Avoiding the Headhunter Debacle


Our research shows that senior leaders, if given the choice, would not rehire 50% of those individuals they previously hired. The problem, of course, is that once individuals are hired, if the “wrong person is on the bus” it’s difficult and frequently costly to right that mistake. Mediocrity is not a legitimate reason to fire someone. The challenge is to hire the right person in the first place.

We were asked to help a major television network hire an on-air anchor for the six o’clock news. There were four final candidates. We knew false positives were the result of candidates not being able to actually do what they said. Between shading the truth, false resumes and questionable recommendations, the person hiring is often left with unreliable information. 


In this case, we asked the candidate to take part in our two hour Power Interview. One of the four individuals met the hiring committee of five, and, without further adieu, they were given an envelope with ten stories from the news wire of critical events that occurred that day. Each was told they had ten minutes to put together a five /minute newscast and be prepared to go on air with it. Upon receiving their proposal, the individual was told they were, then, to sit in front of the television camera and present their newscast. Following the presentation, the candidate was thanked and asked to review their effort, now on film for them to see, and to suggest what they would do differently if they had to do it again – from a view of both content and their presentation.


In this case, the candidate who came to the interview with the best resume and appeared to be the most promising on paper was evaluated as the third best. The person initially ranked third was eventually chosen by the hiring group because of her ability to think on her feet, work under pressure and bring humor into her presentation. She was also most self-critical when providing feedback on her own performance.

The ability of organizations to take ownership of virtually any hiring circumstances is possible, since the skills are trainable. The savings are, potentially, enormous with the outcomes more reliable than headhunters, since the hiring teams know the needs of the situation and the other players. The vested interest of the hiring team is always higher than that of any outside group contracted to undertake the hire.