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5 savvy steps to recover from a bad hiring decision


How often has this happened to you?

After a long search, you’ve hired someone to fill a vital position in your company. During the interview process, he or she stood out from the pack with a great résumé, enthusiastic personality and the skill set you sought.

Yet, after only a few weeks, you can tell something’s not quite right. Your new employee isn’t meshing with coworkers, and her performance is lackluster at best. And those skills? Turns out, her level of proficiency isn’t as advanced as you initially thought, and other employees are having to pick up the slack. Instead of solving problems, your new employee is the problem.

You’ve made a bad hire. What now?

Coming to this conclusion can be extremely difficult for an organization, because hiring someone and bringing them on board is costly. By some estimates, the average U.S. employer spends about $4,000 and 52 days to hire a new worker. When you find you’ve hired the wrong person, it can be a real blow to your confidence in your hiring abilities, and your balance sheet.

How can you recover? Recognizing you’ve made a mistake, and taking swift action to fix it, are important first steps. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t nip the situation in the bud, and let poor performance slide in hopes it will course-correct on its own.

It rarely does. Keeping a bad hire on too long becomes a drain on team morale and productivity within the organization as a whole. And it’s not good for the employee either, who is likely struggling. Ultimately, both parties benefit when the bad hire finds a position that’s a better fit.

Take these five savvy steps to recover from a bad hire and help keep it from happening again.

1. Determine why it’s a bad hire

Before you take action, dig deeper to discover why the employee isn’t working out.

Is it an organization fit issue or a gap in skills? Did the employee misrepresent their expertise or lack thereof? All of the above? Or, maybe you made a rushed decision and overlooked potential red flags. Whatever the reason, once you determine the root of the problem, you’ll know whether it’s fixable, or if termination is the best route to take.

2. Consider whether reassignment is an option

Let’s say the employee in question is well-suited to your office environment but is having problems using a key piece of machinery or software that’s critical for your business. Those skills can usually be taught. Or, if an employee isn’t the best fit for the position but possesses strengths that are necessary for other roles within the company, don’t be too quick to dismiss them. Instead, you might consider reassigning them to another position.

You don’t want to lose someone who is the right culture fit and a solid team player, especially if they’ve got the skills needed to excel in a different position. These qualities can be hard to find in today’s competitive job market. Bad hires might be worth keeping, if they have genuine potential, and if training them for a new role costs less than restarting the hiring process.

If you do decide to give a bad hire a second chance, clearly communicate your expectations. One way to do this is through a detailed performance improvement plan that lays out measurable goals and a timeline to meet them.

For example, if an employee needs to improve their software skills, develop a performance improvement plan stating that they need to take three classes over the next quarter and demonstrate improvement by a specific date. Make sure they understand that; if they don’t complete the goals in the agreed-upon time frame, they could be terminated.

In addition to the performance improvement plan, make sure to document all coaching and progress discussions, as well as disciplinary actions. These documents show that you’ve made an effort to help your employee be successful, and may help decrease legal liability for your company.

3. Let your mission be your guide

The truth is, the decision to keep or fire a bad hire is not always clear-cut and should be made on a case-by-case basis. When in doubt, think about the bigger picture. Refer to your company’s mission, vision and values. They form the foundation of your organization’s culture and serve as the blueprint for the direction it’s going. If the employee’s behavior and skills aren’t aligned with what your company’s all about, they’re not a good fit.

Don’t sacrifice your business to avoid making a tough decision that may need to be made. It isn’t personal – it’s just business. Keep it that way. Be professional and courteous, and always do as much as you can to help any employees you have to let go. For example, if they weren’t with the company long enough to justify a severance package, consider providing the resources to help them find another job.

Taking the high road benefits them and you: When employees leave with a good impression of your company, they’re more likely to send you referrals for job candidates or business prospects in the future.

4. Know when to throw in the towel

There will be instances when bad hires just aren’t salvageable, period. If you’ve given them every chance to succeed and ruled out reassignment to a new role, it’s time to think about cutting them loose and cutting your losses.

Here are a few scenarios where termination may be the only solution:

  • The employee completely misrepresented his or her skills. This could be cause for immediate dismissal.
  • The employee has excellent skills but is a terrible team player.
  • The employee consistently shows disrespect and lack of commitment to the organization by not following basic company policies, despite repeated warnings.
  • Investing in the employee would cost more money, and take more time, than your company can realistically afford.

5. Avoid future bad hires

Every business owner makes hiring mistakes. But they’re not a total loss if you learn from them and use the knowledge gained to make better hiring decisions moving forward. Take a close look at what happened, and why it happened, to avoid making the same mistake twice.

A good place to start is your recruiting and interviewing processes. Where are you trying to find people? What questions are you asking job candidates? Maybe they’re not specific enough to identify areas of concern. And are the people who are asking the questions sufficiently trained in interviewing? Asking the right questions can help detect potentially problematic behaviors or attitudes, and whether job candidates really have the skills they say they do.

Next, make sure you clearly communicate job descriptions with job candidates. List your expectations for the role in detail, while reaffirming your organizational culture. Job candidates should know you’re looking for the total package: an employee with the required skills, who’s also in tune with your company’s culture, mission and values.

If you notice a new hire is lacking culture fit or certain skills, it’s a good idea not to wait longer than 30 to 45 days to offer feedback. Give them the opportunity to do something about it. Don’t let the situation linger.

Acknowledging you’ve made a bad hire is a painful realization. But if you act wisely, and quickly, you can make the best of a bad situation and avoid making future hiring blunders.

For more hiring dos and don’ts, download our free e-book, 7 Most Frequent HR Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.