How the Perfection Trap Is Ruining Your Hiring Process

"If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done." – Ecclesiastes 11:4

You've seen them: overly detailed job descriptions masquerading as job postings. You've probably even written them yourself.

When it starts, you're simply framing a description of your ideal candidate in isolation.

You check all the normal boxes. You lay out experience requirements, typically defaulting to the high end of the experience range. Then you list the education and skills required. If a bachelor's degree is necessary, you write that an MBA is preferred. If no experience is required, then you list a bachelor's degree. Why not get the best?

Will the new hire need to use in-house databases? Then you prepare a laundry list of databases they need to know, not bothering to think about how realistic this is. If 1 in 100 candidates can meet this requirement, why not put it down?

Maybe you have a template or job description you've used before. Maybe you pulled sample job postings from your competitors – a reasonable approach. But you want candidates who are better than theirs, so you add something more. You up the ante. You raise your expectations. You detail it all in the job posting.

Now, Imagine You're the Candidate

You're qualified for the real job – not the puffed up version in the posting. But you're in a lower-level job right now or looking for a lateral transfer. This job posting for a job you could do very well scares you away with all its unrealistic demands and expectations.

Now maybe you, as a recruiter, HR pro, or hiring manager, say, "If a candidate is scared away by my post, they aren't the right person." But all too often, you lose out on the right person because you got a little carried away.

Here's another scenario: Someone who meets the (unnecessary) requirements applies. Awesome! You get them in for an interview. They nail it! You're so excited. You make the offer.

And then one of three things happens:

They say no. You're way too low. They were viewing this position as you posted it, not as you budgeted it. They come in about $20,000 higher than you were thinking the role justified. You just wasted a ton of time and effort and should think about reposting.

They don't respond at all because you were so far off it isn't worth responding.

They use your offer as leverage to get a raise from their current boss. Or they use it with another offer they have on the table – because great people often have multiple offers.

In any of these scenarios, you lose.

Listing a Job Is Like Listing a House

It makes me think of someone listing their house for sale. If they list it too high, then no one makes an offer. If they go low, a bidding war often ensues and they get higher than what they would have gotten if they had listed it at market price.

The same dynamic is at play with job posts. If you go too high in terms of qualifications, then you just scare people away. However, if you go understated on the requirements and boost your story in the job posting, you'll receive more applicants. Then, you can choose the best from the bunch.

If you want to write better job postings, I recommend checking out two resources:

The Essential Guide for Hiring Getting Hired – Lou Adler

Topgrading, 3rd Edition: The Proven Hiring and Promoting Method That Turbocharges Company Performance – Bradford D. Smart, Ph.D.

Is Your Hiring Process Too Long and Complicated?

Job postings aren't the only point in the hiring process at which perfection can trap you.

How many times have you gotten through a couple rounds of interviews and then struggled to make a decision? Or how often has your top candidate received an offer elsewhere before you had a chance to even make your offer? Or how many times have you found that your top candidate has received multiple offers that you now have to bid against?

So you find yourself looking at the second or third person on your list. But have you already written them off or talked yourself out of that hire?

If you're a recruiter, the hiring manager might be getting antsy at this point. (Or, if you're the hiring manager, you might be getting antsy.) They want someone now, because the project is already underway and the team is behind the eight ball.

How do you avoid this mess?

You must have a process in place that qualifies candidates quickly and moves them to "hired" as fast as possible. You should be able to move through every step in the process – initial contact, interviews, background checks, offers and counteroffers, setting a start date, onboarding, and training – at a brisk pace. Any break in the process can cause candidates (or new hires) to second-guess themselves. If that happens, they might decide not to accept your offer, or they might want to renegotiate, or the whole relationship between your company and the candidate could spoil.

Review each step of your hiring process. Look over your past results. Where in the process did things go haywire? What can be improved? Make it your mission to make your hiring process bulletproof.  Get it right, and you won't fall into the perfection trap.

Mike McRitchie uses the knowledge gained from running projects and managing consulting business operations to help tech project managers, mid-tier executives, and those who want something more from their careers. Connect with him on LinkedInTwitter, or Facebook.