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The Top Five Hiring Mistakes Digital Companies Make (How to Avoid Them!)

Top 5 Hiring mistakes dig startup

We’ve all been there–made a mistake in hiring.  And you are not alone.    Here are five common mistakes digital companies make in hiring new employees and some ways to prevent making the same mistakes and hiring the wrong person.  The cost of a bad hire can really set you back.

1. Hiring based on culture fit or on skills alone.

When hiring for your digital company, it can be easy to get caught up in a very simplistic mindset when hiring.

Hiring for skills seems very straightforward. You are looking for someone to fill a specific role and who has the ability to utilize certain software and perform specific duties.  The person who is a skill set match can be up and running quickly and filling the gap that your company is missing.

There is a catch, though.  Many skills can be taught. A culture fit, cannot.

Culture fit is basically the essence of who someone is, and the personality and beliefs that they bring to the company.

How to balance hiring for skills versus culture fit:

  • Determine what skills you need the candidate to have, and what you are willing to train on.
  • Ask culture fit questions that encourage a job candidate to share their experiences or their approach to work-related situations.
  • Don’t just put out a skills-based job description. Include information about your company’s mission and culture within the job ad to better your chances of attracting like-minded candidates.
  • When in doubt, lean toward culture fit. Many skills can be taught, but someone who is not a cultural match for your company won’t be a long-term employee. Training someone according to your company’s practices and culture can ensure that you have employees who have a strong foundation and less ‘bad habits’ to overcome while working for you.

In the end, it’s good to find an employee who is a balance of both culture fit, and skill set.  Figuring out which skills you can train and asking questions about the candidate’s approach to work situations can help you balance your desire for a highly skilled candidate and a great fit for company culture.

2. Not verifying the candidate’s qualifications.

One thing that digital companies do have in common with traditional workspaces, is that you need to hire qualified candidates.  If you aren’t having a face to face interview with the candidate this can be challenging, but it is not impossible to overcome.

While it might seem easier to hire based on instinct or your impression of the candidate, having a vetting process will actually save you time and money in the long-run.

  1. Review any documents submitted by the applicant: Cover letters, resumes, applications and any supplementary questions that your candidate completes can tell you how they will approach their work. For example, do they leave gaps in their resume? Do they fill out every question that is asked in complete sentences? Their application materials can reveal more than just a list of skills, but their attention to detail.
  2. Perform a background check and see what Social Media the candidate makes public. Background checks will make sure that you screen out any candidates that could create a legal problem for your agency. Social Media can tell you about a candidate’s general interests. Sometimes, Social Media may reveal undesirable traits about a candidate that are good to know before extending an offer.
  3. Check references.  It may seem like a hassle but knowing that someone else will vouch for your candidate’s abilities and work ethic is very useful information. Hiring based on ‘good feelings or a hunch’ about a potential employee can prove to be harmful to your business if the person turns out to have a string of past employers who were unhappy with the candidate’s performance. It is worth putting in the extra time to make those calls.

3. Hiring someone to do ‘a little bit of everything.’

When you are looking to hire, one temptation is to look for an individual who can fill multiple roles.  However, there are many drawbacks to this approach.

Many companies want to hire a ‘person of all trades’ – one person who can handle multiple roles.  This is often seen as a way to save money or to reduce the risk of hiring multiple people, but it can definitely backfire.

Multi-tasking is not actually a strength. It can cause your employees to become distracted and even lead to burnout.

If your company is small, it may be essential to have one employee taking on many roles at first – but paying attention and knowing when it is time to expand your workforce is essential.

Asking an employee long-term to be a generalist can actually hurt your company. If you can determine what the employee is truly great at – and place them into that role, your productivity and the employee’s happiness are likely to both increase at a faster rate.

You may think for example, that someone who is an Executive Assistant is a generalist, but in fact, they are not. They are a person who excels at taking care of meeting arrangements, schedules, and administrative details.   This same person might have a steep decline in productivity if you were to ask them to do bookkeeping, payroll, or sales duties.

It varies by individual, but in general, it is better to hire an employee for one role in which they can excel.

4. Hiring decisions being made – due to a desire to grow, not an actual need at the agency.

Sometimes, you might find that your company reaches a point where the desire for growth is there, but there isn’t an actual need due to workload increase or need for the expansion of a role. Other times, the exact opposite is true – and your business needs another employee in order to move to the next phase of expansion.

Some questions to ask yourself to determine if your hiring decision is based on need:

  • Are you wearing too many hats in your day to day work? As a Manager, it can be daunting to delegate tasks to someone else. If your productivity is slipping because you are spending too much time on random tasks, it may be time to hire.
  • Can you afford to hire another person? Realistically examining if you have the finances to cover the expense of training, wages, and insurance for another employee can help you to make the decision to hire or not.
  • Are you experiencing steady growth in your business? A business that is steadily growing is safer ground for hiring a new employee rather than seasonal surges in sales. Being mindful of where your business is truly at (growing versus a successful season) can help you to make the decision to hire.

The decision to hire can be a tricky one. The desire to grow can be incredibly alluring especially if the business is in the earlier stages – but don’t get caught off-guard by the desire for growth. Take the time to assess if your business truly needs another employee. If there is a need, be willing to spend the time and money in order to obtain long-term productivity and growth through hiring someone to help shoulder the work.

5. Hiring someone that you know or only someone within your network. 

It is easy to stay with what is familiar. That saying goes for environments and with the people we surround ourselves with.  However, as a Digital Company owner, you also know there is risk-taking involved, as well as the need to step out and do things that are unfamiliar.   This attitude also needs to carry over into your hiring decisions.

Referrals and in-network hires can work out well – but they are not the only option for hiring.

Diversity is a big deal these days, and in order to have a more diverse workforce, you must be willing to go outside the comfort zone of networks and referrals that are already familiar to you.

Realize that your desire for a candidate to have a certain school on their resume, or only hiring from specific networking sources greatly limits the amazing candidates that could be waiting for you.

Being more objective in your hiring process gives qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds an equal opportunity and will help you to avoid making hiring decisions based on simply liking a type of person.  Systemizing your hiring process will make the process much smoother for you in the long run, as well.

Your traditional pools of candidates can run out if you only stick to familiar networks or referrals, so be willing to cast a wider net for finding well-qualified employees who have the skills you are looking for, and who are also a great culture fit.

Finally, hiring candidates for your digital company can be a challenging process. By following these suggestions, you can ensure that you hire great people who will be able to contribute to your business for a long time to come. Be willing to expand your candidate pool, hire based on needs for your company, and ask questions and for demonstrations – that help to determine if a candidate is a great fit – and you’ll find the process gets easier each time. Happy Hiring!


Alan Cutter

Alan Cutter founded New York City's premier digital recruiting agency, AC Lion International, and continues to lead the growing company as their fearless CEO. For over 20 years, AC Lion has been the trusted provider of revenue generating talent in the digital and technology landscape. Our reach spans from innovative venture-backed startups to enterprise level organizations. AC Lion is a proud member of the Lionseye Group, a collective of brands furthering talent acquisition through Venture Capital, HR Technology and Thought Leadership.