I'm looking for a phrase for the situation where the person responsible for seeing a task is done is the person least likely to do the task themselves. For example you wouldn't make Bob responsible for ensuring everyone washes their cup because Bob is the worst culprit for forgetting to wash his own cup.

I feel like "Choosing the fox to guard the henhouse" is not quite right as there is malice and/or cunning implied in what the fox would do in the henhouse.

Is there a phrase or idiom for choosing a person who is inept or ill suited for the work in this way? The subject of the discussion isn't stupid, just the opposite of the person you want for this task.

  • What's wrong with "unqualified"?
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 31, 2017 at 21:05
  • If you're looking for a simile, you might say, "It's like hiring the creature from the Black Lagoon to drain a swamp."
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 31, 2017 at 21:12
  • @HotLicks Unqualified falls short on two fronts. Qualified/unqualified tends to speak to credentials rather than aptitude. I've known qualified teachers who couldn't convey an idea that was written on their forehead. Additionally many people in the group may be unqualified but each group only has one person who is "least likely to do the task themselves".
    – Myles
    Jan 31, 2017 at 22:54
  • You don't understand the meaning of "qualified".
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 31, 2017 at 22:56
  • qual·i·fied officially recognized as being trained to perform a particular job; certified.
    – Myles
    Jan 31, 2017 at 22:59

8 Answers 8


How about wrong tool for the job?

If you want to take out a screw, you choose a screwdriver, not a hammer. This doesn't mean hammers are "stupid". They're great at driving nails. They're just ill-equipped (not designed) for removing screws.

And so it is with people. You need to choose the right "tool" for the job. If you want someone to improve housekeeping, you choose a neatnik, not a slob (or so conventional wisdom would have it).

So, if Bob is the worst culprit when it comes to washing his own cup, and you make him responsible for ensuring that everyone washes their cup, I could say, with some justification, "You chose the wrong tool for the job."

Wrong tool for the job has the same connotations as "the fox guarding the henhouse": the fox is the wrong tool for the job. Perhaps this is why you thought of "the fox guarding the henhouse" when pondering your own question.

  • +1 for a phrase that describes the situation, and not just the individual. I also feel like I've seen colorful phrases that fill in specific tools and tasks along these lines, but they aren't coming to mind.
    – 1006a
    Nov 2, 2016 at 22:35
  • @1006a Thanks for the feedback. I have the same feeling you do re colorful phrases. Perhaps they'll come to us when we least expect it. Nov 3, 2016 at 0:10

Mismatch, or, responding to the OP's comment, absolute mismatch.

Bob is an absolute mismatch for the job of ensuring that all the cups are washed.

Another phrase for Bob and this task: Absolutely hopeless

We can't make Bob the clean coffee cup czar; he would be absolutely hopeless at the job.

mismatch, from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary Usage

a combination of things or people that do not work well together or are not suitable for each other

Not only can people be mismatched or things (teacups and saucers), but a person and a job can be mismatched.

Example, from Job mismatches in Pakistan: is there some wage penalty to graduates?

In this study, an attempt has been made to estimate the incidence of job mismatch and its impacts on graduate's earnings in Pakistan. The study has divided the job mismatch into three categories; qualification-job mismatch, skill mismatch and field of study and job mismatch. (Emphasis added)

As for absolute, the OED says

Complete or entire in degree; in the fullest sense. Freq. used for emphasis

Thus Bob could not be more mismatched for this particular job, if he is absolutely mismatched for it.

  • I feel this misses the mark. There may be several mismatches for a task in a group. I'm looking for a phrase or idiom describing choosing the most mismatched person.
    – Myles
    Nov 1, 2016 at 23:00
  • 1
    @Myles Based on you question, (skills) mismatch is a solid answer. And absolute mismatch gets at the worst possible match, a mismatch made in heaven, so to speak. +1 from me. Nov 2, 2016 at 0:27

In a formal situation, inadequate would be, um, an adequate term.

In a more informal setting, not up to scratch may be good enough.

  • I'm not sure there is a specific word that perfectly fits the OP's request but while your answers are true, they don't give a sense of being opposite of "the right person for the job". Nov 1, 2016 at 19:20
  • Not what I'm looking for really. Both "inadequate" and "not up to scratch" encompass the full range from almost adequate to hopelessly inept.
    – Myles
    Nov 1, 2016 at 22:46

You can use unlikely:

unlikely, adj.: not seeming to be right or suited for a purpose

As in, "Bob, the coffee-mold merchant, was an unlikely choice for dishwashing monitor."


a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.


Now, that saying may not have the exact sense you asked about, but because of a recent UK and US game show The weakest link has become a popular way to identify the first person you should eliminate from consideration.

You might also say someone is the last person you should ask to do something.

Ngrams view:


You can say:

Person X is a misfit in the job.


Noun misfit ‎(plural misfits)

A badly adjusted person; someone unsuitable or set apart because of their habits, behaviour etc.

She was very unhappy in Iraq and a misfit in the Army.
The MBA was a misfit when stuck in a meeting with the programmers.


From the perspective of the person tasked with selecting the candidate, they might find Bob as unsuitable for the position. They'd probably never tell him that directly, but that's the pile they'd put his application in.

  • Not quite what I'm looking for. There may be several unsuitable choices for a task in a group. I'm looking for a phrase or idiom describing choosing the most unsuitable person similar to choosing the fox to guard the henhouse but without any sort of malice implied to the person being chosen.
    – Myles
    Nov 3, 2016 at 15:11
  • @Myles I don't think you'll find an American English idiom for describing the choice or assignment itself. Perhaps a British English, although I don't think so. If a manager chose a known or suspected thief to over-see the petty cash fund, you might comment "that's like asking the fox to guard the hen house". But I don't think there are any idioms for this. From www.merriam-webster.com: idiom - "an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own". Nov 3, 2016 at 16:34

Kakistocrat might be relevant. A Kakistocracy is a government staffed by the worst / most inappropriate people for the job. A kakistocrat is one of those people. I believe it's etymology is from the greek. And related to the word 'cack' (meaning excrement / sh-t). So literally meaning 'the most sh-t person for the job)

  • Can you provide more support for this answer? Maybe a source for your definition of Kakistocrat. A source will make your suggestion more reputable.
    – Hank
    Jan 31, 2017 at 21:07

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