The 5 Biggest Reasons why New Hires Fail

I came across a study reported in Mark Murphy’s book Hiring for Attitude.  (Here is a summary of Hiring for Attitude [pdf]).  The findings are based on 5,247 interviews.  Mark and his team categorised the top five reasons why new hires failed (were fired, asked to leave, received disciplinary action or significantly negative performance reviews).

Photo Credit: vinylmeister

Who will succeed?  Who will fail?  Photo Credit: vinylmeister

The 5 Biggest Reasons why New Hires Fail

The following are the top 5 areas of failure, matched with the percentage of respondents.

  1. Coachability (26%): The ability to accept and implement feedback from bosses, colleagues, customers and others.
  2. Emotional Intelligence (23%): The ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions, and accurately assess others’ emotions.
  3. Motivation (17%): Sufficient drive to achieve one’s full potential and excel on the job.
  4. Temperament (15%): Attitude and personality suited to the particular job and work environment.
  5. Technical Competence (11%): Functional or technical skills required to do the job.

Technical competence is fairly easy to test.  Don’t ask people how they would do something, Ask them about a time they have already done it.  Don’t allow people to tell you hypothetical stories, make them share real experience.

Coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament are more predictive of a new hires’ success or failure than technical skills are. How can you begin to decide if potential new hires have what it takes to be coachable, emotionally intelligent, self-motivated and have a balanced temperament?  Mark says this is more difficult, but you can watch how they are during the interview process.

Positive Attitudes of High Performers:

  • They take ownership of problems
  • They’re highly collaborative
  • They aren’t afraid to make mistakes
  • They meet commitments
  • They’re empathetic towards customers’ and colleagues’ needs

Negative Attitudes of Poor Performers:

  • They always find the negative
  • They gossip
  • They respond to feedback with an argument
  • They only do the bare minimum expected of them
  • They get overwhelmed by multiple demands and priorities
  • They always find someone else to blame for their mistakes
  • They’re unwilling to leave their comfort zone

How’s Your Employee Engagement?

My friend Bart Huisken is founder of Celpax.  They have a wonderfully simple business model.  They install a “good day/bad day” detector in the exit of a building and are able to track how HR initiatives impact the attitude and engagement of employees in the companies.  Have a look at this 35 second video to see how Celpax work:



  1. […] of American employees change jobs every year.  90% leave jobs for reasons to do with “attitude“, not […]

  2. It’s nearly impossible to find well-informed people in this particular subject,
    but you seem like you know what you’re talking about!

  3. […] them their day-to-day responsibilities. It’s also a matter of working with them to develop intangible qualities that will help them shine, according to Conor Neill, an entrepreneur and teacher at IESE Business […]

  4. Zornitsa · · Reply

    Conor, that’s a great article, thanks! I would be grateful if you can share some tips on how to identify those traits during an interview, as most people would anyway claim to have the “Positive Attitudes of High Performers”. Do you have any particular questions/ tricks you would use? …Thanks

    1. Thanks. I have a very specific tool that I use to check this. I haven’t written a post about it, but if you want you can ask me online during my monthly office hours hangout 😉

      Something that is relevant is this post on 5 styles of management and how to decide which style is right for which person & task

      1. Zornitsa · ·

        Thank you, will do 🙂

  5. Thought-provoking and eye-opening… not necessarily in that order… 🙂 thanks for sharing!

    1. Yep, and when I reflect on personal experience – the problems between people are rarely because one is not capable of the work required… it is some personality conflict – one just rubs the other the wrong way and they can’t stand each other.

  6. It would be interesting to see the results broken out by industry, salary/benefits and the position the employee held.
    Nice informative piece – as always.

    1. Very true – I wonder how different sales/commission type roles vs outreach person at a school vs leading at a university vs president of a voluntary organisation… etc

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Centrifugal Performer

By Milica Ilic

Manner of Speaking

"All the great speakers were bad speakers at first." — Ralph W. Emerson


breathing made easy

Anna S. E. Lundberg

Coach, trainer, mentor

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