Hiring the wrong person always worse than being short-staffed

By JJ Rosen November 9, 2021
graphic: Hire With Caution

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

A couple of weeks after he started, one of our new IT support guys called and said he couldn’t come in because he had hit a deer with his car.

Fair enough— colliding with a deer can be a traumatic experience (especially for the deer.)  Between the damage to his car and the normal jitters of starting a new job he was rattled.

The next day, he called in and said he needed another day off.

Oddly enough he had hit another deer with his car—on the same road.  What are the odds?  Slim, but sure, it happens. We asked if he needed anything, and he said he should be OK.  He would re-group and be there in the morning.

It was on the third day that we realized perhaps we had made a mistake.  Around noon he called and said sorry he was running late, but (you guessed it) he had hit a third deer.

We never heard from him again.

Although strange and a bit funny (assuming of course, that the deer were all OK) our hiring mistake caused some stress for the rest of our team.

Already shorthanded, our helpdesk crew had been counting on our new hire to ease their workload.  Fast responses to our clients’ tech support needs are critical to our business.  By hiring the wrong person, we had not only hurt the morale of our existing team, but we also risked failing to meet our customers’ needs.

During the interview process, our nice but odd new hire did fine on our technical skills tests, but he had rescheduled his interview multiple times and had been hard to get in touch with.  And, when we finally did schedule an interview, he was 30 minutes late (on Zoom.)

We saw these red flags, but in this tight labor market we decided it was worth it to take our chances.

In hindsight, we realized we should have known better.

In our eagerness to recruit more help, we had forgotten a lesson we learned all the way back in the dotcom days when hiring (especially techies) was equally as hard. Whether you run a restaurant, a factory, or a doctor’s office, no matter what your company does, the same rule applies: hiring the wrong employee is much worse than hiring no employee at all.

Most seasoned managers know this.  But it’s a lesson that’s all too easy to forget when you are understaffed and under pressure to keep your customers happy.

So, if you can’t find the right fit for an unfilled role, what should you do?

In our case, we have tried to increase our recruiting efforts while at the same time balancing our workload so that we don’t bite off more than we can chew.  Here and there we’ve had to pass on projects we really wanted to take on. This is painful, but not as painful as hiring the wrong person and doing a bad job.

The temptation to “hire and hope it works out” is simply not worth the risk.

We never did learn if the deer story was a complete fabrication or if there was some truth to it.  I suppose it’s just as well we didn’t find out.  Either way, he was either stretching the truth, or colossally unlucky. For the deer’s sake, I hope it was the former.

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba, a Nashville software development and IT consulting firm.  Visit www.atiba.com for more info.

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