Ready to Hire an Under-Qualified Person?

Several years ago, I lost an opportunity for a senior editorial role at a style magazine at my company. There was an entry-level person, who required a much lower salary than I did, so the formerly senior-level position was turned into an entry-level position. 

It’s not unusual for companies to save money by turning mid- and even upper-level positions into entry-level positions. But before your organization jumps to do this, you may want to think through the consequences. In the case of the publication I didn’t get a chance to work at, the consequences are unknown to me because I don’t have an inside view of its operations. But I imagine that as competent and talented as the entry-level employee is, there are advantages that would been gained by having a more senior editor. I may have had a greater ability to offer ideas that fit into the magazine’s long-range vision, and might have been more attuned to the business needs of the publication, understanding better than someone new to the profession how the work of the editors can complement the work of the publisher and advertising sales team.

Last week, a friend related the irritation of her work group after an unqualified person had been hired. Their work was disrupted trying to support the newbie, and by the need to frequently clean up her faulty work. To make matters especially difficult, the new, unqualified employee is a nice person they feel the need to protect. Instead of lashing out directly at her, they vent behind her back, and sometimes take the blame from managers for work that doesn’t meet the organization’s standards. In addition, the manager who hired her is defensive about his decision, and for that reason, probably would not be open to negative feedback about her.

Hiring an under-qualified person not only hurts the organization, but the employees who have to support the person, and the person him or herself, who is set up for failure. But guess what? Hiring under-qualified employee is now all the rage—and recommended by many business experts, even a columnist from a respected publication such as Forbes.

After I saw all the positive headlines regarding hiring the under-qualified, I remembered the e-mail sent by the editorial director of the style magazine I had applied to announcing the new hire’s addition to the team, noting all the great opportunities for young writers provided by our company. As you can imagine, I was angered by this. Now I see that thought is prevalent today, perhaps due to the huge Millennial generation producing so many entry-level job candidates. With so many of these people out of work, or under-employed, salaries that would not be acceptable to a person in their late thirties or forties are suddenly acceptable. In the process, an organization is made to feel it’s doing a good deed. “We’re not being cheap and unfair to a more qualified candidate; we’re providing valuable opportunities for young people.”

Yes, there’s a good deed in employing an unemployed, or under-employed, person who can be trained to do what you need him or her to do. But before your organization gets on the under-qualified bandwagon, be sure to put preparations in place:

  • Choose a mentor. Managers should acknowledge to themselves and the new employee’s co-workers that the new hire is under-qualified. He or she has potential, but a dearth of experience. As such, the new person will need a lot of help. So before the new hire’s first day, choose a specific person to serve as a mentor, and be sure to note the mentor’s role in his or her formal record. Mentoring another employee is a skill set and accomplishment the mentor should receive credit for.
  • Have a conversation with the new hire about skill level. Just as a manager should be open with his or her team that an under-qualified person has been hired, new employees should be spoken to directly on their first day about the skills they will need to acquire or hone and how their mentor, and other co-workers to a lesser extent, will be helping them.
  • Set up a probationary period. Let new hires know they won’t have forever to get up to speed. Whether the manager makes it three months, six months, or one year, new hires should understand they eventually will have to perform at the same level as their more-experienced peers. This won’t be a “we’re-permanently-cleaning-up-after-you” scenario. 
  • Make sure the on-the-job training is working. In addition to keeping a close on the new hire’s work, the manager should check in with the new person in monthly one-on-one meetings in which the person can express frustrations and concerns—places where the on-the-job training provided by the mentor and other co-workers isn’t doing the trick. The manager has to be prepared to find other ways to train the new hire, maybe even doing the additional needed training him or herself. 
  • Recognize and give credit to co-workers. An under-qualified new hire means more work for colleagues, at least at the beginning. Along with the mentor, managers should be sure to offer thanks to the group for picking up the slack temporarily. A monthly complimentary lunch or other small reward might be in order.

An under-qualified new hire means one lucky person has been given a huge break. Be sure that break doesn’t break your other employees.

Does your organization often hire under-qualified people? Do you provide resources to ensure the new hire isn’t left to sink or swim while co-workers clean up the mess?

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