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

Can You Avoid the Most Common Hiring Errors?

Over the last 6 months I’ve noticed an interesting trend occurring in the 25-30 CEO groups, such as Vistage and TEC,  in which I’ve presented our “You’re NOT the Person I Hired” Speaker Program. Prior to 6 months ago, the key issue was “How do I retain my best people.” Now the primary issue is “How do I avoid making a hiring mistake.”


It almost seems like many companies have forgotten best practices in hiring top talent through the recession, where they didn’t get to “practice” the techniques of proper hiring. Like any other business process, we sometimes get “out of sync” when we do not use and practice the disciplines of best practices on a regular basis.

Historical Context

Before jumping into the the Top Ten Hiring Mistakes, I’d like to provide a little historical context.


My partner, Brad Remillard, and I have been conducting executive search for over 25 years together. In the first 10 years of our firm, we noticed that a very strange thing happened in most hiring decisions. Frequently, the candidate who got the job was typically the best interviewee, but many times was not the best employee. They were successful at “winning” the interview, but unsuccessful in achieving the desired results.


Conversely, many of the candidates who were horrific in the interview: quiet, reserved, introverted, nervous, and shy – did not get a chance to prove themselves, yet their on the job performance was stellar in their previous roles and the next job they took.


Here’s a couple of questions to ponder:


Have you ever hired someone that you thought was the perfect candidate, but they didn’t work out?


Have you ever taken a risk on hiring someone that didn’t interview perfectly, yet they turned out to be one of your best hires?


We stepped back, scratched our heads, and wondered what was going on in the hiring process that led most executives and managers to make mistakes on many of the candidates they met? How could there be such a dichotomy between interviewing performance and on-the-job performance?


How could the best interviewees not always be the best performers? How could the worst interviewees sometimes be the best performers? After 25 years of executive search and over 1,000 search assignments, we cannot find one single shred of evidence linking how well candidates do in the interview with their on-the-job performance (as interviews are normally conducted in most companies)!

Is there hope to improve this depressing and dysfunctional hiring state?


Of course you can improve it. The key is to overcome the most common hiring mistakes with a structured and rigorous hiring process.

Our Landmark Study on Hiring Mistakes

Prior to writing our best selling book titled “You’re NOT the Person I Hired” (same title as our Vistage/TEC Speaker Program), we commissioned a formal research study among CEOs within and outside of the the Vistage/TEC community trying to discern what are the Top Ten Mistakes CEOs and Senior Executives Make in Hiring. The Executive Summary of this Study can be found in the Vistage Village Library, on our website, and in the appendix of the book.


We’ve seen a dramatic improvement in hiring success among companies that have implemented a more structured and rigorous hiring process. Many times in the past, these companies would commit multiple mistakes and repeat them over and over. Most studies of hiring accuracy over the past 50 years show that hiring as it is traditionally done is not much more accurate than flipping a coin.

Frightening to think that the future success of your company could hinge on “luck.”


If you can overcome the most common hiring mistakes – what we call “The TOP TEN Hiring Mistakes”, you can improve your hiring accuracy well into the 80% plus range. Imagine from this point forward, every hire you make in your organization, you’ve got a 80% plus accuracy in hiring employees who not only achieve your expectations of performance, but they also do it with set of behaviors that is consistent with your values and culture.


Would that make a difference?


I would love to hear from you about the before/after comparison of hiring success in your company. What was the accuracy, problems, issues prior to improving your hiring process – and what happened after you implemented a more structured and rigorous process?


I’m going to take each of the hiring mistakes identified in our original research project and blog about each one separately, including the key steps you can take to overcome and prevent that mistake from ever occurring again!

Barry Deutsch

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

Who Is Responsible For Hiring Top Talent In Your Company?

Was your answer HR or the hiring manager?

I typically ask this question in our hiring workshops, seminars and Vistage presentations to CEOs and key executives. The answers are generally either HR or the hiring manager. Both of which I disagree with.

