In a tough economy, every employee really matters, otherwise they would not still be around right? Well, not really, because most organizations do not manage performance that tightly – but we’ve already discussed that at length in previous blog posts. So in this 2 part series, let’s talk about your critical new hires, the ones who really count extra now – the really critical new hires that still get approved despite your tight budgets. These are hires the CEO has to approve, like when your CFO or Director of Development quits exactly when you need them most. Hiring freeze or not, when someone absolutely essential to your future existance  quits – you are going to replace them. And, odds are, you are going to make some big mistakes in how you hire that new person you can’t live without.

The only reason to hire is to get business results. If you didn’t care about results, you wouldn’t need employees – so, if staffing is ultimately about getting business results, why does it so often fail to deliver them?

Tolstoy observed, “Happy families are all alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Similarly, every company that becomes unhappy with staffing becomes unhappy in its own unique way. Although staffing appears to be a routine, traditional business practice on the surface, it is actually one of the most daunting and complex tasks facing today’s executives.

Why is staffing so difficult?

Let’s break it down. To regularly find and select candidates who can rapidly contribute to business results, you must always succeed at all of recruiting’s critical tasks.

  • First, you need the business acumen to clearly identify the business results you want and how you expect someone to achieve those results.
  • Next, you must identify the precise competencies an employee requires to drive the results you expect.
  • Next, you need to identify exactly what it would take to attract the right person to each job for the right reasons.
  • Next, you need a recruiter who knows how to access a large pool of qualified job candidates, present your opportunity in a compelling way, generate interest, and get the right people to apply.
  • Then, after all the candidates have been fairly evaluated for competency and cultural fit, you must narrow the field and make a job offer.
  • If the candidate you select has not already accepted other employment and accepts your offer, (s)he can finally begin to apply his or her skills to getting the business results you expect.

If along the way, you make even one misstep, you end up unhappily starting all over. It’s no wonder that so few recruiters actually measure themselves by the standard of getting specific business results from their recruiting efforts.

In reality, the situation is far worse.

Almost every aspect of traditional recruiting stopped being effective over 20 years ago, but nobody seems to have noticed. 

Let’s review some of the most common hiring mistakes and the very understandable reasons people make them.


Any Recruiting Specification should answer the twin questions of “What are we looking for?” and “Why are we looking for it?” The “Why” question is the really complex and interesting one, but most recruiting processes ignore it completely. The “Why” question is what gives context to your search and breathes life into your recruiting efforts. When you skip it, nothing else you do matters in the slightest; your recruiting efforts are doomed from the start.

Few organizations even use Recruiting Specifications; instead, almost everyone uses the legally useful, but far less interesting, Job Description. The Job Description attempts to answer the question, “What are we looking for?” without acknowledging the importance of knowing why. If we don’t ask why, we cannot possibly understand and critically evaluate what we are looking for. We cannot put skills and traits into context and make judgments about why someone might or might not succeed in the job. We can’t make this determination because we have not defined what success looks like. A Job Description is merely a set of crude credentials that only vaguely allude to what it actually takes to succeed in a job. This is why Job Descriptions are useless in recruiting; they tell no story, give no context, and only provide a semi-prioritized laundry list of responsibilities, qualifications and skills. You know you are in trouble when “other duties as assigned” is the most accurate and believable part of the description.


In the rush to start recruiting, “Let’s get an ad posted!” is the most common refrain. Now, thanks to technology, our nearly useless Job Description can be posted externally on job boards with a minimum of effort. This is a bright, shining example of taking the worst possible action with the greatest possible efficiency.

Online recruiting can be powerfully effective. Studies show that close to 80% of job seekers rely on it as their primary search strategy, but, with most job advertising failing to outline what success looks like, these ads never grab the attention of achievement-oriented top performers. This sad reality virtually guarantees that only less interesting and more desperate candidates will apply, which then ensures that every moment spent screening resumes will be futile.

Well, that’s enough fun and good cheer for today. In Part Two, we’ll examine the problems with resume screening and interviewing, and the false promise of search firms as a solution.