and hiring managers begin the screening process, they check off those boxes one by one as if they were ordering items from a fast-food menu.

If this is the heart of your hiring process, you have just committed hiring mistake #3 — placing too much emphasis on specific education, technical skills and industry experience as necessary requirements for the job.

The problem with this approach is that it excludes a lot of good candidates early in the process because they don’t get checks in all the boxes. With competition for top talent getting tougher than ever, you can’t afford to screen out the best candidates before they even show up at your door.

Why do most CEOs, Key Executives, and Managers use inappropriate prerequisites for hiring.

Most executives and managers don’t know how to define the outcomes, deliverables and expectations for a specific job, so they fall back on the old tribal and traditional standbys of knowledge, skills and experience. Plus, relying on standard prerequisites allows them to practice the “CYA” method of hiring.

Suppose I hire someone, they fall flat on their face, and the boss tells me I’m a bad manager because I made a hiring mistake. I can say to the boss that I did not make a mistake because we agreed on the prerequisites for the job and I checked them all off. If the person failed on the job, it wasn’t my fault.

False Predictors of Success

Why don’t knowledge, skills and experience lead to good hiring decisions? Because they are not proven predictors of job success.

Just because someone has a certain skill doesn’t mean they can apply that skill in the way you need it. For example, suppose your ad lists ‘strong computer skills’ as a requirement. You get a resume that indicates the applicant has experience using Microsoft Office tools, so you check off the box because you want someone with good computer skills.

But what you’re really looking for is someone who can use Microsoft Access to enter data about clients and then create complex merge Word files for a bi-weekly newsletter. You need a specific application of a skill versus the more generic ‘good computer skills.’ Unless you ask, you have no way of knowing whether the applicant can deliver that specific application.

The same concept applies to experience.

Typically, hiring managers will say something like, ‘I need someone with 12 years’ experience”. However, what is experience? Does it mean the candidate has done the same thing for 12 years? Or have they developed new and higher-level skills on the job? Does it mean the applicant achieved certain results? Or did they just show up and punch the clock every day for the past 12 years?

For all you know, the applicant could have 12 years of producing lousy results, and a person with six years of producing good results could be a much better candidate. When your hiring criteria depend on elements that have nothing to do with success, all you can do is guess.

How do you overcome the innate tendency to look at the wrong criteria? You overcome it by focusing on outcomes and results rather than knowledge, skills and experience.

The first step in hiring top talent is to get very clear about the outcomes and deliverables you need from the job, so that you can measure someone’s ability to get results. The effort of defining the outcomes and deliverables needs to happen before you start screening resumes, doing phone interviews or meeting people for the first time. If you don’t first define success, you eliminate a lot of good candidates who don’t have checks in all the boxes but know how to get the job done.


Inappropriate Prerequisites Screen Out Top Talent

The quickest and most impactful way to improve your hiring process is to teach your managers how to define success on the job. That involves going beyond the traditional job description and creating a Success Factor Snapshot, which breaks down a position in terms of specific, measurable deliverables, benchmarks and timetables. Once you define the job in terms of outcomes and results, it doesn’t matter whether someone has two years of experience or 20. All you care about is whether they can deliver the outcomes you need.

To avoid eliminating top talent in the finding or sourcing phase of the hiring process, stop using job descriptions full of inappropriate prerequisites that are masquerading as advertisements. Most companies post the entire job description (or an abbreviated version of it) in their online ads. We refer to this silly and useless approach as “drill sergeant” advertising, because it barks at the candidate. It says, “You must have this knowledge, skill or experience or don’t bother applying!”

Drill sergeant advertising not only reinforces the wrong criteria, it actually drives away the best candidates. When top talent sees job ads full of inappropriate prerequisites, they get turned off by the description of the job and screen themselves out before you even get a chance to talk with them.

A better approach to attract top talent is to create a Compelling Marketing Statement which describes the outcomes and results you’re looking for, along with some of the challenges inherent in the job. Position the job as an opportunity to achieve at a high level and make a real difference in your company. You’ll get more candidates from the top 25 percent of the talent pool, and because you’re looking for outcomes rather than experience, you won’t screen them out them before learning whether they can produce the results you need.

Is the heart of your hiring process – writing ads, defining work, asking interview questions – based on using inappropriate prerequisites?

