Person/job fit mistakes and how to prevent them

A little quote

An HR executive I met years ago used to say: Having the wrong person in a position creates additional expenses to the company. When they make a mistake, it will cost the company.  You will pay the  cost for their mistakes (not doing things right on time),  the cost of repairing them,  the cost of re-training people or firing/hiring again and the cost of the bad example for the rest of the employees.  

I have seen some mistakes in my 15 years of experience, and yes, some of them are learning opportunities, but the truth is, the cost of the mistake is often higher than what we learn from it.

Why is this important?Right-Job-Match

Recruiters and HR planners usually try to prevent this problem by hiring/promoting the person who already has all the experience needed for the role. What they probably forget is that people that are career-minded will challenge themselves and look for positions where they can acquire NEW competencies.  I often see middle-management jobs that require 8 or more years of experience in a similar role and industry, which is very good indicator that the company may not invest much in Talent Development and that the people that applies is no longer looking for something exciting and challenging.

Experience does not mean competency. We tend to forget that is not the same to have 5 years of experience in recruitment, than to repeat a year 5 times. This is the reason why we should hire by competencies, not by experience, although competences might take more time to be assessed. A simple way of doing it is with the behavioral interview, which you probably know already.  Another one a little bit more complex is through cases, where you ask the job seeker to work in a case that s/he could work on when hired. The case has to be prepared carefully to provide relevant information and then discussed to understand why the candidate took those decisions.

In places where there is a lot of diversity in the workforce, using cases could also be a fair tool to select the best candidates. There are cultures that traditionally have a stronger presence, cultures that we don’t appreciate due to a stereotype, and people who haven’t taken/mastered the local accent yet and can be easily discarded on the screening of a regular interview.

If you want to go with a Case interview, don’t forget the following points:

-Prepare and include all the information that the candidate will need to solve the case.

-Write down the instructions on the case description,  and describe the points that will be evaluated.

-Give the candidate enough time to prepare it and the resources needed.

-Organize the case information in a clear way and ask someone else to read it.

-Ask questions related to the case and to the analysis process. Make a clear assessment of the competencies and the level of development that the candidate has.

-Be fair. Tell the candidate what the interview is about in advance (tell them it will be a practical case, I don’t mean disclosing the topic of the case).


Making sure that you have the right person in the right place will only increase the talent pool, the employee morale, and the profits of the company.


Value-based hiring

Several years ago I took some German courses. I remember my teacher saying that a lot of German companies where hiring people with this language skill in Latin America. He said (and after 3 years of German courses, I agree)  that it’s easier to teach people how to perform a job, than to teach them German. This observation comes to my mind often, especially when I meet someone who doesn’t share the company values or doesn’t act in a respectful way. Acquiring skills and knowledge is not that difficult, but finding someone with the right attitude/values is.

The most important function of recruitment is to put the right person in the right role. Finding the right person means taking a look to the whole person, as the predictors of success in a position, the real person-job fit,  include attitude and skills, not only knowledge.


To create a talent pool we need to hire balancing the needs of the present and the ones of the future. Is the person going to be promoted? (I hope so!) What is the career path she might follow?

The person-job fit is not only responsibility of the recruiters, different people are involved in ensuring this match once that the person is promoted.  A person might be promoted at least 3 times, not considering lateral moves.  7 if she doesn’t change companies in her lifetime, which is very unlikely (considering the average tenure in a job as 4 years, according to a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor).

If your company has an HR planning process, you know that the potential a person has is as important as the fit with the job that was hired to do. This first job may not last even six months, but if we want to guarantee that the investment in time, money and effort the company made is not wasted, we need to make sure that the person has a good fit with the company culture, and that means values. Behaviors can be influenced with the right incentive, but values are very difficult to change.  A group of employees with the right attitude will make any job feasible.  The right attitude in the company will increase morale, improve performance and reduce turnover.


We need to clarify first the company values, as you know, the strategic plans of the company will have a direct impact on the HR plans. The values are one of the most important topics in HR and strategy ever. It’s a foundation of the company that impacts everyone everyday. For sure, they are something more than a poster in the hallway. Doing some research, I found values mentioned just 3 times -yes, you read it right-  in the book: Relever les défis de la gestion des ressources humaines. Not by coincidence, I found 8 references to violence in the same book.

When the employees are not aligned with the company values, the entire company resent it. In order to have a value-based hiring process, that allows us to ensure that the person with the right attitude is coming on board, we need to consider that both the employee and the company might have espoused values and enacted values. Espoused values are the ones that we consciously say we live by, that we’re committed to them, while enacted values are the ones that we really live by and show in our behavior.

Companies, for example, tend to say that they are committed to innovation, teamwork and social responsibility. If we take a closer look, we often notice that they want everyone to invest time and resources only in the most profitable projects, reach their department or individual targets relentlessly and well, just make profits. As for employees, everyone says (and probably believes) that they are really dedicated,  are committed to the company’s goals, and they love to work in teams, and anyone who has more than a year of experience working in a company, knows that it is not always true.



