An original Macintosh team member coined the phrase ‘reality distortion field’ in reference to Steve Jobs’ amazing ability to “present what he would like to be true as if it were already reality.” When it comes to resumes and interviews, all candidates are attempting to showcase themselves in a favorable light. Where do we draw the line between self-confidence and deceit?
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It’s your job to invest enough time and energy in the hiring process to see through any deception and hire the best candidate available. Studies show that upwards of 80% of all job-seekers lie (or at least stretch the truth) on their resume. The more time you spend with an applicant, the more likely you are to get a true and accurate portrayal of who they are.
The following five-step hiring system is very effective for most small to medium-sized businesses.
1) Sort candidates by resumes, cover letters, and salary histories. Is the cover letter tailored specifically to the position and your company, or is it a generic stab in the dark? Does their resume show relevant work history? Can you afford to hire them? Grade applicants on a point system in terms of qualifications, education, relevant experience, and the factors most important to you and your business. Let technology help you uncover any inconsistencies (or flat out lies) by screening CVs with resume parsing software. There are countless apps and programs to store and analyze data, allowing you to find ideal candidates quickly, and weed out those that are a little less than honest. Pay special attention to red flags such as spelling errors, gaps in work history, short-term employment, and decreasing responsibilities while working for the same employer.
2) Narrow your list of candidates down through the use of phone interviews. This will often cut your list of potential hires in half. Ensure that you or your hiring manager are doing a lot more listening than talking. Get to know this person. Jot down a few key words to describe your first impressions. You only get one chance. Is this someone you want representing you and your company? Do they have quick, relevant answers to your questions, or do they attempt to steer the conversation elsewhere? Keep digging until you get the answers you need. Rephrase. Try another tack. Do not move on until you are satisfied with a candidate’s response. The questions they are evading are the ones you really need the answers to.
3) Conduct an in-depth phone or video interview with the top candidates and decide who you would like to meet in person. If you have strong contenders, 3 interviews will likely suffice. This is a great opportunity to gather candid information that isn’t on their CV, and unearth impromptu falsehoods. I was helping one of our large retail clients hire a new COO. One candidate they were particularly interested in had his PHD in business and a tremendous track record in a related industry. When I fact-checked him it all began to fall apart. The trick is to ask for specific examples tied to the applicants claims. For example, if a candidate says they helped close a $400,000 account, ask exactly what they did to bring in the account. What was their role in this process? Who else was on the team? And so forth. Details are easy to recount for someone who is telling the truth. They are remembering, rather than fabricating. Even the details they can’t quite recall are believable. If someone is lying, their story eventually breaks apart.
4) When you believe that you have narrowed your search to two or three ideal candidates, let them know where they stand. Make sure that they are committed and available if they are awarded the position. There are a lot of people that are simply unprepared to leave a comfortable or lucrative situation, even at this late stage in the hiring process. When you have the responses you are looking for, interview your finalists at least three times, in three different locations, involving at least three team members. The 3x3 method removes personal bias, ensures a well-rounded view of each candidate, and encourages your top talent to participate in team-building strategies. Plan your questions in advance according to your hiring system and needs. Debrief with your HR team as soon as possible. You'll find it gets difficult to differentiate between candidates after the fact, so detailed notes are extremely important. Looking for a telemarketer? You will gain a lot of insight through a phone interview, while if you are looking for a baker, a practical skills test in the kitchen is where they’ll prove their worth. Your ideal candidate should shine at every step of the hiring process, whether it be a phone, skype, or live interview, or practical test or challenge. Once you have determined that a candidate merits closer inspection interviewing in various locations helps you see them in a different light. A formal interview in the boardroom could extend to a casual walking tour of the facility, or to the park outside for lunch. People often relax and open up in different settings.
5) Check references diligently. Ensure that the person you are speaking to was expecting your call, and is actually in a position to evaluate the candidate. Listen carefully, and read between the lines. Most references will not come right out and tell you that Karen was habitually late or Dale was fired for theft due to liability issues. Treat neutral references as though they were negative. Previous employers should have great things to say about past employees, and if they don’t, something is likely very wrong. It is important not to interrupt, coach, or lead the reference. The information you are gathering is crucial and should be as accurate as possible. Ask specific open-ended questions. “I understand that Charles spearheaded several community initiatives. Could you elaborate on that?” Hinting at your concerns can elicit honest, thoughtful responses. “I see that Jeff doesn’t have much managerial experience. Do you think he would be successful supervising a team of 12?”
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Look to your extended network to gain any additional information. Ask around, and vet candidates on LinkedIn and social media platforms to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Instill adequate probationary periods, and set up a performance plan with measurable results for any mis-hires who manage to slip through the cracks.
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that some people lie. Protect yourself, your employees, and your business, by implementing a sound hiring process with ample checks and balances. Spend the time to hire right the first time, and watch your business flourish.