Trying to Avoid a Bad Hire? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I have an amazing team except for one person. I’ve provided ample opportunities for this person to step up and she just isn’t picking up on them. I can’t tell what is going on. She seems bright enough. She can work hard—I’ve seen it—so I don’t think it is laziness.

Also, I’m about to hire a few more people and am wondering how to avoid hiring someone like her.


Dear Exasperated,

I have always said that a manager must not be more interested in an employee’s development than the employee is. And that may be the case here—but let’s check it out first.

The first order of business is to have a conversation with your person in which you explain your point of view. This is going to require you to be direct but kind. It is entirely possible that she hasn’t picked up on opportunities because she was waiting for explicit direction from you. Not everyone picks up on cues, especially if they are implied versus direct.

Be more directive and provide more touchpoints regarding her professional growth. The key here is for you to properly communicate and partner with your employee so that you understand her hopes and dreams and can allow her to drive her own development. Give this a serious try for at least a couple of months. You might feel as if you are micromanaging, but in some cases that’s what people need.

What if, after you have tried this approach, your employee still doesn’t show any ambition? One option may be to change her title to technical specialist or something similar and just stop worrying about her career path. Lots of organizations are filled with people who are perfectly happy to stay right in their lane without much growth or change—but in some organizations, the trajectory is “up or out.” If you know you’ve really given it a shot, and it just doesn’t seem to be in the cards, then you can decide what to do about it.

Now about your prospective hires. It sounds like you are looking for some key traits in your candidates. Research supports the idea that job seekers with the following four attributes are predicted to have significantly higher levels of success in any new job.

  1. Work attitude
  2. A sense of accountability
  3. Prior related job success
  4. Culture fit

Work attitude can be described as a positive disposition or attitude toward work that persists across employment experiences. Candidates who demonstrate high degrees of work attitude:

  • will go out of their way to describe negative experiences in the positive,
  • find it hard to describe negative situations without sharing how the situation made them stronger, and
  • have a deep need to work hard and produce results that make them proud.

A sense of accountability means the extent to which a person believes they have control over their own outcomes—also called locus of control. Candidates who demonstrate a high sense of accountability:

  • are 40% more likely to succeed in any role,
  • believe in themselves, and
  • will stand up under pressure and refuse to play the victim.

Prior related job success—the degree to which the candidate has met formal goals in past jobs that are similar to the job at hand. This is, of course, the most obvious factor and the one hiring managers pay the most attention to. It is important, but not the only important thing.

  • Candidates who have achieved success in prior jobs, athletics, academics, or other meaningful pursuits are significantly more likely to succeed.
  • Both success and failure become habits throughout a career.

Culture fit is the degree to which the candidate shares similar values with the organization and demonstrates an authentic interest in the job at hand. In this case, you clearly are creating the culture in your group and you need to hire people who will fit your standards for ambition and desire to develop.

  • Effective hiring processes attract candidates who have similar values and repel candidates who do not.
  • It is imperative for interviews and testing in the hiring process to identify honest, hardworking, and positive candidates.

You are going to want to do behavioral interviewing to find out an applicant’s history and assess for these four traits. For an in-depth guide on behavioral interviewing, look here.

Ideally, you have HR professionals who can help you with this. If not, you will be on your own to do your own crash course in hiring! In my experience, hiring is 90% of the battle when it comes to getting the right people in the right jobs. Everything else is tweaking the details.

Good luck on both challenges!

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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