woman talking with employee behind desk

How to Handle a Bad Hire: 7 Expert Tips

Have you ever onboarded a seemingly perfect candidate, only to discover they were not the type of employee you expected? When the cost of a bad hire amounts to 30% of that employee’s first-year salary, hiring the wrong person for the job has consequences.

Whether or not you have a hiring horror story or two to tell, employers must know how to handle a bad hire. Do you terminate them right away? Give them a second chance? Change their job duties? Invest in more training? The short answer is this: It depends on the situation.

To determine how to handle a bad hire, consider the following advice from seven employers who have made the best of their hiring mistakes.  


1.  Implement probation periods and performance improvement plans.

“When a new hire is simply incompetent, this can be difficult to navigate if you don't have proper policies in place that deal with new employee probation periods and performance improvement plans. Unfortunately, once an employee is hired, they must go through these channels to either improve or be terminated. So, have these policies in place and in practice long before any problem employees emerge. 

Your probation period will be your lifeline if this employee isn't a good fit. Most of these policies do not require just cause to end the contract before the probation period is up, so take advantage of that policy if you are truly regretful of your new hire.” 

Ian Kelly, VP, Operations, NuLeaf Naturals


2.  Plan for worst-case scenarios.

“Before you start interviewing candidates, give some thought to your best-case scenario hire and your worst-case scenario, and start brainstorming what you could do if you end up with the worst-case scenario. For instance, if your worst-case is someone who's not as technically qualified as they seemed on paper, maybe you can put them in a training program.”

Dave Bowden, Founder, Irreverent Gent


3.  Transition them into a better fitting role.

“We hired an individual who just wasn’t the right fit for the position we hired them for, even though they were skilled in their field. Rather than keeping them there or spending a lot trying to train them, we looked at how their skills could benefit us in other ways and where they may be better suited within the company. My point here is that you need to make the best out of a situation like this. Consider a person’s skills in relation to your company and see if they might be able to help elsewhere. You never know, it might end up being one of the best decisions you make.”

– Carla Diaz, Co-founder, Broadband Search


illustration of skills with hands taking notes


4.  Consider training to fill skills gaps.

“The best thing you can do is identify the problem and determine if it can be solved. Did you hire a great worker but for the wrong position? If so, can you move them to a place where you can still make use of their talent and your hiring investment? If you're not able to shift the hire and your issue is a lack of skills, you may want to consider training, which may or may not be more effective than starting a search again from scratch.

Skills can be taught, but it's not always easy to find good people. It's important to think about that if you have made a hire with a great work ethic but who lacks the level of skill needed to be successful.”

– Michele Mavi, Career Strategist and Founder, MonumentalMe.com


5.  Offer honest feedback.

“[My hire] ended up needing a lot of guidance and hand-holding. Although a hard worker, she was indecisive and very passive. I worked closely with her in order to develop her soft skills. I was honest, but not mean, about the feedback. I shared my viewpoints on her performance and where she needed to improve. I recognized that providing honest feedback in a fair and helpful manner was the most important step.

After providing feedback, we put a plan in place on actionable tasks to improve her soft skills and confidence. Because we both committed to her improvement, she turned into a valuable team member.”

– Marie Buharin, Founder, Modernesse


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6.  Be strategic, yet empathetic.

“There will, of course, be times when you know that the situation is irreformable, so it's essential to do the math and recognize when the return isn't justifying the cost of your efforts. But if it's a case of poor performance, you should do everything in your power to help your new hire turn things around before you make any tough decisions. Talk to them earnestly and try and find solutions to any teething troubles. Put a development plan in place to help them correct their course and train out any undesirable behaviors. Give them every opportunity to prove that they can succeed in the role. 

If you handle the situation strategically and with empathy, you'll find that many hiring mistakes are simply challenges to be tackled, rather than abject failures to be written off. If you hired an employee in the first place, you likely saw potential in them, so make sure you don't let that potential go untapped without at least attempting to unlock it first.”

James Lloyd-Townshend, Chairman and CEO, Tenth Revolution Group


pen signing a termination form


7.  Don’t be afraid to cut ties.

“It can be tricky to know what to do with a bad hire. We try to ‘rehabilitate’ them and get them the training they need or put them on an improvement plan through HR. Sometimes this just doesn't work, though, or it would be a waste of time for both parties. If we sense they'd be better off with another company, we'll aim to cut ties as soon as possible.

I think it's important to be transparent in admitting this just isn't a good fit. You want to be careful not to say anything that could land you in court, but just point out inconsistencies or issues in performance, their inability to meld with the company culture, etc. Give them the opportunity to respond and potentially work on the issues presented but offer an easy out for you both.”

– Dan Bailey, President, WikiLawn Los Angeles Lawn Care


Avoid incurring the cost of a bad hire and onboard the right candidate from the get-go with an industry-focused approach to recruiting. Get started finding your next great employee on iHire.

by: Kristina Kelly
October 30, 2020