I believe hiring top talent in any organization falls squarely on the CEO's desk. The CEO is responsible for all activity that takes place in the company. Just ask those CEOs in jail who tried to claim ignorance, or the  “I just didn’t know it was happening” defense. Too bad for them as they should have known. That isn’t to say that CEOs can control every activity. They can’t. Every company has or has had a wild employee that says something stupid or does something stupid, however, the company is still often held accountable for the actions of this one employee.

Remember Management 101A, you can delegate authority but you can’t delegate responsibility. The buck still stops at the CEO’s desk.

This is why I’m rather surprised when CEOs answer this question HR or hiring manager. They may have the authority for the activity around hiring, but the CEO sets the tone, priorities, importance around hiring, and who will be hired. Like everything else in the company, when the CEO sets high standards of performance the employees tend to accept and even expect that level of performance. This includes hiring.

The CEO has the ability to determine the quality of people that are hired into the company. The CEO can define top talent for the company, departments, or positions. The CEO can make hiring top talent a priority in the company. The CEO sets the tone and importance for hiring in the company. It is the CEO that has the ability to get everyone focused on where hiring falls on the list of priorities. It is the CEO that has the megaphone to drive this point home. It is the CEO that has the ability to hold HR and hiring managers accountable for hiring top talent. It is the CEO that ultimately controls the training budget for hiring, enabling these employees to learn how to make great hires.

So what are some of the practical things a CEO can do to ensure hiring top talent?

  1. First and foremost, build a culture that includes hiring top talent. Do this by re-enforcing it in the values of the company, discussing it at staff meetings, promoting it in the company newsletter, and on a regular basis emphasize how important hiring is to the success of the company. Few companies do all of these on a consistent basis. Many do it once or twice a year, mainly as an after thought. Hiring top talent should never be an after thought.
  2. Train your people in hiring. Most employees, especially in small companies, have never had any training on hiring. They do their best to hire the best, but that doesn’t mean they are skilled at it. In fact, many are intimidated by the hiring process and just as many actually find the hiring process as painful as buying a new car.
  3. Encourage your people to always be looking for top talent. Top talent isn’t always available when you need them. The CEO should encourage all employees to be on the look out for future talent, especially when there isn’t a need.
  4. Incorporate referring and hiring top talent into the performance management system. Set goals for referrals and reward those managers that maintain a queue of potential employees that can be hired.
  5. Build into your hiring manager's schedule time to meet with potential employees, participation in trade or professional associations, and other community activities. This should be less than 10% of their time.
  6. Build a website that speaks to future employees, the way your current website speaks to customers. The first place candidates go to research a company is the company's website. Yet few websites really engage future talent. Most are not candidate friendly and less than 1% have any significant “WOW factor” for candidates coming to the company's site. Add employee testimonials, have the CEO do a 2 minute video talking about the company's vision, how the CEO values employees, promote your employee friendly culture, the importance of hiring only the very best and the CEO's personal commitment to all of the employees.

Hiring top talent doesn't have to be a time consuming effort. It is in most companies because they are only consumed with it when they need to hire someone. It does have to be a consistent effort though that consumes a small percentage of the hiring manager's time each month.

If the CEO set raises the bar on hiring top talent, the employees will follow and most will jump over the bar.

You can determine if your company's hiring process is effective at hiring top talent by taking our Hiring Methodology Assessment. It is FREE to download. CLICK HERE.

Want to make your company a candidate magnet with a great website? Read this short eight hundred word article with some great tips to building a  candidate friendly website. CLICK HERE.

Finally, download this culture assessment to determine whether or not your culture will attract top talent. CLICK HERE

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Brad Remillard


Why Is Recruiting Sales People Like High School Sports?

In many companies, the recruitment process of trying to find top talent for their sales team resembles the process high school sports teams use to add players. They take whoever shows up at their doorstep and considers that the candidate pool. Discover in this audio program the key elements it takes to fish in deep waters to find the best talent. In this program, we describe the four primary pools that candidates come from. We'll also identify which pool is the sweet spot for recruiting top sales talent and the techniques you can use to get those candidates to come forward and apply for your job opportunity.

To download this radio show CLICK HERE.