How to Avoid Costly Mis-Hires

January 19, 2015 - 4 minutes read

Female scientist showing hire me sign on white background“But I had a good feeling about that hire!”

I’ve heard that as I was starting to coaching someone on how to fire an employee.

The stats on mis-hiring can be staggering in any business, even the business of laboratory research. A mis-hire can cost you anywhere between 30-300% of the hire’s salary.

If you’ve hired someone out of subjective feelings, you’ll realize it as time passes and your goals are not being met. Soon the costs of that hire will become evident.

During my tenure as a research manager for the past 20 years and as a consultant, I’ve found that some of the most problematic issues amongst academic research labs begin at the recruitment stage.

I’ve seen a PI hold onto an unproductive research technician for a whole year, just because he felt that he couldn’t find anyone else. A whole year of money and time went down the drain in salary, productivity, and supplies!

For new investigators, many times the pressures to get things done will start to outweigh the hiring logistics. Emotional anxieties start to skew rational thinking. Sometimes, just having somebody in the lab can create a false sense of calm.

I know that letting someone go isn’t easy, and HR policies certainly don’t make it any easier. But the best way to avoid firing someone, is to make sure you hire correctly the first time. (As a disclaimer, please be sure to consult with your institute’s HR policies before you hire/fire someone.)

So what can you do? In order to make sure that you hire the right person for the job, you’ll need a solid recruitment process.

Many mis-hires happen due to selecting potential candidates based on these incorrect criteria;

  • Selecting candidates purely on academic credentials.
  • Not thoroughly vetting references.
  • Hiring out of urgency.

Those are the most common mistakes which lead to mis-hires, and the best way to avoid those missteps is to approach the hiring process having prepared and strategized. To hire the correct candidate the first time, consider this strategy:

  • Prepare questions.
    • Write questions out before the interview, along with a score card.
    • Ask the same questions of all candidates.
  • Cite case scenarios.
    • Ask candidates to cite past experiences to reflect expected situations.
    • Drill down questions; let them talk more than you (80:20)
  • Repeat the above steps with references.
    • Speak directly w/ references. Don’t just accept a letter.
    • Speak to 3-4 references (boss, peer, direct, mentor/manager). Avoid peer references; classmates, co-workers, etc.

It’s not just about your “gut feelings”.

The emotional rush of interviewing and engaging new candidates can distract you from focusing on the job’s criteria. This is why preparing before hand, utilizing this recruitment strategy, will help to ensure that you’re being objective about your selection.

Next week, I’ll be reviewing different types of technician, and which ones work well with a start up laboratory.

Have you ever hired someone? If you have certain criteria that you’ve used to select technical candidates, please share. Leave a comment.

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