Skip to main content
Celebrating 50 years of Building High Performance Corporate Teams - 1971 to 2021
Bruce McAlpineHiring Process

Hiring Failures – What went wrong?

By November 16, 2021No Comments

Sometimes hirings fail.

Having been in the executive search business for over 30 years, I know placements sometimes just don’t work out – true confessions of an executive recruiter!

What went wrong?

When we examine why hirings fail we usually find the causes are either human factors, situational changes or process factors. 

Human factors include things like poor fit or poor chemistry.  These are hard to avoid, but a robust process including behavioural interviewing, psychometric assessments and thorough reference checking should be able to minimize these.

Situational changes include things like corporate reorganizations or downsizings, or the sale of the business.   These are often unpredictable, so difficult to control.

Process factors however are completely avoidable if care is taken at the front end before the recruiting effort starts.  Here are the top 3 things you can do to avoid these problems:

  1. Clearly defined Position Description

Make sure you have a clearly defined Position Description, so that there is no ambiguity in what is expected of the employee and how success is measured.  This is especially true when hiring for newly created positions, where the failure rate is significantly higher than when hiring a replacement.  In these situations we are stepping out into the unknown, building a theoretical role.  In theory there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice there is!

The position description should include such elements as:

  • An overall description of what the employee is responsible for accomplishing as part of the mission of the corporation;
  • A detailed description of the tasks and their outcomes;
  • A detailed description of how success will be measured;
  • Clear reporting relationships up and down (who the employee reports to (– just ONE!), and the staff reporting to this employee);
  • Details of the expected interactions with other departments and external stakeholders; and
  • The desired education, skills, experience, personality and character traits of the ideal candidate.
  1. Clear Interview Process

Make sure your interview process is clearly defined.  This will ensure a rigorous and impartial assessment of each candidate, and is also a legally defensible methodology in cases where candidates complain of biased or unfair treatment.  The interview process should define:

  • The number and style of interviews (face-to- face or virtual, panel or solo, presentation or discussion, etc.);
  • What is expected of each interviewer in successive rounds in terms of new information and insights so that each interview is not a repeat of the previous one, starting with “so, tell me about yourself…”. The first interview should determine if the candidate can do the job.  Additional interviews should focus on personality, fit, common values, career goals, etc.; and
  • Other assessment steps (psychometric assessments, reference checks, a day in the field, etc.).
  1. Clear Assessment Methodology

Make sure you have a clearly defined scoring system.  You will need to decide in advance what is an acceptable “score” for a hiring decision to take place.  Once again, this will help to ensure a rigorous and impartial assessment of each candidate, and is also a legally defensible methodology in cases where candidates complain of biased or unfair treatment.  A good scoring system will be helpful in breaking a tie when you have the good fortune of having multiple candidates who appear suitable for (and interested in) your job.  It will also be helpful in avoiding situations where you say “Well, this was the best candidate we saw” when your heart and gut are telling you don’t believe the person will be able to succeed in delivering the results you need from the position.


In summary, there are multiple reasons why hirings sometimes fail.  Some are uncontrollable, but process failure need not be one of them if you take the right steps before the recruiting effort starts.

About the Author: Bruce McAlpine is President of Fulcrum Search Science Inc., a Toronto-based executive search firm solving Mission-Critical hiring challenges throughout North America for 50 years, and Past President of the Association of Canadian Search, Employment & Staffing Services (ACSESS).  He can be reached at or 416.779.8505.