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.



I’m sharing this experience with the intention of inviting my two readers to reflect on the common misconceptions we have when our knowledge of a certain topic is not extensive. As a tourist, and even as a temporary worker, it’s easy to believe that we understand the culture of a country, when in reality, we’ve only dipped our toes into a different world. There is an additional layer of difficulty when we’re not really proficient in the local language.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a lot of people tend to think that Latin America is mostly beaches, colonial cities, and old buildings. Also, I’ve seen that people who are not familiar with other cultures tend to imagine that immigrants from the Third World are mostly refugees running away from poverty and crime. And while in a general sense, we all look for a safer and better place to live,  a lot of immigrants come from a not-so-impoverished place. Latin America is huge and encompasses all these contrasting realities.


While working and studying in Canada the last 6 years, I have been exposed to  several organizations, national and international large companies, as well as small local companies, and I did not find any unknown and exceptional practice, except for fairly new trends, such as recruiting using Social Media, or designing training for mobile devices.

Furthermore, in different occasions I found outdated practices and when I designed new projects, part of my inspiration frequently came from projects I did ten years ago.  Of course, I realize that this contrast is due to organizational competencies and individual skills, and not because is a regional or national trend.

Latin America  has a lot of  industrialized cities, with large companies that have cutting-edge technology and practices. Cities that have a bigger population than Canada, for example, tend to become industrialized, have high level of competition, welcome foreign investments and are not limited to a certain type of industry. Foreign companies continue using their own global practices, perhaps adapting them to the reality of the market. I had the opportunity to see how the Japanese, North American and Mexican practices were integrated in one culture in our plant.

Professionals from industrialized third-world cities are quite similar to the first-world professionals: they tend to travel to different countries, read relevant books and other resources from global experts, and network with professionals from any number of countries.  I went to Brazil in 2010 and met people from Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil that were using the same techniques than our colleagues in the US and Europe.

Additionally, it is not unusual that these professionals learn different languages, obtain Master and PhD degrees (regardless the country where they’re offered), and are open to learn, try and adapt best practices, to meet their needs.

I would like to share a reflection that my husband had when talking with someone from NASA who said that they have the “brightest minds” from India and other countries:  NASA probably has the brightest minds that were willing to immigrate to the US.  Often, the brightest minds will stay in their own countries, unless there is no real opportunity to grow there.

As HR/OD professionals, we need to remember that talent and innovation need to be cultivated, and both are needed to generate competitive advantages. If we hire people that we are familiar with, that watched the same movies, read the same books, went to the same schools, we’re excluding our organization from the rich and abundant experience other people have.

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.

The Cost of Vacancy

When someone leaves an organization, his/her team and the entire organization resent it. There is an emotional impact that lowers employee morale, regardless if the person left the company voluntarily. It’s part of the human nature, as our need for belonging (Maslow dixit) is affected and the person who we used to see everyday, perhaps have lunch with, share our personal thoughts, etc, is no longer there.  There is an additional impact when the person is let go, as teams frequently consider the person as a victim and teams go into a basic assumption of fight/flight against the motive that caused the disruption, according to Bion.

Regardless of the morale problem, there is an impact on overall productivity, as people may wonder if there is a bigger lay off, if _they_ will ever hire someone else, who will do his/her job, etc. Additionally, the time that takes a new employee to ramp up, and perform at the level of  the rest of the team will hinder the adaptation process.

If the person had a direct contact with the client, there will probably be an impact on the customer relationship, too;  in some cases, loyal clients will follow the person to a new job. I know it because I changed three times the location of a seminar I organized, just to follow the sales rep I had, who was really amazing and solved all the problems that one may imagine in relation to events.

Eternally hiring

So, how do you explain that certain key positions remain open for so many months?   If there is no OD Specialist (or even HR), no one will really know (and put a number on) the impact and the cost of not filling a position on time.  Sometimes happens that all the focus is put into Sales, and if Sales is ok, they assume everyone will be fine. So the first step to fill a position in time, is to realize what’s the impact on the organization.  Finance can always help us to determine the cost of vacancy, and this is something that has to be considered if we want to take an informed decision.

The hiring time may be decreased if we keep a pool of candidates (internal or external) that will be almost ready to take the position. There are other options, such as hiring temporary help or finding a recruitment firm that help us to fill the position as soon as possible. Of course, all these options have to be carefully evaluated, particularly at the moment of hiring, as we need to make sure that the person is ready or will gain the skills needed in less than 6 months, that is usually the time needed to perform at the top of our abilities. We need to ensure that the person is the right one, so we don’t put too much pressure on the person (if is an internal promotion) that perhaps will force the person to quit. In which case, we’ll have 2 open positions in a very short period of time. If we hire someone who is a complete fail, in which case, we may end up with another open position but this time in HR (just kidding).

Leaving the position open is, from my perspective, one of the worst decisions. I’ve seen a couple of positions that were interesting and have been open for so many months, that clearly show the lack of knowledge/experience from the HR team, who haven’t been able to find or negotiate or even develop a good candidate for it (the three options are really feasible in six months).

So, how can you calculate and demonstrate the financial impact of the vacancy for a position? It will depend of the role and the contribution of the role to the company’s results, and also, of the data that you have available. This number is very clear in position that have quotas, but we shouldn’t underestimate the impact that other positions bring to the company.

Finally, we also need to understand this value may be influenced by the added value of an employee, as we all know, that the unique characteristics of a person may or may not be missed. We use to think that everyone is replaceable in a company, but the truth is that some people will always be missed.

reuniones de trabajo