Hiring Mistakes: Comments on Advice From LinkedIn

Part 1: Is there a place for stressful questions in the interview?

Linkedin offers a great service and (mostly) terrific advice for recruiters.

Naturally, with different authors, we get different points of view. This article is written to comment on two sharply differing pieces of advice. Having been involved with thousands of hiring decisions, I disagree with both views.

To Put Pressure on Candidates or Not?

In a recent article Sarah McLaren cautions against using certain questions because they are likely to add unnecessary pressure on the candidate. The paper refers to a study conducted by Reboot Marketing in which applicants were connected to a health and fitness tracker while answering interview questions.

The research found that certain questions caused the subject’s heart rate to accelerate dramatically. Based on this Ms. McLaren suggests eliminating, or in some cases rephrasing, these questions

These were genuine job applicants who volunteered to particiate in this study prior to taking their real interview.The article doesn’t comment on whether being interviewed while hooked up to a machine might add pressure to the candidate. Interestingly, each participant was asked to read out the score of their finess tracker after answering each question.

In another paper written by LinkedIn, interviewerss are encouraged to “Ask Unexpected Questions”. Among those recommended are “It’s 12 PM one year from now. What are you doing? Or “On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?”

First Things First

To consider whether to add pressure, we have to begin with the first rule of hiring. The process often begins a with a variant of “How will we fill this job?” Not bad, but there is a much more important question.

“What do we risk if we pick the wrong person?” That should be the first question. It concentrates the mind on what is really at stake.

All mistakes have a cost. The more senior the appointment, the greater the risk. And every hiring decision bears risks.

Quiet hallway conversations, asking how this could happen, often is where any real analysis stops. We return to focus on day-to-day challenges that demand our attention.

This is both understandable and unfortunate, as hiring mistakes are one of the biggest organizational costs. If treated respectfully, they can also be a powerful source of learning and growth.

Let’s look at some of the most obvious costs.

Financial Costs of a Hiring Mistake

Wasted costs of recruiting this person. These will usually include:
Time drafting or refining the original job description
Time to plan a recruitment campaign
Cost of advertising
Time screening new applications
Time interviewing
Time checking references
Time making a decision
Time and cost of orienting and training a new staff member
Their salary, and other on costs, such as overheads and retirement plan.
Cost of managing the problem employee before they leave
Cost of “pay-outs” to encourage someone to leave
Cost of losing good employees because of the problem hire.
Loss of income. This may be in lost sales, lack of repeat business or dissatisfied customers who you never hear from again.
Cost of resources to cover the position until a new hire is made
Cost of supervision, coaching or counselling due to their impact
Cost of replacing the person including all of those listed above

Invisible costs of a hiring mistake:

These costs are very real but less tangible. While harder to put a dollar figure on, they are infinitely more costly.

  • Damage to the reputation of the business
  • Damage to the existing culture
  • Increased risk of legal liability
  • Damage to the reputation of the person who made the hiring decision
  • The opportunity cost. Where would you be now if a basically capable person been hired?
  • Additional stress on the person responsible for managing this person
  • Supervisor’s time management decreased due to demands of the poor performer
  • Poor morale, especially among those who worked most closely with this person

These are the most obvious costs and risks. Looking at your organization, some may not be relevant, or you may discover more that have not been listed. Try a simple test. Ask yourself what were the real costs of hirng someone who was a poor fit for your organizaion.

The Goal of a Pre-Employment Assessment

At a minimum the assessment process will consist of one or more interviews and reference checks. Some form of testing or other assessment processes may be used.

The point of the assessment process is to try to predict the future behaviour of a candidate once hired.

Many factors must be considered. The ability to learn new information, to reason their way through ambiguous problems, getting along with a wide range people, managing inevitable conflict, negotiating office politics are just a few.

Among these is the ability to cope with stress.

How many jobs do you know of that have no stress? Not many. So, if we want to know how a person will deal with stress, it is wise to observe them under some degree of stress. Yes, some questions might cause someone’s heart rate to go up. How likely is that they’ll have to cope with some periods like that on the job?

Given the risk that comes with hiring someone new, it is naïve to believe we cannot stress the applicant. The art of a skillful interview is to introduce enough stress, without alienating the candidate.

In Part 2 of this series we’ll look out how to set the scene for the interview. In Part 3 we’ll examine how to add pressure without turning off the candidate.


Every job has some degree of stress. To predict job performance, we must get an idea of how an applicant will manage this. With some thought an skill, this can be done without turing off the applicant.

I have asked hundreds of people what they thought of the interview. Almost invariably they have been complimenary. The most common feedback has been “It’s nice to see that you take hiring so seriously”.