Should you be training all your managers how to define real outcomes and deliverables rather than relying on outdated and tribal approaches to hiring?

Share in a comment to this blog post your experience of hiring using inappropriate prerequisites.

Have you visited our website to download a free copy of our e-book to overcome the mistake of using inappropriate prerequisites? Click this link to explore the many free tools, tips, and templates we provide on our website.

Barry Deutsch

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?

Why Hiring Fails: Hiring Mistake #1 – Inadequate Job Descriptions

Inadequate Job Descriptions consistently miss the target of expectations

In one of my last blog posts, I mentioned that I would take the Study we did within the Vistage/TEC Community on Hiring Failure before we wrote our book, and explore the Top Ten Reasons Why Hiring Fails in most companies in greater depth. This blog article explores the first and most critical hiring mistake.


The number one mistake made by the vast majority of hiring managers is not defining SUCCESS for a role – before beginning the recruiting and hiring process.


When you don’t define success up-front, you’re setting yourself up for missing your desired outcomes, success, results, and plans.


NOT defining success is a recipe for disaster in hiring – not to mention company performance.


This number one mistake is the primary cause of hiring failure that occurs in over 50% of all executive and management hires.


Those who have seen our speaker presentation know that we recommend defining success through a structured process called SOAR and the end product is a one-page simple success definition called a Success Factor Snapshot. This success definition has absolutely NOTHING to do with the traditional job description.


The traditional job description is worthless as a tool for measuring and predicting future success through an interview. Let’s consider for a moment what is on a typical job description:


  • Minimum years of experience
  • Minimum educational expectations
  • Minimum listing of duties, responsibilities, activities and tasks
  • Minimum skills and knowledge
  • Ambiguous definitions of behaviors and personality traits


When we look at this list, are we defining top talent or high performance? NO! Instead, we’re defining minimum, average, and mediocre. I’d like to suggest that most companies hiring processes (if we could even call them a process) are geared to hire MINIMUM – AVERAGE – MEDIOCRE employees.

When the listing of minimums are used – as they are in most traditional job descriptions – everything you do in hiring is geared to attract and select a minimum, average, and mediocre employee. The traditional job description of minimums drives how you write the ad, where you place the ad, what ponds you fish in, how deeply you fish, what questions you ask the candidate, how you measure their motivation, and what you do with them after you make a hire.


The traditional job description forces you into tribal hiring practices that have been perpetuated for centuries that focus on trying to hire minimally qualified candidates.


It typically takes a few hours to define success for a particular position. The key steps include:


  • Connecting outcomes to the company objectives.
  • Listing all the obstacles involved in achieving the desired results.
  • Developing a time-phased, quantifiable plan of action items.
  • Defining a future expected result – such as increase sales by 12% for the home health care market.


Why do most companies not invest the time and energy to develop success-based definitions of work – because it’s hard work and takes time. However, if you’re not willing to invest the time and energy in defining success – are you prepared to accept minimal, average, and mediocre results from your team or company?


I compare the process of developing job descriptions/definitions around success instead of minimums to the old FRAM Filter commercials – remember the famous tagline: You can pay now and pay me later.


If you could raise hiring accuracy by a factor of 4-10X over your current level (I’m assuming you measure whether the people you hire achieve your desired results), would you be willing to invest a little time up-front to create better job descriptions that are success-based?


Your investment of time in building a one-page Success Factor Snapshot will dramatically raise hiring accuracy by:


  • Focusing your search in which ponds to fish for the best talent.
  • Eliminating the embellishment and exaggeration common in sales interviews.
  • Leveraging a success-based management tool to keep your new hire on track after they join your team.


When are you going to change your hiring process from using traditional job descriptions listing minimums to a process that is success-based?


Barry Deutsch

P.S. Bonus Tip: You can use our SOAR Approach to creating Success Factor Snapshots for your existing team in addition to using it in the hiring process. Top talent wants to know clearly and precisely what you expect of their performance. This is one way to improve retention and raise employee satisfaction and engagement.

Your Current Team Might NOT be the Right Team

Is your current team that got you to this point the same team that can take you to the next level?

In working with thousands of companies over the last two decades, I’ve discovered a limiting factor for most entrepreneurial-to-middle market companies:


The team that got you to one place may not be the team to get you to the next place.


