We have all been there:

You have spent too long trying to fill a key position. At long last, someone emerges who appears to be an ideal fit. You are certain that she meets all of the technical qualifications. She has spent her career with an industry leader in your space where she gained ideal experience. She presents as very intelligent, capable and even has a sense of humour. She seems genuinely excited about all aspects of the business and is very happy with how you describe the organization. She speaks with joy about how the role seems to be a perfect fit with very little discussion required. You sense that you are about to add a critical person. At last you can move on to whatever fresh hell is next on your list. Six to ten months later you are devastated to hear that your star candidate is leaving. What could have happened?

This phenomenon is also very visible from the other side of the spectrum. In the recruitment world you see a million resumes, and one of the biggest trends is that of people who spent a long time in one company suddenly having one or two short stints to follow it up. Also, people who go through difficult times, or spend stretches unemployed often have very short stays in one organization before moving on. It is something I tell to every person I speak with that has been part of a restructuring.

Sometimes the most dangerous candidates are very impressive people who, for whatever reason, are not actually a fit in your specific organization. Moreover, this lack of what we all tend to call “culture fit” is not spotted in the assessment process, because many candidates will view your opportunity with rose-coloured glasses and focus on pleasing you rather than assessing things objectively. They are not truly running to your job, they are running away from another situation, be it loss of identity due to unemployment, a true dislike for their current employment situation, or the simple need for feeling valued at a difficult time. Their short term motivations cloud their ability to properly focus and assess your role, but their skills and capabilities are still very evident.

It is very dangerous to fall for a seemingly perfect candidate when he or she is, professionally speaking, on the rebound.

There are lots of clues to help spot this scenario:

Has the person asked specific questions about the heart of the role?

Has he or she avoided the tougher issues that might cause problems like mandate, jurisdiction, current challenges or why others have not been successful?

Has this person spent time contrasting aloud how your organization (or client) differs from where this person would be leaving, almost appearing anxious to make a positive distinction?

Did the person cave too easily in negotiations?

Has this person truly made it clear what drives him or her most? If so, are you sure this is a key part of the role being interviewed for?

As a recruitment professional, it is sometimes difficult to accept that, after spending so much time hunting for a needle in a haystack, the next step is to scrutinize the short term motivations of our prize find, risking the individual’s candidacy. In the end, nobody benefits from a poor match, least of all the candidate.

Having said all of this, I am certainly not proposing that you eliminate candidates simply because they fit the above criteria. Being “on the rebound” professionally is quite different from its romantic counterpart. I believe strongly that the solution is just being more thorough and direct. Before you hire anyone include these questions among your final considerations:

Do I fully understand what is motivating this person right now, and what will motivate them in the longer term?

Am I certain this person is running to the opportunity and not running from something else?

In my experience this scenario arises fairly often, and there really is no need to play psychologist. When I am not sure, I sit down with candidates and explain to them my concern and talk it through with them. (Many who I have worked with will recall this conversation in various forms.) Recruiting at its highest level is not about selling, it is about finding ideal partnerships that benefit everyone. Sometimes a conversation like this gives the candidate pause to really review in a deeper context the potential fit, which may in turn lead to better questions and better expectations on both ends leading up to a start date.

Other times you find out that, after finally thinking you have found the right person, you simply haven’t and you must start again.

If it was easy it wouldn’t be fun.