Avoiding 10 Common Search Pitfalls


There are a number of ways that recruiting and hiring processes can go wrong, and hiring the right people into the right positions is too important to leave to chance. There are a number of common mistakes that can be easily avoided by utilizing some basic hiring best practices.

(1) Taking Shortcuts with Planning:

Make sure that you have dedicated the appropriate amount of time to planning your search before beginning the process. Too often, organizations need someone hired “yesterday” and jump into the process by throwing a poorly developed job posting up on a random smattering of job boards. Instead, take some time to identify exactly what you are looking for in the role, make sure that all decision makers are involved at the outset and that all stages of the recruiting and hiring process have been outlined in advance. These steps will help you focus the search, keep it on schedule, ensure that everyone involved is aware of his or her role, and increase the chances of a successful hire.

(2) Defining Positions Poorly:

It has been said that if you don’t know what “treasure” looks like, you can dig in the sand all day without knowing whether or not you have found it. So too with searches, it is essential to fully think through the nature of the role and its responsibilities, as well as the experience, skills and personality of the ideal candidate. This structure should not prevent you from exploring “out of the box” candidates and reevaluating your initial assumptions throughout the search, but it will give you a consistent standard to which all candidates can be equitably compared.

(3) Searching for a “Unicorn”:

Whenever possible, define a position that is realistic and an ideal candidate profile that exists in more than a handful of people. Are you looking for a set of skills and competencies that often do not co-exist within one person? Recognize that if you go forward, your search may be challenging and may not lead to a successful hire without concessions being made. Consider recasting the position into something more realistic and test your job description with colleagues and peers to ensure that it is reasonable and clearly communicates the nature of the role.

(4) Setting Unrealistic Salary Constraints:

Make sure that the salary range you have designated for the position matches the requirements and experience level you are seeking. Again, if you move forward with a misalignment in this area, such as looking for someone with 15 years of senior experience who wants to work full-time for $32,000; then your search may be slow and frustrating. Almost as challenging as low salary expectations are excessively narrow salary bands. For most searches, it is appropriate to have a $10,000 salary range for entry/mid-level jobs and a $20,000 range for senior roles. Going into a search with too narrow a budget may be a fiscal necessity, but it can also constrain your ability to consider a range of candidates and limit your room for negotiation.

(5) Making Insufficient Recruitment Efforts:

It is best to use a broad variety of tools and resources to generate the largest and most diverse pool of candidates. Posting an ad to one or two job boards is generally insufficient. Make sure you tap “active” jobseekers through advertising as well as “passive” jobseekers through robust outreach to your personal and professional networks. A common mistake is to move in a gradual and staged approach, escalating efforts after initial postings have failed to produce results. It is best to be aggressive from the start and make a big splash with your hiring announcement.

(6) Losing Momentum:

Recognize that searches follow a cycle and ensure that your search does not lose valuable momentum. There is usually a lot of energy at the beginning of a search, as staff members imagine bringing on great new talent and as initial postings bring an early rush of candidates. As the search goes on, however, people’s energy may wane as your colleagues realize how much time a search can take and as the number of new candidates begins to diminish. It is the hiring manager’s job to make sure that energy and results carry through until the successful completion of the search. This includes re-posting ads, re-mining networks, reviewing candidates efficiently and keeping the team informed.

(7) Lacking Respect for Candidates:

Put yourself in your candidates’ shoes and make sure that you are treating them in the way you would want to be treated at every stage of the process. Think things through from confirming application receipt, to the timing and nature of correspondence about their status and the process, to making offers and communicating regrets. Recruiting is a marketing opportunity as well as a means to a hire. Remember that for any given position, only 1 person will be hired, but the other 50-100 individuals could become donors, board members, community partners, or future hires for other roles. Keep all candidate information in a database if possible.

(8) Conducting Weak Reference Checks:

Don’t underestimate the power of reference checking. Too many organizations are so exhausted by the time they identify a strong candidate and are so anxious to “close the deal” that they overlook the incredible value of learning from others about their top candidate’s past performance. It certainly can be frustrating when you learn that your top candidate is not going to be the right fit for your position, but it is much more advantageous, both emotionally and financially, to come to that conclusion before the hire is made than two or six months later. Remember also that advice from references can be helpful even as you work to on-board and manage new hires.

(9) Hiring at the Wrong Pace:

Don’t hire too quickly. It is important to resist the tendency to let your urgency to fill a position lead to an abbreviated process that lacks rigor and consistency. Similarly, don’t hire too slowly. Make sure that your process moves efficiently through the different stages, and resist the urge to “hold out” for an even better candidate to come along. This latter strategy often leads to a prolonged or unsuccessful search. Knowing in advance what you are looking for and holding to those standards will help you identify a candidate who will meet your needs.

(10) Failing to Document:

Be careful what you write down during a search, but maintain a confidential file of each candidate’s application materials, the dates at which they moved through the different stages in the process, and the reasons why they were advanced or declined. This will help protect you in case of any allegations of inappropriate hiring practices, and also creates an invaluable resource of candidates for similar future searches.