I recall an instance when we were asked to check references on a candidate for a marketing manager’s position. All three references had consistently positive things to say about every aspect of the candidate’s overall job performance over time. The candidate was hired and almost immediately began experiencing difficulty.

The problems had nothing to do with the quality of his job performance, but were the result of the volume of work that had to be done and the pace at which things moved within the company.   In a nutshell, the new marketing manager simply could not keep up with the demands of the job.

When we went back to look for clues that might have been contained in the reference report, we noticed a remark about how meticulous the candidate tended to be, in terms of attention to detail. Another reference talked about how deliberate the candidate was and how committed he was to going the extra mile to do the best job possible. Finally, a third reference noted that the only thing the candidate needed for career advancement was learning to manage more than one project at a time.

As isolated bits of information, none of the foregoing comments suggested the candidate couldn’t handle a high-volume, fast-paced environment. Upon further reflection, however, that should have emerged as a concern to the prospective employer—if not to us! The client didn’t mention, nor did we ask, if the environment was fast-paced or if the volume of work to be done was unusually high—and that’s because the client didn’t perceive it that way. To the client the pace and the volume of work were perfectly normal. The result was an unintentional job mismatch. Could it have been avoided? Maybe.

The point, of course, is that the more the employer understands the culture of his own organization—not just in theory but also in practice—a job mismatch is less likely. In the foregoing case, upon reflection, there were definitely clues the candidate’s prospects for success were slim, and nobody caught it!

Did this experience hurt the candidate’s subsequent job prospects? Not really. The net effect was that the candidate gained a much higher level of awareness of the type of organization for which he would be best suited—a place that required attention to detail and thoroughness. It also highlighted the need for the candidate to learn to manage more than one project at a time!

The point of this true case study is to help show how to reduce the possibility of getting burned—of hiring someone who, for whatever reason, isn’t the right fit for the job!