Three Red Flags to Avoid When Hiring with Adam Jacobs

Everyone hires optimistically, doing their best to see the applicant objectively while also hoping that the hire will work out. Unfortunately, not all hires do. And, this can be quite the financial burden on top of the hassle it imposes – research from CareerBuilder stated that 75 employers cited having hired the wrong person for a position – and “of those who had a bad hire affect their business in the last year, one bad hire cost them nearly $17,000 on average.”

But, how to avoid this common mistake? When it comes to hiring and firing, it’s the business of people – which is more of an art than a science. Just as companies hire optimistically, applicants apply optimistically, putting their best foot forward to make a good impression and land the job. This can make it challenging to see the applicant for who they really are, or to cess out if they’re really a good fit for the team.

Adam Jacobs is the managing director of Australia’s longest running talent agency, Bubblegum Casting. In this capacity, he’s hired and fired many times, and has learned a lot about what to look out for when making these decisions. We sat down to discuss red flags to look out for when hiring from these experiences in his own company, including best tips on how to circumvent common hiring oversights.

Red Flag #1: Lack of Company Culture Fit

Jacobs says that first and foremost, company culture – how the team members within your company get along and support one another – matters. “Especially in the early days of your company, everyone is very tight knit and needs to get along with everyone else because the team is small,” Jacobs explained. True collaboration can only occur in a healthy environment like this, where team members feel supported in sharing their honest opinions and creative contributions.

To build this culture, Jacobs says it’s also important to assess each team member’s strengths and weaknesses. “We need to make sure that the applicant’s weaknesses are the other people’s strengths and vice versa,” he noted.

The downfall of a new hire who doesn’t fit in with the  company culture can be considerable. “We recently had a new hire who was an all-star interviewee and wonderful throughout the whole process — amazing resume and amazing references,” Jacobs started. “We thought they would be perfect. But the fourth day into their time at our company, the team tells me that it isn’t going to work out with this person and they need to go. As a team, we decided to make the hard call to fire them just a few days in. That’s how important culture is.”

This is why cultural fit is red flag #1: “Watch a new hire very closely from the get-go, including in their interview stages,” said Jacobs. “Any early warnings that they may not get along with the team you’ve built need to be nipped in the bud. Address them straight away, ideally before they even begin with the company. If the person doesn’t rapidly change or correct those issues, then there’s going to be a problem — we’ve seen this time and time again in our business.”

Red Flag #2: Lack of Resilience for High Pressure Environments

Every job has some work weeks that are more stressful for others. “Specifically, with our casting agency, our biggest division works with children. This is an incredible stressful job because of the volume of difficulty that the parents provide our staff,” shared Jacobs. “We know it can burn out employees, so resilience is one of the top things that we hire for.”

Ask questions in the interview process such as, “What was the most demanding  job you ever had?” Get a sense for if they enjoy high-pressure work environments, or if they crumble under the pressure. Also, recognize that no one is going to readily admit that they don’t do well under pressure if they’re trying to land the job. In this case, the best piece of information to lean on is their track record. See if they’ve had jobs of equal pressure in the past. If not, a lack of resilience could be a red flag.

Red Flag #3: Be Careful Hiring Friends

It sounds fun, and can be seen as doing a ‘favor’ for someone you care about, but avoid hiring friends for your business.  “I think it’s really important that you be careful with hiring friends,” advised Jacobs. “Obviously you think you know them and you want to work with them, but from my perspective and experience, we’ve always had some issues with correcting or steering them.”

These corrections can conflate with the friendship, making it really difficult to have a strong working relationship. It entirely shifts the dynamic that you originally had in the friendship, while also compromising the way that you usually advise and lead your team. To this end, Jacobs also noted that this can get tricky if you become close friends with your staff. “Something that I’ve learnt is that you can be friendly to your staff, but they aren’t your friends. You need to be in a position where you can direct them, and you may have to resolve conflict between them or even let them go. So, whilst you can be friendly they’re never going to be your best friends.”

Avoid Red Flags by Hiring Slowly and Firing Quickly

“The old adage ‘hire slowly, fire quickly’ is forever true,” said Jacobs. “Obviously where I live in Australia and our business is primarily located in Australia where the rules around this are very, very stringent we have a probationary period and things like that to ensure protection for the business, but the adage still applies.”

To ‘hire slowly,’ Jacobs recommends to do what his team does. “Wherever possible, we try to hire contractors/casual employees first. Then, they have the chance to prove themselves before fully committing. This costs us a little more but works out better in the long run.” This is also a great way to ‘test the waters’ of their fit amongst the company culture. If it doesn’t work out, it’s easy to cut the contract short rather than having to outright fire them.

The long run should be your business’ main focus in all hiring decisions. Using Jacobs’ advice, make sure to take your time in assessing applicants and offering jobs. Your business’ success depends heavily on your team and their contributions, and therefore, no red flag in hiring should be overlooked.