A team that is incapable of taking you to where you desire to go – is a team that acts like a glass ceiling – limiting your opportunities, compounding your problems, and preventing you from “breaking through” to the next level (I was watching a Doors documentary the other day and the catch-phrases keep turning over in my mind).

If you have a typical team of 5-7 direct reports, perhaps 2-3 are incapable of delivering the results required to achieve your vision, strategy, or expectations. This pulls the entire team down to a lower level. Since everyone’s work is inter-related, the success of your team is collective – not individualistic.

The result is that you’re now 2-3 years further behind from where you wanted to be at this stage, and your slipping backwards at an increasing rate.

So, why haven’t you done anything about your team’s inability to get you the results you require?

We’ve touched on some of the reasons in a few of my past blog articles, such as:


When Did Accepting Mediocre Performance Become the New Normal?

Are You Playing the Game of Let’s Give it Another 30 Days?

Are You Over-Paid?


There’s a fundamental problem in recognizing whether or not your team is the right team to get you to the next level.

Most of the time, the CEO, Key Executive, or Manager has not defined for their subordinate the performance or success required in the job. Therefore, unless the subordinate is a complete idiot, you have NO way of discerning: Do I have the right person on  my team?

If you’ve had the opportunity to see Brad or I present our award-winning workshop, “You’re NOT the Person I Hired,” then you know the correct solution can be found in being able to craft a SUCCESS FACTOR SNAPSHOT (SFS) that directly links back to business goals. Without a SFS, you’re like a rudderless ship at sea.

The SFS gives you the roadmap, guideline, and measurement tool to keep individuals and teams on track toward achieving your desired results.

You can download a few SFS examples from our website by clicking here.

Are you prepared to discover whether you’ve got the right people on the bus as Jim Collins terms it in Good to Great? What’s holding you back from preparing Success Factor Snapshots defining expected results for each member of your team?

Barry Deutsch

P.S. You can also put together a draft of your Success Factors for either a new role or an existing position, and we’ll be happy to conduct a complimentary review.

When did accepting mediocre performance become the new normal?

The New Normal for accepting mediocre results 

Everyone is talking about what the “new normal” is in our post-recessionary period.

Is it getting by with fewer employees, being more nimble on execution, or learning how to be more responsive to customers. In the “new normal”, do employees have higher expectations, customers bring more demands, and suppliers want to partner on a more intimate basis.

Here’s one that’s got me scratching my head:

When did accepting mediocre performance become the “NEW NORMAL?”

Why do so many managers and executives accept the fact that their team cannot deliver the outcomes desired (and that are appropriate for that team). This links back to my previous blog post titled “Are You Over-Paid?” and my blog post titled “Let’s Give it Another 30 Days.”

I’m asking this tough question now in every CEO and key executive presentation I deliver. What happens when I ask it?

The temperature drops in the room.

No one can look me in the eye  – everyone looks down – as if to pretend I had not asked the question in the first place

The silence after the question is so powerful it’s almost deafening.

After a few awkward moments of silence, the executives around the table look at me with a look that says “how dare you mention the elephant in the room.”

Why are you so afraid to discuss your acceptance of average and mediocre performance by the people on your team?

I return to the “argument” I presented in my blog post titled “Are You Over-Paid?” Imagine that 50% of what you do is the work your team should be doing. Sally is only doing 65% of her job, Mark is doing 75% of his job, and Julie is doing 80% of her job. Your picking up the slack among those 3 that cannot do their FULL job. You’ve dummied down their job responsibilities, taken their work on your shoulders, and violated Michael Gerber’s E-Myth no-no: Stop working in the organization (team/department) and start working on your organization (team/department).

The new normal should NOT be the acceptance of mediocre performance – it should be the REFUSAL to accept mediocre performance. “Good enough” shouldn’t cut it.

Here’s a tough question that will literally cause your heart to skip a beat: How do your employees view you as their boss:

“My boss is okay with average and mediocre performance. He thinks good enough and just getting if our focus.”

“My boss sets high standards and holds everyone accountable. I’ve accomplished more by working for my current boss than I ever imagined possible.”

Which one reflects how your direct reports think of you as their boss?

Barry Deutsch