Human Resources Blog - Spark Hire

Small Businesses Hire the Wrong People

At some time in the life of a small business, the owner starts to hire intelligently. That moment is about the same time that the business starts to succeed.

Until that point, one of two things has been happening:

1)    You hire because you need a body.
2)    You hire because you have a gut feeling.

The first thing makes more sense than the second one. Sometimes, you just need another pair of hands, someone at the counter, or hands on a shovel. If you are in a right-to-work state, you can dismiss such a worker any time you want if things do not work out.

But, when you hire on a gut feeling, you will find yourself very reluctant to admit you were wrong.


More often than not, you hire based on a gut feeling because the candidate has controlled the interviews. S/he has outwitted and maneuvered you with a charm offensive.

Too many owners are complete amateurs at recruiting and hiring people to positions that will make or break their business. Their instinct is to locate candidates to whom they can relate. Owners favor people with the same views and in whom they can see themselves. Unconsciously, they figure it will be easier to on-board the hire and take less time to train. It is flattering, don’t you see?

As often as not, what the candidate has done is to exercise some active listening tricks on you. S/he has nodded along with your remarks, reiterated your words, and sustained eye contact with a smile. But, when all is said and done, active listening is the only achievement they have demonstrated.

Stick to the resume

Assuming you or yours have been able to qualify the candidate, you have most of the “let me be your best friend” business out of the way.

  • Get a firm grasp of the candidate’s resume.
  • Place the resume on the desk between you and check it only as needed.
  • Ask questions about the education shown on the resume. Ask what it means to the person. Then, make that question more specific, asking, “What would you say is the most recent time you applied something you learned at XYZ University.”
  • Review their work history in terms of their achievements. Because achievement is a behavior, drive them to describe how they did something.
    • “Describe a situation in which you regretted working on a team.”
    • “Describe the last time you were called upon to be a ‘people person’ and how that worked out for you.”
    • Provide the candidate with three index cards on which you have written situations that arise in your business. Identify the problem and the personalities involved. Allow a few minutes for thought, and ask for the response.
    • Finally, have a checklist at your side to complete and score the candidate. Allow points for each question asked, and assign the questions weight as more or less important. In preparing the checklist and weighting the scores, you will better understand what you are looking for.

Make the decision smart

The best-qualified candidates will not let you hire them unless they can do the best job. Nice people will let you hire them because they think they can change things. The best-qualified candidates will not talk about themselves; they will demonstrate achievements. They will not flatter, but they will analyze. They suggest rather than tell. And, they tell good stories.

Do you think small businesses tend to hire the wrong people? What advice do you have for any hiring amateurs out there? Share with us in the comments!

Carolyn SokolAbout the Author: Carolyn Sokol is founder and President of as well as Business Development Director to, both of which help match businesses to the right HRIS or PEO provider for their particular HR needs.



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