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Horror Hire: A Cautionary Tale

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In a candidate short market, the increasing time pressures and lack of talent are forcing some quick hiring decisions. But lowering the standards of your selection process is not the solution.

Selecting the wrong candidate costs more than time and money. As one firm owner recently found out, bypassing valuable steps in the hiring process cost him not just money, but time, reputation, and even his own wellbeing.

Whether the urgency to hire comes from the need to fill a role fast, or snap up a candidate before the firm down the road does, the perception of urgency will never outweigh the dollar, and non-dollar, cost it takes to remedy a horror hire.

Early Bird gets the Worm

Our protagonist firm owner, lets call him William, had no time to waste. He had a long-standing CFO vacancy that he needed filled last week, and quality candidates were scarce. And he saw how many vacant CFO roles were out there.

But a CV landed on William’s desk; an (at least somewhat) experienced CFO, applying for an under qualifying role no less. An interview was scheduled immediately and conducted via zoom; standard in todays working environment.

While it seemed a bit odd that the applicant, lets call him Brent, struggled technologically with accessing the zoom meeting itself, he interviewed well. No time for red flags!

The perception of urgency overwhelmed the need for more vital hiring protocols, such as reference checking and skills testing. But, with Brent’s resume standing out above the rest, and with an interview to match, William, being charmed just enough, gave Brent the job with an immediate start. William saved himself half a day by skipping reference checks and skills testing but he filled the roll, didn’t he?

A Can of Worms

But it didn’t take long to see the reality of the quick hire unfolding at a daunting rate. Within a week it was clear that Brent had no real computer skills, lacking the basic technological literacy of anyone in the 2021 workplace. He required assistance downloading an app, and the struggles with zoom continued. A simple Excel 365 test would have done the trick to identify this, but William had skipped all of that.

And the alarm bells kept ringing. Within two weeks Brent’s performance began to implode. It was devastatingly obvious that he had embellished on his CV in a big way; his work as a CFO being more of a technicality, without any experience in practice. The lack of practical skills could have been identified immediately using the CPA Skills test.

Worst of all, he lacked not only the skills but the attitude. The client didn’t warm to Brent, and even questioned the decision to hire him in the first place. William’s reputation, and that of his firm, were taking a direct hit in response to not adhering to high selection process standards.

If William had just taken the time to contact references or test Brent, he would have seen him unravel at the outset, informing a better hiring decision (not to hire at all!) early on.

The Big Scare

The only solution was to fail fast, and to curb any more fallout by letting Brent go. Back to square one with an urgent role to fill, out of pocket two weeks of wages and training costs, damage taken to the reputation, and stress levels through the roof.

But the horror wasn’t over!

Spun as an unfair dismissal, Brent made his demands and threatened legal action. (Any employer in L.A. knows how this plays out, regardless of who is right or wrong!). Brent wanted a month’s pay, even though he had only (not) worked for two weeks.

Eager to avoid legal action, William attempted direct settlement, and in a brief glance behind the façade, Brent let slip that his previous employer had met his demands in the same scenario a month ago, and so should William. The mask was off.

The Ultimate Price

William compromised with two weeks’ pay to see Brent out the door (and promptly slam it), on top of the initial two weeks. In in addition was the hiring costs, training costs, reputational, and emotional costs.

Left to play out, this bad hire had the potential to cost William and his firm hundreds of thousands of dollars in fall out from unhappy clients and would have taken its toll on his mental wellbeing even more so.

For the day it takes to follow protocols, calling a candidate’s references and testing their skills and abilities, this kind of horror hire can be easily avoided. The urgency in hiring, while undeniably tangible, can be mitigated by the advice in this cautionary tale. What’s in a day? 24 hours is worth the wait!

Have you ever had a horror hire? Can you relate to some, or all, of this cautionary tale? Join the conversation below.




About the Authors

Emily Le Grys is a talented information designer and content manager, writing for Accountests as marketing and communications specialist.

Giles Pearson FCA was a PwC Partner for 18 years before jointly setting up Accountests.  

Steve Evans has a whole career dedicated to enabling employers to attract, recruit, develop and retain talented individuals and teams, with particular expertise in candidate testing and assessment before setting up Accountests.

Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical knowledge tests designed by accountants for accountants and bookkeepers. 

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