You had high hopes for a new employee, but quickly realised you’ve made a bad hire. Should you persist or ask them to move on?
A candidate looked excellent on paper, performed fantastically in an interview, and scored close to perfect results in their referee checks. But once they started in the new role, you realised their excellent interview skills weren’t translating into on-the-job performance. Or maybe they delivered top results, but weren’t a great cultural fit.
And so, you’ve come to realise that maybe they’re not the right person for the job. This experience isn’t an uncommon one for HR professionals and managers to encounter during the onboarding process.
Ella Burke, HR & IR Specialist and Founding Director of Employii, advises on the steps to take when you realise you’ve made a bad hire, and how to avoid this happening in the first place.
Engage them in open dialogue
As soon as you observe that your new hire might not be the right fit, share your observations with them, and be open to where that conversation may lead.
“I’ve seen cases where the manager has said the new employee is showing red flags, but when they’ve spoken to the employee, it has come to light that something is going on at home, or there was a misunderstanding and their role hasn’t been clarified, or they weren’t actually given a proper induction and training,” says Burke.
Under remote working arrangements, some of the standard onboarding steps are easy to miss, so it’s not hard to see why some employees might take longer to learn the ropes, or how some critical steps in an employee’s induction may have been overlooked.
But if the company has done all it can to induct and support the employee, you’ll need to put measures in place to help them improve, or cut your losses and let them go.
While Burke advises to act quickly, she says the exact timeframe will depend on the reasons you deemed them to be the wrong fit, and what stage of probation they’re at.
“If it’s more technical skills, and you do have enough time before the end of their probation, give them three or so weeks and then have another check in.
“Let them know where they might be going wrong and where they can improve. If it’s been about a month and there’s still not enough improvement, I think you need to make the call [to let them go].”
Probation exists for a reason. If the employee isn’t the right fit, you might need to direct them to the door, says Burke.
Right person, wrong role
Asking the employee to move on isn’t the only outcome if they aren’t right for a role. There might be an alternative solution within the company.
In Burke’s former role as an internal HR Manager, she recalls a time when the company was hiring for a position that required the employee to be on the shop floor.
“It was a very stressful job – there was a lot of client interaction, moving tasks, and different personalities to deal with. This person wasn’t coping well. They were very flustered and didn’t know how to respond to certain styles of communication.
“The manager had a conversation with the employee and asked her how she was finding the role, and she said, ‘I’m struggling. It’s not what I thought it was going to be and I’m not enjoying it. I love the company, but I think I want to leave.’”
The business intended to follow her lead and suggest she look for employment elsewhere, but after Burke had a candid conversation with her, she discovered the employee had a strong administrative background that the company could utilise to the employee’s, and its own, benefit.
“Her background in administrative roles suited the company – so we could match her up to a role that suited her because culturally, she was a good fit. She was honest and she gave everything her best shot.”
Transferring the employee into an administrative position paid off. Burke says she even exceeded expectations.
“That was a great story of using probationary periods well, having honest conversations and looking at other options to transfer [skills].”
Back to the drawing board
If you get to the stage where you’ve made a decision to let the new employee go and re-recruit for their position, you’ll be in a far stronger position if you’ve done some of the leg work early on, says Burke.
Investing in the candidate experience during the initial stages will pay you back in spades.
“Don’t treat candidates like they need this job and that they’d be lucky to get it,” says Burke.
“With the current talent shortage, employers need to be more considerate … If you have a really good candidate process, even if you don’t select someone at the final stage, if you built a good rapport with them, you can easily go back to them and say, ‘Hey, it didn’t work out with the candidate we chose, are you still interested?’”
Throughout the recruitment process, show that you’re a great organisation to work for, and that you care about your employees, says Burke.
“Employers that treat their candidates as a dime a dozen have the wrong approach these days.”
Instead, consider good candidates as a valuable new connection in your industry.
“For every touchpoint you have, whether it’s with candidates or people in your industry, try to build that relationship, so when the right job does arise, you already know exactly who you’re going to call to offer it to, or at least [suggest] that they apply for it.
“Having that open door approach is really important.”
Avoid making a bad hire
Picking the wrong person will cost your company – not just because you’re paying an employee who isn’t up to scratch, but it can also harm team morale.
Employees might feel disgruntled that they’re picking up the slack for an underperforming team member, or their own work could suffer if their energy is being diverted towards supporting the new starter.
So, how can you prevent the situation from getting to this point?
Burke advises companies take the following preventative steps:
- Assign candidates an on-the-job task – “If it’s a technical job, there should be some demonstration of those technical skills, whether that’s talking through a case study in detail, or even physically demonstrating those skills where it’s practical to do so,” says Burke. This step can help employers delineate between candidates who “know what they’re talking about versus those who fluffed their way through the interview”.
- Have multiple people interview the candidate – This is particularly important for conduct issues, says Burke.
“I’ve been in teams where we’ve had four HR advisors and we were hiring another HR advisor team. We met as a team and had coffee. It wasn’t just the manager, it was our whole team. That was really well-received. Even those who didn’t get the job in the end said they really appreciated that the whole team wanted to get to know them.”
- Create an environment that encourages team members to share candid feedback about a prospective employee – In Burke’s example above, employees need to feel comfortable and confident to air any reservations they might have.
“I do remember one occasion where I didn’t speak up and say something wasn’t right. Everyone else was happy with the candidate. The person was hired but didn’t last at the company for very long,” says Burke.
Her example illustrates why it’s important to have necessary checks and balances in place during the decision-making process – even when time is of the essence.
“We were struggling to hire somebody, and everyone was getting desperate. There are often situations where you might know on some level that they’re not the right person, but you need somebody, so you hire them and it causes more harm than good.
“That’s a common mistake I see. You need to stick to your guns and determine, ‘Do you really need somebody in that position if they’re not going to be the right person? Or can you hold out a bit longer?’”
- If you’re hiring for a managerial position, ask for a reference from someone who has worked beneath the prospective employee. – “I’ve probably got the most honest feedback from conducting these kinds of reference checks.”
Sometimes, however, no matter how thorough your recruitment process is, there’s no way of guaranteeing you won’t make a bad hire.
“There are times where you just never know who the best person for the role will be, and when you start working with someone you realise this isn’t how we thought they would be. You can have the most robust system in place, but there will probably be some stage where you’ve hired the wrong person.”
If that happens, do everything you can to support the other team members, who might be feeling the flow-on effects.
“Make sure there are support mechanisms in place, but also cut them some slack. They might’ve had to pick up extra work and could also be struggling,” says Burke.
“Give them rewards and recognition, and reassure them that even if you haven’t found the right person yet, you value them in the team and will do what you can to support them.”
Want to strengthen your recruitment process and be confident you’ve made the hiring right decision?
AHRI’s training on Recruitment and Workplace Relations can be delivered in-house and customised to meet your company’s needs. Enquire here.