The Top 10 Reasons Not to Hire Competent People

The number one reason not to hire someone who is competent (i.e., has all of the skills) is lack of motivation to do the actual work required.

(Note from the author: As you read this, consider what your reaction be if the title was “10 Ways to Assess Competency, Fit and Motivation,” or “How to Turn the Whole Hiring Process on Its Head.” Then consider – would you even have read it? Also consider why some people really like the article and others don’t. That might be a real interesting article.)

The number one reason not to hire someone who is competent (i.e., has the skills needed) is lack of motivation to do the actual work required. However, motivation to do the actual work isn’t easy to measure during the course of the traditional interview for three big reasons. First, the actual work is rarely defined in enough detail, and most people won’t be fully committed unless they find the bulk of the actual work appealing. For example, system architects aren’t going to be too excited to perform detailed coding if they thought the job involved more complex work. Second, many interviewers assume motivation to get a job and extraversion are predictors of motivation to do the job (of course, they’re not), therefore they think they can skip the part about figuring out actual job needs. Third, there are a number of other factors that have been shown to affect motivation and on-the-job performance that are generally ignored or superficially assessed. These include team skills, problem-solving, the coaching style of the manager, and cultural fit, among others. (The full list is shown in the table and described below.)

As a result of all this, some of the best people get ignored or overlooked. It might make sense to redefine competency to include the whole person. Let’s start with this list.


By ignoring these factors managers hire many competent people who make excuses, miss deadlines, need extra pushing, don’t fit the culture, or don’t work as well with others as effectively as needed. To avoid this problem all you need to do is look for the following caution flags during the course of the interview.

The Top 10 Reasons Not to Hire Competent People

  1. Talent: No evidence of person doing exceptional work, learning rapidly, influencing others on technical matters, or successfully handling comparable technical issues similar to actual job requirements.
  2. Management and Organization: Makes excuses for tasks not being met. Does not have a track record of consistently committing and delivering. Planning is reactive.
  3. Team Skills: No evidence of coaching others or being asked to participate or lead a team project. Little or non-existent multi-functional team growth.
  4. Problem-solving and Decision-making: No pattern of figuring out how to solve problems or make appropriate decisions similar to those likely to be encountered on the job.
  5. Job Fit: Competent to do the work, but few examples of being recently motivated to do the majority of the actual work required.
  6. Managerial Fit: Past success depends largely on leadership style of hiring manager which is different than new manager.
  7. Culture and Environmental Fit: Person’s best work was culturally different from a pace, available resources, process sophistication, and decision-making approach.
  8. Motivation to Do the Actual Job: No pattern of taking initiative in areas essential for job success.
  9. Situational Motivation: Few examples of going the extra mile in areas other than of narrow personal interest.
  10. Source of Motivation: Drive and motivation appears to be circumstantial, unrelated to the actual work or/and inconsistent.

(Private note to candidates: if you possess these traits, make sure the interviewer asks you about them by forcing the question.)

Motivation to do the actual work is so important to success, it’s measured multiple ways to make sure nothing is missed. Problems occur when a person is hired who doesn’t get a passing grade on all of these factors. Each can be assessed as part of the fact-finding process using The Most Important Question of All Time. By digging deep into a candidate’s major accomplishments and getting examples for each of these factors, you’ll discover if any are missing. Avoiding these potential problems is the best way to make good hiring decisions.

The differences between a hirable and non-hirable person are sometimes hard to spot. The following 1-5 ranking scale can help clarify this.

  • Level 1.0: Barely qualified to do the work defined.
  • Level 2.0: Qualified, but requires extra supervision to do the actual work.
  • Level 3.0: Rock solid, representative of the top quartile of those typically hired for the role.
  • Level 4.0: Top 10-15%, typically recognized as group leader or expert on this factor.
  • Level 5.0: Top 1-5%, recognized outside the department as superior or an expert for this factor.

In a typical 45-60 minute interview it’s pretty easy to figure out if a person is a Level 1 or potentially a Level 5. However, Levels 2, 3 and 4 all seem pretty much the same. Since this group represents most of the people being hired, it’s important to figure out the differences. The simple way: rather than trying to figure out if someone is a Level 3 or 4, which are both great hires, it’s better to make sure the person isn’t a Level 2. This is how you ensure a Level 3 or better – all great hires – and how many hiring problems are avoided.

Now a radical idea: what about measuring these factors before the in-depth assessment of technical skills? This would open up the door to more high potential diverse candidates, returning military veterans, younger people who want to launch their careers, and proven elders looking for more than just another job. Of course, this would mean rewriting job descriptions, redesigning the application and assessment process, and incorporating fast-track training programs into every job. But consider the impact: hiring more highly motivated, high potential people of diverse backgrounds with fewer technical skills, but able to rapidly learn and grow. Now that just might be a hiring mistake worth making.

Posted by:Lou AdlerLou Adler

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