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What Are the Risks When You Hire “The Best We Could Get”?

Say you’re interviewing candidates for a big job you really need to fill — and fast. The absence of someone in this crucial spot is beginning to halt progress and the staff is starting to lose confidence.

The perfect candidate needs a broad range of important competencies. You’ve already mined your network, and you’ve had a recruiter focused on the assignment for months. One candidate seems to have all the skills, even though in some of the interviews, they’ve come across as if they’re more of a “me” person than a “we” person.

But you really, truly need to fill that job! So you decide to hire the best candidate you can get right now, even if that person isn’t perfect. They’ll get you over the hump you’re currently facing, and afterwards they’ll probably be ready to move on anyway, so you’ll be able to replace them with someone who might not be quite as assertive, but will last for the long haul.

Making the Best of the Situation Can Be Dangerous

I’ve seen different versions of this scenario so many times — in organizations of varying sizes and in roles ranging from operations to strategy to sales. I’ve been part of screening teams — and often the person who pointed out the equivalent of “Here’s what will happen if you make this choice.”

As risky as it can be to hire the best of an imperfect bunch, doing so may feel necessary under your particular circumstances. Yet certain predictable dangers are likely to manifest if you hire the candidate who can “do the job” yet lacks solid self-awareness, or doesn’t care deeply enough about your mission, culture, or people.

Here are some of the most common ways that things go wrong:

  • The danger signs you brushed off as “not really problems turn” out to be real problems. During the hiring process, you thought the candidate might just be nervous, or eager to please, or extremely enthusiastic, or wanting to show you how good they are — but it turned out that they actually are uncommunicative, insincere, or incapable of hearing anyone’s opinions except their own.
  • They fix the thing you really needed fixed, but also create new problems. Maybe they’re achieving their numbers in a way that generates higher than normal costs for some other team. Or perhaps they’re dismissive of how incumbents do things, so some good people start engaging less enthusiastically, and maybe even withdraw and find “better” jobs.
  • They don’t fix the thing you really needed. Perhaps they were successful elsewhere thanks to the team they had backing them up or certain infrastructure that you haven’t got.
  • You keep them too long. They’re not doing quite as well as you’d hoped, but they’re not doing terribly, and you have lots of other things that need your attention, and it truly is a hassle to start another search, so even though you know you’re entering risk territory, you hang on to them a little while longer to avoid making a hole in the organization.
  • You end up having to do part of their job. You needed a specific part of their experience so badly that you were willing to do without adjacent or related expertise. But it turns out that they don’t have any of the secondarily needed skill, so you have to pick up the slack along with everything else you do — or get someone else to do it.
  • You become a worse leader out of guilt and avoidance. It’s hard to confront someone that you picked for not turning out to be different from what they were when you hired them. It’s also hard to put the organization through more disruption. But pretending that things are all right when they’re clearly not is a surefire way to ruin your own credibility.

Be Ready to Protect Yourself, and Your Organization

After going without a crucial skill or function for a while, it can feel like things are falling apart. But before you hire the strongest of a merely adequate set of candidates, at least minimize the potential damage with extremely deep reference checking, extra onboarding and field support, and not extending the job definition to its largest possible scope.

And commit yourself to helping your organization get the best work possible out of your chosen candidate. Supervise extra closely and scrutinize the means as well as the ends when it comes to interdepartmental dynamics. Prepare a Plan B so if things aren’t going well, you already know how to make a prompt change. And then make it.

Onward and upward,


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