1. Ask relevant questions: Incorporating values, as we said at the beginning, means to understand that the person is whole. This means, that being realistic, you will expect that the future employee will come to the interview with fears, hopes, dreams and ideals. We want to know what the candidate’s enacted values are. Some months ago, I went to an interview where I was asked “How would you describe yourself?”.  A more concrete questions would have been: “How would you describe yourself and WHY?”, or even better,  if we already have a clear idea of the values we’re looking for, using the Behavioral interview would be more useful as it gives concrete examples of behavior that we may see repeated over time.

2. Set priorities. What is the importance of values over skills and knowledge?  That depend of your company and your strategic plan. There are companies that follow the “No Asshole rule”, and if this is your company case, it’s pretty obvious that values/attitude will play a more important role in the hiring process. Hiring based on values doesn’t mean that you will hire weak or “nice” people, but it means that you are aware of the discrepancy of the enacted and espoused values of your company, and you’re betting on developing the talent pool to reach the ideal.  If you’re hiring someone who has jumped from job to job, or seems to be difficult to motivate, well, what you see is what you get.

3. Be congruent: Honesty and openness from the interviewer to acknowledge the struggles or the status of the company is important, too. A motivated candidate that is really interested in the company will probably love the challenge. Of course, there is a need to protect the company regarding sensitive issues, but we cannot pretend that things are not wrong when it’s clear they are. I’ve asked in interviews why they’re looking for an OD specialist (we know that it’s not because everything is going great) and recruiters often deny the reality.

4. Create a value-based process: The recruitment process shows the candidates the values of your company. Recruiters shouldn’t just ignore candidates. Timely responses and follow-ups are a way to show respect.  Application processes should be logical, user-friendly and work well. Messages should be respectful. A couple of months ago I applied to a job that was perfect for me. I never received an answer from the recruiter. Then I saw the job coming through my network and the message from the recruiter said something like: ” We’re not concerned if people are looking or not for a job, the great majority of the people we end up considering are actually not looking”. Ah, there are so many things that we can deduce from this message. Clearly, this was not the right company for me.

Hiring based on values is only the beginning of the process. Values should be present in the day-to-day life of the company. HR, in particular, needs to make sure that the policies, procedures, and systems reflect the company values and help to cultivate talent in the company. There is no other way to build a great company.

If you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys

Computers have done things super easy for a lot of us, but it also brought some disadvantages. When I was younger (it is sad, but I’m now entitled to use this phrase),  I learned to score and review psychometric tests by hand. Of course, I WELCOMED the computer and  software that allowed me to get the results in seconds instead of spending 20 min on each test, but I didn’t regret learning what each item/category/combination meant in the overall result.

However, in these days of self-taught learning, a comment I hear often is: “why do you pay a professional when you can give the opportunity to someone who is beginning his/her career or my friend who also does that (as a hobby, they usually fail to mention)”.  Meaning, I won’t pay a “Communication Specialist” $XXX when I can pay a “Social Media guru” just $X.

We need to remember that you get what you pay for. If you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys.  It’s that simple.


You wouldn’t dare allowing a student to perform a heart transplant surgery. Yes, everyone has to start somewhere, but that’s the reason why Career paths exist. You need to identify if the skill needed is easily acquirable.

One of my friends is working at a hospital in Montreal. She’s really competent and applied to a higher position that she’s definitely qualified for. She’s also an immigrant and although her French is very good, her writing style is different than the people born and raised here. The recruiter asked her to write a sample letter, and despite the letter was beautifully written, well structured, concise and effective, the recruiter didn’t like it because the way she phrased something wasn’t the usual way (that IMHO is an old-fashioned style). Therefore, she was rejected for that position.  The recruiter will probably hire someone who lacks the experience and tact to deal with upset customers, but is able to write letters as beauty as templates.

So, again, there is no substitute for good judgement. If the task that you need to do is:

  • sensitive (such as a  Corporate Culture campaign after a company merge)
  • permanent (e.g. designing your mission and vision posters)
  • impacts a lot of people (such as answering the complains in a hospital)
  • or has an impact in your resources (hiring a Finance Manager, for example), you better invest on it

As one of my mentors say: Do what you want and pay for it.  I’m a big fan of doing things myself, but I always have this question in mind: what are the consequences?

One thing is to design and print my own training course handouts, materials and diplomas, and another one is to negotiate a collective agreement with the union. Unfortunately, in order to know what are the consequences, I need to know what’s at a stake. And that doesn’t happen until you move in the learning circle from unconsciously incompetent to consciously competent.

Does this mean you cannot change careers after 10 years or you cannot enrich your work with some other experiences that are not directly related? Absolutely not. There are amazing stories of people who excelled in two different fields, such as Marie Forleo, or Anthony Robbins. It has to do with passion, preparation, and professionalism. I would bake a cake for my niece’s birthday, I would even bake for my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary, but I wouldn’t bake your wedding cake, although I love baking and I am very good at it. If you are going to pay for it, you deserve the best your money can get you.

