Sometimes You Just Need to ‘Burn’ a Hire

I love baseball. There is a concept in baseball where a pitcher will ‘burn’ a pitch, here and there.  Basically, it means that the pitcher isn’t actually trying to throw a strike, they are using this pitch to set up another pitch.  For intensive purposes, the pitcher is wasting that pitch for the greater good.

Have you ever done that in HR and hiring?  Have you ever burned a hire?

I have.

In large organizations you sometimes have to burn hires to prove points and/or get hiring managers on your side.  I remember a time when we first started using a very complex pre-employment assessment.  The hiring managers hated it.  They didn’t believe in the science.  They didn’t believe what the assessment was telling us.

That’s the funny thing about really good assessments.  They only work if you, and your organization, are bought in to the belief that using this assessment, in the long run, is going to give us better hires overall.

In this instance I’ve allowed hiring managers to hire individuals who the hiring managers love, but the assessment told us was going to fail, knowing I was probably right.  I was willing to burn a hire, to prove a point about the greater good of the tools we were using. I wouldn’t continue doing this, but sometimes you have to be willing to prove out your beliefs.  This sets up the assessment for future success, and ultimately better hires.

I’m also willing to burn hires on executive referrals.  Too many times in my career I’ve been contacted by high level executives and board members of the companies that have ‘requested’ I get a job for their kids, or their sister’s kid, or some other family member.  For the most part, on average, these hires are horrible.  But, I’ve learned that fighting this is never a good career move, so you burn a hire.

When I talk to HR people about doing this, many a very much against burning hires, or at the very least, willing to admit they burn hires!  Rarely, will you find a HR or Talent Pro willing to state publicly they burn hires, but behind closed doors we know this happens often. Sometimes the battle isn’t as important as the war your fighting internally, so you let hires go through the process you would normally stop.

This doesn’t make you bad at HR or Recruiting, this makes you strategic. Like the pitcher, you’re just setting yourself and your organization for success. To do that sometimes you just have to burn a hire here and there.

8 thoughts on “Sometimes You Just Need to ‘Burn’ a Hire

  1. As always I love your stuff, Tim. In the example of a hire that is inconsistent with the evaluation of an assessment, the hire doesn’t necessarily have to be a “burned pitch” but rather can be a check on the validity of the assessment (oh the humanity!). If such hires thrive you have evidence that the assessment needs to be recalibrated.


  2. Knowingly hiring an employee who will fail is bad for business and the employee.

    If we can’t convince managers with an in-house assessment trial, then we have managers who are ill-suited for managing.

    A manufacturing company CEO, a client, called me because he was concerned about hiring a CFO candidate that his entire management team wanted to hire, including himself. The candidate scored 6 on Mental Abilities and the CEO was very concerned that he had scored so low; there are ten scores from 1 to 10. A 6 means the candidate scored higher than 50% of the working population but lower than 31% of the working population. After discussing the duties of a CFO he began to laugh. I asked, “What was so funny?” and he said, “My entire management team are sixes, including myself.” Employers do not need the best and brightest to be successful.

  3. I have totally done this. I gave my department manager someone only very minimally qualified for an interview, went back after the interview and said now can we talk about “fred” again. Guess what we hired “fred” who turned out to be a good hire. They were passing on someone who was 95% a great match expecting to find 100% in a tight market, so I gave them a 50% to show what they might end up with if they didn’t move forward with ‘Fred”.

  4. While I can’t recall burning a hire myself, I once did the opposite. A candidate that I really wanted was torn between us and a competitor, after selling the opportunity a bit more I could tell the candidate was leaning to the other option. I stopped selling, let the candidate take the other offer and stepped back. I kept track of him and the new company, and 5 months later I checked in with him and shared a note about the success of the team I was trying to put him in… 3 weeks later he accepted our offer again. Sometimes you just have to let people live with their decisions, and be ready to be there again without saying “i told you so” too loud.

  5. Once again, I agree with you! The optimal time to “burn a hire” is when you have great objective reviews about quality of hire in place. When I was running a division with high-volume hiring, we met once per month to talk about the people we’d hired 3 months ago. Anyone who interviewed the individuals, the trainer, and the current manager were in the room. We talked about why we hired the individual, any concerns we had at the time, how they went through training, and how they were performing on the job. It was a wonderful learning experience, especially when we hired someone we “knew” we shouldn’t have, but made excuses and hired anyway. Fastest way I’ve ever gotten a team up-to-speed in making consistently solid hiring decisions.

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