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Getting it right the first time: Avoiding the 'poor fit' hire

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The moment of truth arrives. As the hiring manager (and in a nonprofit, quite possibly you’re also the executive director), you’ve extended a job offer to a new employee who is starting tomorrow. Despite having interviewed the person as part of a selection committee, ran background checks and spoken to prior employers for references, you can’t help but feel a bit anxious about the new hire. After all, this person is about to step into a critical role in your organization and needs to hit the ground running as fast and as competently as possible - all while fitting in with the current team.

Flash to start day. Your new hire arrives on time, seemingly eager and ready to get to work. But something is off. You can’t quite place what or why. You chalk it up to nerves and let it go. Yet, by day three on the job, the new hire is already gravitating to the known agitating agents on your team. After the first week, your new employee is asking questions about when they can take vacation time and whom to speak to in HR if they have a complaint. By this point, it’s clear you’ve missed something crucial about this person’s character during the hiring process; and now you have to start investigating if this is just anomalous behaviour, or if it’s something more. Beyond that, you’ll have to decide during the probation period whether to let the employee go or take extra measures to “rehabilitate” them before they become a burden to your team. Either way, you’ve got much more work to do than you bargained for with this hire.

Sound familiar?

For many employers, this is a reality they’ve experienced time and again. It’s the nightmare hire that drags down productivity and the mission - and more importantly, team morale. It isn’t always possible to avoid completely, but there are real measures that can be taken to prevent the “poor-fit report.”

Look at the complete “fit” matrix

Veronica Utton, managing director of Toronto boutique HR consulting firm V. Utton and Associates, says screening a candidate is actually far down the list of where to start in ensuring you hire the right person. First and foremost, your organization needs to fully understand the job opportunity it is offering. “The hiring manager needs to be very clear on what the job profile is for a prospective employee,” Utton explains. “The guiding document for what this individual will do needs to be clear and up-to-date and reflect the current needs of the organization.”

The skills, education and knowledge needed to perform the work are only smaller pieces of the greater hiring puzzle, she says. “The other piece is the messaging, the communication in the job posting itself. That marketing document that goes out to the public needs to be concise, yet accurately reflect what’s needed and what’s going to be expected of the applicant.” Lynn Brown, managing director of Toronto’s Brown Consulting Group, concurs.

She notes that the job description itself helps keep interviewers on track and allows them to clearly understand what they want a candidate to do and the skills required. “If [organizations] don’t take the time to [prepare the document] up-front, and instead just look for a [general] set of skills in an applicant that can potentially cross over into the specific position, then those hires are never successful. Why? Because the necessary skills aren’t articulated to the candidate in the interview.”

Employers need to put enough time in to prepare for the interview with the candidate, Brown adds, echoing Utton’s advice.

“If the interviewer is less skilled or not prepared, they may feel a great rapport or have a great discussion with the candidate; but the interviewer isn’t actually doing a good job of screening for the position at that point. They may say, ‘I really like this person!’ then hire them on that ‘like’ alone,” Brown says.

One more bit of advice on the recruitment and interview process comes from Utton, who says that if an organization’s hiring process involves numerous people and stages – e.g., a screening committee, peer interviewing, pre-hiring walkthroughs, etc. – then “all these people and elements should be aligned in their mission and vision. Everyone involved in the hiring process needs to understand how to work through the selection process.”

But as most employers know, hiring a candidate with the right skills doesn’t guarantee avoiding a poor fit.

Hiring for character and fit

In today’s job market, there are sometimes thousands of candidates out there for every job posting. While standard applicant tracking software may be able to help you determine which candidates are not suitable for the job based on their skills and experience, it's more difficult to determine the right personality or character 'fit 'for a role.

“I would never trust online technology solely without an interview as well,” Brown says. “You have these large organizations getting thousands of applications online...and to an extent, you can screen for certain key skills for jobs that require specific skill sets like for an engineering position. Tracking systems are good to help the large employers screen for those skills. Where it becomes a disadvantage can miss people with unique skill sets, depending on how you set up the skills requirements. For example, in many applications - and I’m being broad here - it may be that as a minimum requirement you need a graduate degree. But what if you have a fabulous work history and only have an [undergraduate] degree? For hiring unique positions, where you need unique skills, you need more flexibility in the screening process than some of the more rigid, purely skill-based tracking systems allow.”

Utton agrees, noting that the digital workplace has opened up a vast landscape of candidates. Job connection websites, social media networking and email have all increased the workload of hiring managers. “Gone are the days when you’d walk into an organization and drop off your resumé. It’s all online now through a virtual database. That comes with pros and cons,” she says. “You can go within your own network or get introduced to people outside of your own network; or, if you have a membership [on a work social network site], you can email people directly. It’s a completely different level of access to talent that we didn’t have even five years ago. Social media has helped widen the pool of potential applicants. It has also helped organizations with their reference-checking process. There are ways you can investigate individuals online with methods you didn’t have even two or three years ago. This is a profound change in terms of how it helps an organization get relatively good early indicators” of who these candidates are.

But there are drawbacks, Utton cautions.

