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Why Most Companies Never Hire the Perfect Person for the Job


When you begin the hiring process, is more time used for writing a long job description, or for assessing true needs? Today we share Jeff Haden’s perspective.


Why Most Companies Never Hire the Perfect Person for the Job

by Jeff Haden

Want to hire superstars?

Then trying to find the “total package” is the last thing you should do.

Why? Think about the typical hiring process. You work hard to find and select the right candidate. You evaluate skills and experience and then ask interview questions to determine if the candidate possesses qualities like attention to detail, interpersonal skills, leadership ability, problem-solving skills….

Your process is exhaustive and, well, exhausting.

Still, while many of the people that get hired turn out to be good employees, few of them turn out to be what every company really needs: great employees.

Why? Those companies — and the people making the decisions — took the job description approach to hiring.

Think about job descriptions. They list a wide variety of qualifications the employee should possess. Typically attributes like “self motivated,” “able to work with minimal supervision,” “able to prioritize and handle multiple tasks,” and “able to work well alone or as a member of a team,” are included.

So what happens? People evaluate candidates with those requirements in mind. The candidate that ticks the most boxes is usually selected—and the company winds up hiring good when they really need great.

Now think about the truly great employees you know. Some are well rounded, some are not, but all possess at least one incredible skill. They all do at least one thing, one critical thing, so well that people are willing — even happy — to overlook some of their deficiencies.

They may not “take a collaborative approach to problem solving,” but wow do they make your fulfillment facility sing.

In short, a great employee has what you really need. All other attributes on the job description, while important, pale in comparison.

Next time you hire an employee, set the job description approach aside and take this approach instead.

1. Determine what you really need. 

Forget about finding a “well-rounded employee” (whatever that is). If you could only pick one or two attributes, what are the most important skills or qualities you need?

Keep in mind those attributes will often change depending on your current needs and the skills your other employees possess. So ignore the job description. Forget the position; think about the job. Decide what you really need the new employee to do.

As Dharmesh Shah says, “You don’t need a VP of anything… you need a Doer of Things That Need to Get Done.”

2. Decide what you really don’t need. 

When you’re ticking off boxes on a list of qualifications it’s easy to forget that you simply can’t live with some attributes, regardless of how solid the candidate otherwise appears.

Complete this sentence about a theoretical employee: “I don’t care how great she is, I would still let her go because she ________.”

Those are your no-go attributes. Never lose sight of them.

3. Do a first pass. 

Set aside every candidate that doesn’t have what you really need. Don’t be tempted by the, “Wow, she really has a wide range of skills,” candidate. If she doesn’t bring the one or two attributes you really need she may turn out to be a good employee, but she’s not likely to be great.

Then set aside every candidate with an attribute on your “no way in hell” list. He won’t be great either.

4. Conduct highly focused interviews. 

Spend 10% of your time assessing general qualities and 90% of your time ensuring the candidate truly has what you need. Dig in. Ask for examples. Ask lots of follow-up questions. Write everything down.

Then check references and use your notes to help you ask specific questions. Sure, some companies won’t provide any information, but many—especially small businesses—will.

Many will say they are not allowed to share information about previous employees. When that happens, try saying, “I understand. I’m just really worried I might a mistake. Can you just say, if you were me, whether you would hire him?”

You’ll be surprised by how many people will want to help you out with a whispered “yes” or “no.”

Then you can…

5. Assess the “total employee.” 

If a few candidates seem relatively equal in terms of what you really need, then decide which one best meets your more subjective criteria. Conduct a second interview if necessary. Or let other employees interview the remaining candidates.

At this point you can afford to evaluate “nice to have” qualities because you’ve done everything possible to identify candidates that have the attributes you truly need.

What do you think? Do you hire people who have that one skill you most need, or do you try to hire candidates who appear to be the total package?

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