The 4 Most Common Mistakes Inexperienced HR Managers Make

professional skills

When you're new to the HR field, you're bound to make some mistakes as you learn your way around. Common mistakes include errors in the hiring process, indirectness with employees and lack of policies, procedures, and up-to-date job descriptions.

Inexperienced HR Managers

It's hard to imagine that someone working in an HR managerial position could be inexperienced and make common mistakes in areas like hiring, communicating with employees, developing policies and procedures, and maintaining job descriptions, but it happens. Why? Inexperience doesn't necessarily mean that an individual doesn't have the qualifications to be in a managerial position. It just means that the individual hasn't quite figured out the ins and outs of the new position - yet.

That's why we're here - to talk about the four most common mistakes inexperienced HR managers make. Discussing these mistakes and ways to correct them can help you and other HR professionals avoid them altogether.

Number One: Hiring Errors

Recruiting and hiring is one of the most common areas in which inexperienced HR managers make mistakes. Those mistakes include everything from asking questions in a way that intimidates candidates to posing personal questions that should be off limits in a job interview.

Intimidating Candidates

HR recruiting professional Mike Rasmussen has had a few experiences with recruiters and hiring managers intimidating candidates. ''I've had a few of these types of managers in the past,'' says Rasmussen, ''the types that for some reason intimidate and belittle the candidate even before the interview beings.'' The interview can go so far off base that job candidates are literally scared to share more than a few words during the interview. According to Rasmussen, ''If you are a manager and you can't make the candidate feel at ease, you are missing out on a whole bunch of information that would be very valuable to you.''

Intimidating Interview

Avoid making this mistake by entering the interview with a TLC approach, says Rasmussen; it's an interview and not an interrogation. You want to make candidates feel comfortable sharing so that you can learn as much as possible about their work experience and work ethic, among other relevant issues.

Off-Limit Questions

Asking off-limit questions is another common error in the hiring process. Managers inexperienced in the proper protocol for interviewing often stray from questions regarding a candidate's job experience and credentials and ask personal questions. ''The interview process is littered with potential traps that can cause companies headaches,'' writes Amy Roach Partridge. There are several questions that should not be asked in an interview, including:

  • Where are you from?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you have children?
  • Are you married?

Questions like these may seem harmless but should be avoided to protect the company and the candidate. One way to avoid this mistake is by preparing questions ahead of time so that there's no need to ask them on the fly, which can give candidates the impression that you're unprepared.

Number Two: Communication Errors

The second most common mistake that inexperienced HR managers make involves the way in which they communicate with current and potential employees.

Communication is Key

Making Unrealistic Promises

Poor communication, whether verbal or written, can hurt an HR department. In its online blog, SumHR (an HR software development company) stresses the importance of being straightforward with employees to avoid disappointed and dissatisfied staff members later on. One of the traps inexperienced managers fall into is making unrealistic promises. According to the blog, ''An HR manager sometimes sweetens the compensation package, promises a promotion, highlights potential for growth, or provides a better cultural fit'' for employees when in reality these promises can't happen. ''Though it is really tempting, an HR manager should refrain from making promises which may not be delivered.''

Failure to Discipline or Document Disciplinary Actions

Kelley Zanfardino with Insperity HR, Inc. talks about the failure to document a violation in order to support future disciplinary decisions. ''Written policies and standard operating procedures are the boundaries that govern employee conduct,'' writes Zanfardino. Too often, mangers will skip written documentation because it takes too much time and doesn't seem all that important at the moment, since the reprimand has already been given verbally. However, if an employee oversteps the boundary again, or is disciplined for another offense down the road, a documented history of his or her actions may be beneficial should further discipline or even termination be recommended.

''It's important evidence that can support a decision to terminate that individual for unsatisfactory job performance,'' Zanfardino points out. Integrity HR, Inc. founder and CEO Amy Letke agrees and offers this advice, ''Make sure you stay on top of it! Deal with performance problems properly, document them professionally, and address the behavior you need to have addressed.''

As an HR professional, be sure to communicate disciplinary actions with employees and document them to avoid future discrepancies.

Number Three: Lack of Policies & Procedures

One of the critical components necessary for a company to operate is the policy and procedure manual, or employee handbook. Sadly, this is often overlooked by inexperienced HR managers due to time constraints and failure to recognize the value of a guided handbook. ''Rules and policies shrink the window of unprotected work ethics,'' writes SumHR. Without a handbook, problems and situations are left open to interpretation; therefore, inconsistent solutions are developed and no one individual is treated the same.

Policies and Procedures

Employees need to be familiar with the rules and what is expected of them in regards to conduct, attendance, work ethic, and even dress code. Turning to the employee handbook and well-established and updated policies and procedures is a much better way to problem solve then simply thinking of a solution off the top of your head at the time of the violation.

Employee Handbooks: Friends Not Foes

Latke also shares her astonishment that some employers actually think that the presence of an employee handbook will ''restrict them'' and cause problems. Latke points out that rules exist in the workplace, whether they're in a handbook or not. She even goes as far as stating that ''not having an employee handbook does set policy.'' In fact, she says that employers that don't have a handbook may have more problems than those who actually have one and use it. Latke notes that, ''An employee handbook that is not updated is going to cost you money and cause you problems.''

So, don't wait until you're in a bind. Create an employee handbook of policies and procedures now and avoid trouble later.

Job Description

Number Four: Poor Job Description Maintenance

Our fourth common mistake made by HR managers with little to no experience involves employee job descriptions. Employees may request a job description from HR for a number of reasons. These can include medical purposes, proof of employment for large purchases (i.e. a home or automobile), or for inclusion in an application to join a community or public service organization. If HR doesn't have a job description in an employee's personnel file, his or her manager is going to have to act fast and create one with the hopes that everything is covered.

ADA Example

For instance, Zarfandino shared an example about a warehouse worker breaking his leg while on vacation. When he's ready to return to work, HR will need to look at his job duties (which should be found in his job description) and determine what he can and cannot do. For example, maybe he hasn't been cleared for heavy lifting. If that's part of his job description, HR will need to accommodate his limitations and comply with his doctor's orders. Understanding exactly what is expected of the employee, including which job tasks are essential and which ones are marginal, can simplify an otherwise cumbersome process when dealing with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Documentation & Expectations

Letke agrees, noting that managers just get busy, companies grow, day-to-day tasks increase, and ''those job descriptions end up taking a back seat.'' This not only creates problems for employees needing job descriptions for medical reasons but also affects employee workflow. Some employees don't understand exactly what their roles should cover, while other employees assume that while they understand their job descriptions, they aren't sure if they're meeting the company's expectations. ''It's really hard to measure somebody's performance when his or her job is not appropriately documented,'' says Letke.

That's why it's important to establish employee job descriptions and include employee standards and expectations so that everyone has a clear picture of what's expected.

Learn Together

Learn from Your Mistakes

According to, ''Being proactive in the area of HR, recognizing and rectifying HR mistakes before they become serious problems, can save you countless headaches and protect your business against costly legal claims.'' Whether you've just started out in HR, or you've been working with the department for years, take the time to review your roles and ensure that you're carrying them out to the best of your ability. If you need help, ask for it. If you've made mistakes, fix and learn from them.

By Amanda Johnson
November 2017
professional skills hr professional development

Never miss an update