“When I think of the small nonprofit, where if they’re fortunate, they have one HR representative...but most nonprofit organizations won’t have this dedicated person. It’s probably the executive director handling the hiring. And it is a taxing job. They will tell you they just don’t have the hours in the day even though the technology is there for them,” she says. “Resources will determine to what extent a nonprofit is able to leverage the technology available.”

Still, inasmuch as there are drawbacks to technology, the state of applicant tracking systems (ATS) has witnessed manifold improvements over the last few years. You can read more on the rise of predictive ATS in this 2014 story.

Tech help on who NOT to hire

Edwin Jansen, marketing lead at Fitzii, one of the leading predictive ATS recruitment companies – and the developers of the technology now integrated on the CharityVillage job board - readily acknowledges that technology alone can’t determine who the best hires are for any given organization; but says the tools do a bang-up job of helping employers recognize candidates that would really not be a good fit, allowing more time to be spent evaluating the better candidates. “No assessments are perfect,” Jansen says. “Fitzii’s predictive scoring is just one element to be considered when selecting employees – not the definitive indicator of whether you should hire someone or not. We always say that Fitzii doesn’t eliminate the need for the human touch. [Instead] it enables it by saving time and allowing for better decisions. Within these decisions, Fitzii is actually more valuable in predicting whom not to hire, rather than whom to hire...when you have a number of qualified candidates.”

According to Jansen, the software does a great job of demonstrating candidates’ “key skills, traits and environmental factors that are critical for success. And it’s clearer who is not a fit, than who is the best fit.” Figuring out the latter involves even more factors, like cultural fit, skills testing, and mission alignment, and that is what the human touch is for, he says. What’s more, the FItzii software’s psychometric personality test section helps employers avoid making poor hires by scoring applicants on six different psychometric scales, all of which have been optimized to predict success by “benchmarking over 15 million assessments,” he explains.

Using a fundraising job as an example, Jansen notes that two of the traits that are most predictive of success in fundraising roles are individuals with high self-initiative and a drive for results.

“Nonprofits can optimize the opportunity to hire a great fundraiser by paying extra attention to these traits in all candidates,” Jansen says.

On culture and fitting-in

Another portion of the Fitzii assessment is its “ideal work environment section,” which is used to spot “the red flags that may affect an individual’s engagement with the role or organization,” Jansen says.

He’s quick to note however, that this part of the hiring application isn’t scientific or predictive, but rather a comparison of a candidate’s “ideal working environment” versus the employers’ definition.

“By [discovering] that a candidate prefers a casual culture when [the employer’s] is quite formal, or whether the candidate likes an independent environment versus when an employer’s is totally team-based, you can be alerted to do a deeper dive into these areas in the interview to explore a candidate’s fit with the hiring organization.”

At the end of the day, as good as technology is at evaluating a candidate’s traits, Brown, Hutton and Jansen all agree that hiring ultimately rests with a human agent.

The day after discovering a “poor fit” hire

So how does an organization best address a candidate who is clearly a poor fit for the role and/or the culture? Brown suggests it involves a series of careful and deliberate steps before all is lost.

Prior to the expiry of the probationary period, the organization should set – or restate - the expectations of the job as soon as possible. “Many times, the job is either over- or undersold. Everyone should have a clear understanding of what they’re getting into.”

Even on the first day of work, during the orientation or on-boarding process, the job expectations should be repeated and put forward, Brown says.

“During the probationary period, there should be built-in, regular feedback. I have clients who call me and say, ‘I have someone and their probationary period is up in two days, and we want to fire them.’ And I say: ‘Well, have you talked to them and told them where they’re not on track?’ And often the answer is ‘no.’

“The earlier you can address issues with a new hire and get them on track, the better. It could salvage the situation. Because in the first three months you really are looking to see if it’s the right fit, both from the employer and employee perspectives.”

There’s also the candidate’s perception to consider. For new hires, it can become readily apparent that they made a mistake taking the role. What looked like a great career opportunity can quickly turn into a career mismatch for the individual; who then needs to figure out how to navigate the situation or extricate themselves from a culture or role that they aren’t prepared to fill. You can read more about the “poor fit” experience from a candidate’s perspective in this story.

Brown says that while candidates may sometimes “oversell themselves” to prospective employers, the reverse is also sometimes true. Both sides are best served when they are clear and direct about responsibilities, skills, cultural realities and expectations in general.

Has your organization experienced a less than excellent hire? How did you deal with it? And how has ATS software impacted your hiring results?

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf is a professional writer living in Toronto. He can be reached at

Photos (from top) via All photos used with permission.

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This article is creating paranoia.

I doubt our company would get any applicants if we followed this author's suggestions.
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very interesting article, what about when you are hired and the job expectations change and the position you were hired for is not the position
you take on? It would be great to know from the employee's perspective how to handle such a circumstance.
thank you,
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Hi Marcy - thanks for taking the time to post your comment! We do have a companion piece for employees that realize their job isn't the right fit. You can find it here: ent.aspx?topic=Finding_the_right_balance_What_to_d o_if_your_job_doesn_t_feel_like_a_good_fit
< br/>Let me know if I can be of any further help!
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