Hiring & Recruiting Newsletter 12/9/2008

By Renee Houston Zemanski

Did you know that 50 percent of candidates lie on their resumes? (This includes people who omit things, stretch the truth, and those who outright lie.) With that statistic staring you in the face, how do you know when someone is actually telling you the truth during an interview? Scott Halford, author, speaker, and long-time consultant in emotional intelligence and leadership, says that a lot of preparation before the interview can help. “Interviews are a honeymoon period for both the interviewee and the interviewer,” says Halford. “Both sides have a tendency to overexaggerate their credentials or the workplace conditions. Interviewers need to realize that they are putting people under a microscope and be aware that candidates are going to paint themselves in the best light possible (and they should).”

To encourage honesty, Halford says that hiring managers should let candidates know that they set expectations high in terms of what they’ll be doing to prepare for the interview ahead of time. That is, let candidates know that you plan to check references, contact referrals, and conduct background checks. It will tell people in no uncertain terms that they had better clean up their resumes. Another way to encourage and check honesty is to conduct comparative interviews with the candidates. Using this process allows you to get many different viewpoints about candidates. Let candidates know upfront that several people will interview them and compare notes. After the interviews, look for any discrepancies, overstatements, omissions, or lies about work experience. “If they are lying to you now, what are they going to do when no one is looking and the pressure is off?” asks Halford.

One of the most important things you can do as an interviewer is to get people to feel safe during the interview, says Halford. To do this, he says to reveal an experience about yourself that may not be the most flattering. For example, you could say, “I am the VP of sales, but right before I was promoted, I had the worst sales year of my life…here’s what happened.”

“By revealing this experience, you have now made yourself seem more human,” Halford says. “You are setting the stage by saying that you aren’t flawless and that you’ve had problems, but you still made it.”

Halford also recommends asking open-ended questions that get people to describe different scenarios. Begin by asking positive questions such as, “What was your best sales year?” “What did you do to make that happen?” Listen to make sure the answers are specific and provide details about their experiences instead of giving you broad, general statements.

“You can get people loosened up when you start with a positive,” says Halford. “It allows them to tell you about who they are safely. After they answer, flip it and ask, ‘What about your worst year? What happened there?’ Find out how they react when you throw them a curve ball. Do they answer right away? Do they stop and think? Do they get flustered? Do they shut down or freak out? If a person can talk as freely about the downside as he or she can about the upside, you probably have someone good on the line.”

Interviewers should also pose questions that reveal how much responsibility candidates take when they are faced with challenges – ask them about a time when they had difficulty with other people – how did they handle it? Listen for accountability, says Halford. Do they take responsibility or place the blame on others or circumstances? Listen, too, for overstatements, generalizations, and victimization – not the qualities you want in a new hire.

Finally, Halford says to state questions like you would “essay” questions, not “interrogation” questions. “When you get someone to just talk, you will learn more about him or her,” he explains. “You will gain more from asking four ‘essay-like,’ open-ended questions than 20 closed-ended or interrogative questions.”

The bottom line: You need to see how candidates will react in different situations. Your main objective is to see the candidate in “real life” situations and to get away from the “honeymoon” interview so you get a clear picture of that person.

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