How to Hire the Best Talent and Avoid the Most Common Pitfalls

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow
5 min read
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I’m always telling people business isn’t rocket science, but there is one aspect of running a business or leading a team that even seasoned managers find elusive: hiring good people. Bad hires cost in so many ways. It’s absolutely worth taking time to do it right. Even so, it isn’t easy.

Having interviewed and hired people for hundreds of positions over the years, I can say one thing for sure: common sense works, tricks don’t.

Even Google – once known for asking all sorts of loony interview questions like, “You suddenly find yourself stuck at the bottom of an enormous martini glass. What do you do?” – now admits they were “a complete waste of time” and “don’t predict anything,” so said Google SVP Laszlo Bock in a New York Times interview.  

So much for tricks. As for common sense, here are the most common real world pitfalls and how to avoid them:

Job Fit

Most bad hires fall under the heading of "bad fit." They’re the result of obvious flaws like having poorly thought-out job specs or no specs at all. Some interviewers tell candidates what they think they want to hear or simply ignore obvious warning signs. Those are all bad techniques that will burn you.

If you’re not honest and straightforward about what you’re looking for, you’re not likely to get it, right?

Related: Do You Believe in Magic? Don't.

It’s popular to talk about cultural fit these days but it doesn’t matter nearly as much as finding those who are capable of doing the job, love doing the work, and if possible, have done it before and done it well.  

Ask candidates to give you specifics about their capabilities and past experiences doing the kind of work you’re looking for them to do. What you really want to know are four things specific to the job: Are they capable, do they enjoy it, what have they accomplished, and how did they do it? That will tell you most of what you need to know.

And whatever you do, don’t try to force-fit or shoehorn candidates into positions their not ideally suited for. I guarantee you’ll live to regret it.


There are all sorts of good and bad personal qualities to look out for in any potential hire.

You want people who actually listen and engage, have a can-do attitude, are grounded and flexible, seem to be creative problem solvers, are reasonably calm and confident, and can handle responsibility and hold themselves accountable.  

You don’t want people who seem entitled, are so thin-skinned that every little thing rubs them the wrong way, are so self-absorbed that they’re totally oblivious to the needs and feelings of others, or are completely unaware of their weaknesses and issues.  

Related: Why Procrastination Is Not Your Problem

Rather than ask direct questions about these qualities, I would simply be on the lookout for clues and, when the interview is over, try to formulate an image of what kind of person you just met. If it isn’t good, pass. Trust your gut on this one.

Work Ethic

Another major pitfall is candidates padding their resumes. Let’s face it, a virtual piece of paper and maybe a quick phone screen are nowhere near enough to verify that people are who they represent themselves to be. If they fudge their resume, that’s a red flag that reveals quite a bit about their work ethic or lack thereof.


If you’ve got that politically correct thing going on, you may want to skip this one. If, on the other hand, you want to hire the best people for your company, you might want to consider the words of comedian Ron White: “You can’t fix stupid.” So true.

That said, there are many different facets to intelligence. There’s common sense, experience, wisdom, adaptability, ability to think critically and draw logical conclusions based on deductive reasoning, troubleshooting, and decision-making, to name a few.

Ask challenging questions and watch how candidates think, reason, and respond to get a sense of what they’ve got going on under the hood. Another tip: If they’ve made smart decisions with their own careers, it will likely benefit the companies they work for, as well.


In nearly every circumstance of a bad hire, someone who interviewed the candidate will later say, “I had a bad feeling about that guy; I should have listened to it.” Pay attention to what your gut is telling you. If a candidate seemed perfect on paper but in person, not so much, trust that instinct. Keep looking.

Related: The Fine Art of Being a Great Boss

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