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When to Pull the Plug and Fire Your Assistant!


If you thought hiring was difficult, firing is even harder. Many clients I have worked with will let a bad hire linger on for weeks, months or even years, rather than pull the plug. Trust me, I know: as a former manager of a department of forty people, I’ve had my fair share of bad hires and ugly dismissals.

No one likes to see his assistant crying in his office, begging for her job. We are human, after all, and compassion often takes over, creating doubt in our hearts. “Perhaps, I didn’t train her enough”… “Perhaps I didn’t give her enough time”… “Maybe this is my fault and, after all, she’s promised to improve.” These are all thoughts that most managers have had at one time or another, in the face of a devastated employee.

But like the honeymoon phase of a bad relationship that goes through endless fights and makeups, most employers and employees often feel that there is a slight improvement after a breakout. When an employee is pulled in, given a critical review and put on notice to improve, she will respond by coming in on time, staying late to finish work, taking initiative etc.  The employer will take this as a sign of improvement and extend the employment for yet a few more months to see “how she does”.

That review and notice can work very well to get the employee on track. And it can also backfire. As much as I am a huge believer in investing in people and building employees, I’m also business-minded when it comes to evaluating whether or not a particular hire should stay or go.

So what’s my formula for determining when to fire? Here are 3 things you need to consider:

  1. The 3 months probationary period: 3 months is long enough to determine whether or not a hire is going to work out. This is the time to train and assess. Inaccuracies in work, attendance issues, what she claimed she knew and skills she said she had vs. what she really knows and can do. These are all the issues and concerns that can arise in the first three months that should never be ignored. They are warning signs and if the hire is given notice to improve, once, even twice and yet there is no improvement? It’s time to pull the plug.


  1. Mutual Benefit: You are investing thousands of dollars in salary and training, which benefits the employee, but are you getting your money’s worth? If you hired someone who is entry level and you expected to have to train, then give it 3 months. If you hired someone with experience, who was supposed to hit the ground running and you are paying a premium salary, then pull the plug faster. Premium salary and training is a win for the hire, but not a wise investment if the candidate is not performing.


  1. Personality: If you discover that the hire was dishonest during the interview, claiming she knew how to do a CMA but couldn’t actually do one after being hired, that is enough to dismiss an individual. Character flaws like dishonesty, blaming others, thinking she is better than her co-workers are not characteristics that can be improved, so don’t waste any further time.


When should you give someone more time:

  1. The new hire has been a huge asset to the team, pulling her weight and really adding value, BUT… she does something that drives you nuts, like showing up late, or forgetting to close cabinets doors etc. These are things that can be overlooked, or worked on, because we all understand that we are all human and not perfect.


  1. The person you hired is inexperienced, you haven’t invested any time in training her and she’s been very resourceful to teach herself but is still not up to speed. GIve her more time and give her YOUR time to teach her how you like things done. Don’t expect her to know everything without your input. Nobody is a mind reader.


  1. She’s weak in one aspect of the job, but that aspect is not a core function of her role. For example: she’s amazing at brokerloading and writing offers but not so great at writing content for your feature sheets. There are tasks that you can remove from her list of responsibilities so that the position is more tailored to her strengths as opposed to setting her up for failure. See our article about creating the job to fit the candidate. Giving her tasks that are of lesser value that can easily be given to someone else or outsourced isn’t necessarily the smartest investment. Don’t lose a great hire by overburdening them with too much work that results in her failure. Set her up for success.


After all the effort that goes into hiring, it’s not surprising that managers are reluctant to fire: they want to be sure that their gut instinct about an employee is right. And there is also the matter of legalities. After the probationary period, a solid HR process is needed to manage reviews, keep records and ultimately support the act of an employee being fired, in order to avoid any wrongful dismissal suits.

By working with a recruiter like AGENTC, we can give you the resources you need to make sure that you don’t get sucked down the drain when you pull the plug.

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