Is your candidate faking good or honestly great?

Is your candidate faking good or honestly great?

Congratulations. Your recruitment search worked and you’ve found a handful of great candidates to bring in for an interview. You’re in the home stretch now. Aren’t you? 

One common challenge hiring managers face in an interview is sorting out what type of person their candidate really is. One barrier to getting a true sense of a candidate is the inherently positive nature of an interview. After all, no one is going to walk in to a room and declare they’re the wrong fit. In fact, both sides of the conversations can easily become incentivized to project a positive outlook. Job-seekers, especially if they’re recently unemployed, might really need the work.  And employers, especially as they grow/scale, might really need people for certain roles. They may play up the positive aspects of their culture, and downplay some of the potential negatives, to convince the candidate to come on board.

With both sides playing the game, how do you cut through the typical interview script and find that truly great candidate?

The No. 1 interview question of the future

More and more companies are becoming data-driven these days, and as such, it’s a good idea to see what type of connection a candidate has to data — and making decisions based off data — during the hiring process. Some have called this the “self-quantification” process of hiring, with a brief explainer:

If actions speak louder than words, then deliberately measuring your own actions makes you demonstrably numerate as well as more articulate. Whether counting steps or counting calories, the “quantified self” movement has quickly become an important platform for people to monitor what matters to them. As one venture capitalist recently remarked to me during a conversation about workplace analytics, “I want my entrepreneurs checking their phones for something more than messages.”

What if we moved hiring to a place where it went like this:

  • Hey, tell us a problem you’ve seen about yourself (for example: “I don’t have a healthy lifestyle”)
  • Hey, tell us how you decided to fix it (“I decided to join a gym and go three times per week and eat better.”)
  • Hey, tell us what you measured and how you knew you were fixing it (“Tracked visits, counted calories, scheduled meal prep.”)
  • Hey, give us some broader context around it (“Evolved to a place of understanding different benefits of different workouts and more nutrition information.”)

Now you’re having a candidate walk through a series of situations in their lives, connected data to each step. That’s going to help show their data-driven decision-making abilities and give you a sense of how genuine they might be within your ecosystem if data is increasingly being used more. As an added bonus, it also allows an interviewer to gain some insight into a candidate’s life and how they operate and use logical reasoning in the real world.

Read more: Learn about the right questions to ask in an interview

Use assessments

Pre-hire testing and assessment can be a very valid way to see if a candidate “walks the walk,” and/or generally knows their stuff about the topic. Formal assessments usual include personality, behavior, or cognitive measures. Remember, the best assessments to use are scientifically-validated with strong psychometric properties so you can be confident in the results. Leveraging assessments can also help you benchmark a role internally, recruit to the requirements of that role, develop your people based on strengths, and ultimately retain top performers. Assessments are a crucial element in end-to-end talent management, and that begins during the hiring process and vetting a given candidate.

Pro-Tip: Uncover insights about your candidates with assessment measures

Types of questions

Before you start an interview, think about the questions you want to ask. The most common interview questions, unfortunately, do little to advance the hiring process — in large part because the most commonly-asked interview questions tend to be very generic. You can make interview questions less generic, primarily in these ways:

  • Ask candidates to tell stories
  • Ask them to walk you through the steps of what they did to take a certain action
  • Ask them to tell you who else was involved in a work decision, how they got buy-in, what was challenging about it, etc.
  • Make them flesh out the story

If you make them flesh out the story, you will see where there might be holes — where maybe they didn’t work on said project exactly the way they are claiming to. Again, this is not accusatory around being dishonest. It’s simply trying to find people who have really done the work you need done now, and who have the potential to grow into roles you’ll need in the future. The easiest path to that is to see their stories about previous work projects and really make them walk you through their thinking process, who they worked with, what challenges they overcame, etc. This will give you the best sense of a candidate.

Too often in interviews, a question is essentially a one-off. “Tell me your biggest weakness,” for example, which most candidates spin into a strength — and then the recruiter moves to a new question. That process doesn’t work. If a candidate spins a weakness question into a strength, for example, ask more follow-up questions:

  • You framed that as a strength, and that’s great, but I’d like to know more about why you thought of it initially as a weakness.
  • Had someone pointed it out to you?
  • What had you been using to measure your weaknesses?
  • What paths do you take to get better at gaps you have around work?
  • What’s important to you in terms of growing your skill set and careers?

It’s not so much the specific type of question so much as the idea of following up and trying to see the whole process of thinking that a candidate is trying to walk you through. Follow up. It’s the path to understanding your most genuine, talented, ready-to-impact candidates now.

So next time you walk into an interview, consider using some of these strategies to uncover a candidate’s true self under their professional persona. You might find someone is a stronger candidate than you thought when you focus on the right questions and approaches to structuring an interview.


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