Why so many losers get hired -- and promoted

Flickr user L. Marie

(MoneyWatch) There's nothing more frustrating than watching a loser get hired or promoted when there are far better candidates around, not least of all, us. Sadly, that sort of thing happens all the time. And the cost in terms of time, training and organizational effectiveness is higher than most managers realize.

While every manager hires the occasional weak employee, some definitely make a habit of it. On the flip-side, I bet plenty of us have been on the other end of that equation, although it's safe to say that none of us would like to admit it. Still, it is a sobering thought.

In any case, we'd all like to believe that staffing a company unit or group and finding the right job is more of a science than an art. In reality, it's neither. It's actually a complex and subjective process with a lot of variables. It's so error prone, and for so many reasons, that in some ways it's remarkable that the right person ever gets hired at all.

It's a lot like dating, when you think about it. And how often do we get that right? So when it comes to job matchmaking, why are our hit rates so poor? And aside from whining and complaining and beating our heads against the wall, what can we do to improve the situation?

Assuming we're all smart people with our hearts more or less in the right place, understanding the primary reasons why we so often hire the wrong people -- or are the wrong people ourselves -- should go a long way to helping us avoid that fate. Here are my top seven, in no particular order.

We reach for the stars. It's human nature. Poet Robert Browning said, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp," and you know what? He was right. You set your sights too high and go for it. Sometimes it works and you pull off a minor miracle. The rest of the time, you get to lower the bar and do it again -- and again, until you get it right. That's a heavy price to pay, no matter which side of the equation you're on.

Garbage in, garbage out. Hiring managers and recruiters are forever throwing generic or poorly thought-out job specifications together. Why? They don't know what they're doing, don't see it as a priority or any number of reasons. In any case, the result's the same: garbage in, garbage out. Then they wonder why none of their hires work out.

Hiring managers don't know how to interview. Most managers don't have a clue how to interview candidates and choose the right one. They either ask generic softball questions or ridiculously arcane ones that don't do any good. When you combine that with candidates not knowing what they're really cut out for or shooting for the moon, it really is surprising the right person ever gets hired at all.

Everyone's desperate. And everyone's in a rush. "We need someone in here yesterday." "Find someone now before we lose the requisition." And of course people are desperate for work. I can't fault people for needing a job, but I assume every manager has heard the expression, "There's never enough time to do it right, but there's always plenty of time to do it over." Do it right the first time.

Our priorities are screwed up. Most managers simply don't give the hiring and recruiting process the priority it deserves because that's not their primary function. They see it as a burden, a pain in the neck. As a result of that and their all-too-common desperation to get somebody onboard ASAP, they go through the motions and make concessions they shouldn't.

The "Peter principle." News flash: There are an awful lot of incompetent and dysfunctional managers out there. And in accordance with the Peter principle, they tend to hire equally incompetent and dysfunctional employees. After all, fools are easy to fool. And the higher up they are, the more pronounced the ripple effect down through the organization.

Bad recruiting. There are stellar recruiters, terrible recruiters and everything in between. As with all things involving people, the fat part of the bell curve is made up entirely of imperfect human beings. They make mistakes. Some make lots of them. The solution: Vet your recruiters more carefully than you would anyone else for the simple reason that, if you don't, it'll have a ripple effect and you can end up with an entire organization of losers.

Image by Flickr user L. Marie