As for enriching your work, yes, you might give better advice to businesses in Social Media, for example, if you have developed communication plans, worked in the internet industry and have taken some relevant courses. In that way, you have the real world experience, the structure and the technical knowledge. That’s after all how you get into a field that is still developing, but you have to have someone professional on your team, so you can avoid falling into beginner’s mistakes.

So, at the end of the day, it pays to spend more in a graphic designer who worked for months to learn Image analysis, Color theory, and Form theory, instead of someone who just invested a couple of days learning how to copy and paste in Photoshop.

Hiring an eagle to fly in a cage

Building the talent needed for a company is a challenging activity. You should hire the candidate taking into account the job requirements, but also keeping in mind that this person will be part of the pool of talent that will meet the company’s need in the future. You need to create the right mix of external talent and internal candidates.

In Mexico, back in 1998, I read several discouraging job descriptions.  The usual scenarios were entry-level positions that required a very young person (let’s say younger than 25) with 3 years of experience (yes, for an entry-level position), a bachelor degree, bilingual, with initiative, leadership, ambition, and a nice presence (yes, in Mexico you can practically say “good-looking”); the salary was barely the average in the market.  The position would probably be for a clerk, or administrative assistant.  While these two roles are important in the organization, the opportunity to show initiative, leadership and ambition probably will never happen, and the opportunity to grow within the company will also be limited, as a stigma for having been an administrative assistant will persist within the organization. In Latin America, it is still common to hire an eagle to fly in a cage.

Eagle In Cage

Vertical and lateral experience vs. stability?

The recruitment process here is quite different, although cages are still around. While in LatAm we want to discover almost all the abilities and competencies that the person may have, and see how she can grow in the company, in Canada the main focus of the recruiter seems to be finding if the candidate has recently done what the new position requires.  Sometimes, to easily find the right fit, the job description asks for 8 years of experience in the same job; I’m sure about this, I just applied to one of them, after wondering about the extent of flexibility, challenge and growth I may have in the really remote case I’m hired (as I haven’t had that role here in Canada).  Perhaps the hiring manager or the recruiter don’t understand that one year lived 8 times, is not the same as 8 years of experience in roles that are related and that build up for the experience needed for the role.

From what I have seen, the recent experience needs to match with the job description, either to be filtered by the Applicant Tracking System, or because this may bring stability (which is not as important as it used to be). The job description is carved in stone for some employees, who may think that their activities are limited to the 10-15 tasks described in it,  which would explain why the Canadians (IMHO) seem to be tied to strict and limited roles.  It may also hinder the HR planning process in the company and discourage valuable employees. I remember how people reacted when an Accounts receivable employee took an extended sick leave and I took some of her responsibilities to ensure we paid our providers and received our client’s payments. This was not part of my role, of course, as I was in a different area, but the correct functioning of our company was more important to me than my job description.

Competencies vs. industry experience

I have also learned that the recruiters tend to hire having solely the open position requirements in mind. They don’t seem to mind if the person is a seasoned HR manager in, let’s say a manufacturing company, if the open position is in an Aeronautical company. Despite the similarities of the job, the experience that the person may have will be disregarded, as HR will look for someone with experience in the same industry (which in Montreal would be reduced to 4-6 companies).  Using the Competency-based Interview, recruiters may find valuable candidates that come from different fields, and see if the competency they look for can be transferred from one field to another one.  I would bet any day on the competency than on the field experience. Competencies such as Adaptability or Interpersonal rapport -just to mention two- are not easy to develop, while learning the most relevant information in an industry may go from 6 months (the normal learning curve for the job, anyway) to a year.

Foreign talent

One of the most puzzling concepts I found here was the famous Canadian experience.  Perhaps because I was young and naive, this didn’t seem a bizarre concept before I arrived to Montreal -as I idealized the working culture and the North American efficiency- but in less than a year, I understood that this requirement was probably due to the fact that a lot of Canadians think that Latin America cities look more or less like Varadero streets. I’m not joking, one of my friends at work was very ashamed after she asked me if we had tall buildings in my city and I showed her this picture of Monterrey.

In general, people who have a solid career abroad, would need to start all over again, because we lack the famous Canadian experience. Fortunately, it’s not a difficult thing to do, given that the employee had previously worked in competitive companies, but it does take time and we hate to waste it. Don’t get me wrong, but we didn’t leave a mid to high-level position and promising career in our home land, to stay for years in entry level positions here.  The immigration requirements are demanding: at least a bachelor degree, 5 years of experience in the same field, and one or two additional languages.   In my case, I discovered that a all  the “new” practices I saw here, were common knowledge in the last decade in my city (I’m not speaking only of my company, as I was part of Future HR lab, back in 2006).  Yes, I agree that we cannot assume that everyone will fit in the Canadian culture, or work in the same way that the rest, but I can be sure that anyone from a major city in LatAm is even used to more working hours, more competition, more demands and less resources.  Again, a competency-based interview and a couple google searches, will help recruiters to bring very talented people who will be happy to work for your organization.

I just hope to see that eagles are welcomed here, and the cages eventually vanish.