Top Twenty Hiring Mistakes

Karina B. Sterman Esq.
July 25, 2012 — 1,247 views  

The following list of Top Twenty Hiring Mistakes (we’re limiting ourselves to twenty, but frankly there are more that we’ve seen) that employers make is taken “straight from the headlines,” meaning actual client and/or real case examples. Really. We couldn’t make these up.

And they are:

20. Failing to conduct a background check for any employee being hired into a position with access to the funds.

Why? Because discovering that your CFO had committed check fraud or carried huge personal debt after she has embezzled $1M from your company is too late.

19. Failing to confirm the employment offer in writing, with a confirmation that the employment is at will.

Why? Because despite what you actually said in the interview, the employee heard that he was being offered a job for life. His or hers, not yours.

18. Requiring the employee to sign an unenforceable non-compete agreement as a condition of employment.

Why? Because it’s unenforceable and worthless. Worse, refusing to hire an employee for refusing to sign such an unenforceable agreement exposes you to a wrongful termination lawsuit.

17. Failing to have the employee fill out a meaningful employment application, even if the employee has submitted a resume.

Why? Because the resume is the “glam shot” of the employee, and does not always address the specific items of importance to your business.

16. Failing to call and verify references provided by the employee about past employment.

Why? Because they may be fake. Surprised? It happens.

15. Failing to disclose the true working environment, warts and all.

Why? Because if your environment is full of lingerie advertising (because you sell lingerie) and regular expletives, you may be handing a new employee a hostile workplace environment lawsuit if they don’t share your sense of decorum. Find out before you hire. Ideally, get it in writing that he/she won’t be bothered by it!

14. Failing to properly classify the position as exempt versus non-exempt.

Why? Because the money you save on the front end will never earn you enough interest to pay what you will owe on the back end. Oh, and you will pay.

13. Reaching a “mutual agreement” that the employee will be paid as an “independent contractor.”

Why? See response to No. 14 above. Also, two parties’ mutual agreement to something illegal does not make it legally enforceable. Take prostitution, for example: still illegal.

12. Failing to identify and communicate true essential requirements of the job.

Why? Because you will likely hire the wrong person for it. And regret it. And have to go through the process all over again.

11. Failing to obtain proof of eligibility to work in the United States.

Why? Because the government is watching. Always. Even when it seems to be fast asleep...and incompetent.

10. Requiring tests of strength for a desk job or tests of IQ for rote manual labor.

Why? Because it’s irrelevant, costs you time and money, and is often a disability discrimination lawsuit waiting to happen.

9. Talking instead of listening during the interview.

Why? Because you already have the job. You’re trying to find out if the person across from you should have one also. You learn more by listening.

8. Hiring based on personality instead of bona fide job qualifications.

Why? See responses to Nos. 9 and 10 above and because “fun” or “funny” does not always translate to “valuable long term employee”—just ask Charlie Sheen’s former employer.

7. Looking for something different from what is stated in the job ad.

Why? Because you will not be happy with anything you get. If there is conflict between the people hiring and the people who will work with the people hired, it will not work. Seriously.

6. Making assumptions about the applicant’s ability based on protected categories (race, gender, pregnancy, national origin, etc.).

Why? Because it’s totally illegal. And just beneath you. Don’t be lazy. Ask questions about the job and the applicant’s skills and experience, and listen to the answers.

5. Asking about the applicant’s “protected categories” status (race, gender, pregnancy, national origin, etc.).

Why? Because it’s also totally illegal, no matter how “cute that accent” is and how much you “respect the passion of people from Latin countries.”

4. Allowing an employee to work for a family member supervisor.

Why? Because that’s just a conflict of interest and you can’t rely on the integrity of anything they say about each other. No disrespect, but you either secretly hate your cousin and want to hand it to him or you would totally cover for your baby cousin even if he’s coming in to work in your department hung over most mornings.

3. Overselling and understating the job.

Why? Because the truth will come out. Quickly. And someone will be mad about it. And you will be blamed. And if you still have your job after that, you will have to go through the whole hiring cycle all over again.

2. Requiring a representation of non-pregnancy.

Why? Because it’s none of your business. And because it’s illegal.

1. Openly seeking an employee “with benefits.”[i] 

Why? Hm. Really? I need to answer why? Ok, see answer to No. 13.


[i] Yes, Chicago lawyer Samir Zia Chowhan actually posted an ad on Craigslist for a legal secretary whose duties would include “sexual interaction” with him and his partner. Yes, he was disbarred.


Karina B. Sterman Esq.

Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP

Karina Sterman has substantial expertise defending employers in discrimination, wrongful termination, and wage and hour litigation. She is a published author, frequent speaker, and she advises her clients with smart, business-savvy strategies.