Peer-to-Peer: How can I avoid making a bad hire?

Fellow entrepreneurs share advice on how to avoid recruiting a dud

Written by ProfitGuide Staff


“I hired a sales rep recently. Her references checked out, she had a solid sales background and in many ways, she seemed the perfect rep. After only a day on the job, she started complaining about the quality of the leads we provided, became angry and made some very rude comments about the company. There is no reasoning with her. She forgets everything I tell her five minutes later; training has been a nightmare. Can anyone suggest a way to really check people out before we hire them?”

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Reader responses

John Thong:

Background checks are only useful to check the individual’s past performance and may not be a guarantee of the new employee’s success in your enterprise. Factors affecting the success depend on industry, sales techniques employed, adaptability of the individual to your environment and management style, what motivates the individual and reason(s) for leaving the previous job.

This should be uncovered during the face-to-face interview and check for the best fit for your organization. Top salespeople from other organizations may not always fit your criteria, especially if their expectations and yours do not match. During the interview, note whether the candidate is taking notes and check for understanding.

Sales leads should be taken as a guide, and not all leads are good. This should be conveyed to the individual prior to hiring and that they will be required to qualify the leads or generate new ones themselves. Negative comments from a new employee indicate mismatched expectations. Address the concerns accordingly, which may include addressing/clarifying the issues and re-evaluating the employee’s status with the company.

Karen Michetti, Attorney, President, Spettro Consultants Inc.:

As a former in-house corporate lawyer who has gone through tough interviews, I have learned that “scenario tests” are effective in getting a good idea of the character and personality type of a potential candidate.

While a CV and the interview may indicate the perfect candidate, finding someone who is a good fit for a company means sussing out the way the person handles themselves and the job. Asking a candidate to assess various scenarios relevant to the job and to explain how they would handle the scenarios can lend valuable insight. Scenario tests should reflect professional and interpersonal situations that will enable an employer to have more information about the person’s business acumen and interpersonal skills.

Darryl Dioso, Resource Management Solutions Group:

At Resource Management Solutions Group, we have had success in placing sales reps. On top of interviews, behavioural testing and reference checks, we use role-playing sessions to bring out behaviours and attitudes. Interview responses can be scripted, but within a role-play session, one’s true work self comes out.

Erkki Pohjolainen, Resources West Inc.:

I have in past found it beneficial to check with colleagues at competing interests of the referenced source to determine a more precise image of the individual applying for a position.

An example: I checked with an aspiring reporter’s current editor (as referenced) and received the standard, ‘Good worker… ‘However, checking with the editor of a competing newspaper serving the same community from which the reporter wanted to leave, I learned the individual in question was relatively weak in the field. As the competing editor noted, the reporter in question was in fact a hindrance to the employer.

The competing editor had nothing to gain from an honest assessment of the individual in question. Had the reporter been a value to the employer, the competing editor would have been happy to say so, knowing the competition would be losing an ace.


I am an executive search consultant and I would suggest that if the hire is important to your company, enlist the services of a reputable search consultant. Let them find you the top choices, do the interviewing and ultimately the reference checks. That way, the people you finally do get to meet are already vetted. Find a search consultant that you really like and that you trust. Using a search consultant seems expensive, but salespeople ultimately represent your company and you want the best.

Cybele Negris, Webnames.ca Inc.:

My question to Gordon would be, did he check the references himself and in what form did he get them?

Even though I have used recruitment firms to pre-screen, pre-interview and check candidate references, after my staff and I conduct our own interview, I personally call the references myself. I insist on talking directly to the person giving the reference myself (I don’t delegate this to staff) and I don’t accept references third-hand or by e-mail. Why? It is amazing what people will tell you and how honest they can be when you dig deeper into a conversation. Also, be ready to read between the lines; listen carefully for hesitation or tone of voice in an answer. The reference giver may be saying something positive but doesn’t mean it emphatically.

Also, the trick is in whom you are asking, what you are asking and how you ask it.

  • Who to ask: Make sure you talk to someone who directly supervised the individual and had day-to-day interactions with him/her.
  • How to ask: A lot of people ask yes or no questions like ‘Was he reliable?’ or ‘Did he have a good attitude?’ I find a more effective way is to ask for a rating from 1 to 10 and always ask for specific examples to back up the rating. It is with the commentary (not the rating) that you get most of your information.
  • What to ask: I find a lot of people like to ask ‘Would you rehire this person?’ and most of the time the response is always ‘Yes.’ Before asking this question, I always make sure the person I’m asking actually has the authority to actually rehire the person. A similar but preferred question I like to ask is, ‘If you started your own company and could choose three people you have worked to bring with you, would the candidate be one of your top three?’If the answer is no, then ask ‘Is he/she in your top 10?’ It’s amazing how much information I have received from reference givers as a result of this question that I otherwise would never have known. Also, be sure to ask for a list of strengths and weaknesses that stand out and again for specific examples to back these up.

Gordon should definitely fire the sales rep immediately (even after one day) and start again. The longer she sticks around, the more likely she’ll drag down the rest of the group.

For her answer, Cybele Negris will receive a copy of Out of the Box: Strategies for Achieving Profits Today and Growth Tomorrow by John Hagel III.

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Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com