5 Ways to Uncover a Job Candidate’s Hidden Strengths & Weaknesses

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Recruiting is easy, but talent hiring is tough.

When you’re recruiting, you’re looking at concrete facts – the applicant’s work history, experience in the field, education and availability.

But talent hiring? That requires you to assess traits that aren’t as easy to measure – things like creativity, integrity and innovation.

There’s no simple litmus test for gauging aptitude in these areas, but at the end of the day, these are the very things that separate bad hires from the lifetime employees. So shouldn’t you be doing more to quantify these “unquantifiable” traits? Hint: you should.

Use these five recruiting tactics to help.

1. Do your homework

Your applicant shouldn’t be the only one preparing for the interview. You should too, and simply reading a candidate’s cover letter and resume doesn’t count.

Dive in there and get your hands dirty. Look for inconsistencies or details that don’t add up. A two-year gap in employment? Overlapping positions at competing companies? When you find something that sparks your curiosity, circle it with a big red pen and jot down your thoughts.

Then look specifically for work experience that echoes what the applicant will be doing with your company. Formulate questions to draw connections between the two:

“So I see you managed a design team at your old firm.Can you tell me about a time when your creatives began to take a project in the wrong direction? How did you get them back on track?” These kinds of personal, experience-based questions will teach you who your future employees really are, not just what they’ve done.

2. Know what you’re looking for

This one seems like a no-brainer, but when it comes to talent hiring, many recruiters focus heavily on things like education and experience and rely on a sort of “gut feeling” when it comes to things like personal integrity, responsibility, and creativity.

Since our intuition isn’t always correct, this is a dangerous habit to fall into. Creating a simple list of positive traits can be a big help, so before an interview, take a few moments to identify the necessary traits needed for the job.

If you’re hiring an event coordinator, the ability to multitask and to stay calm under pressure would probably top your list. If you’re hiring a computer programmer, attention to detail and a high level of focus would be key. Tailor your list of traits to each position you’re recruiting for, and keep it at the top of your clipboard during an interview.

Every time a candidate gives evidence that they possess one of these traits (or that they possess the exact opposite trait), take notes. This simple tactic will help turn subjective traits into measurable qualities.

3. Conduct a show and tell

Instead of reading about a candidate’s accomplishments in some sort of a bullet-pointed list, ask for proof. If an applicant says he’s created dozens of websites for clients, have him bring along a laptop to give you a quick tour of his portfolio. If she ranks a newly renovated coffee shop among her best design accomplishments, conduct your interview there to see the work for yourself.

When assessing creative work, ask about the candidate’s artistic influences. Find out why they chose to go into a creative field. Open-ended questions like these will help you gauge the person’s level of passion, which can give you an idea of how dedicated and involved they’ll be in the future.

4. Throw them some curveballs

Since there are so many blogs, articles and even personal coaches prepping job hunters for upcoming interviews these days, it’s easy for candidates to show up with most of their answers already memorized. So if the questions you ask are covered on every social recruiting profile and employment blog out there, don’t expect genuine replies.

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If you want to get applicants to tell you how they really feel, ask them one of our “killer ninja” interview questions. For example: “You can telepathically communicate with animals. How would you command the animal kingdom to overthrow society?”

When you ask questions like these, you’ll be able to assess a candidate’s ability to think on her feet, her creative problem-solving skills and even her sense of humor. Those are the kind of traits that questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” just aren’t likely to uncover.

5. Don’t fly solo

People have good days and bad days. A candidate who gives an Oscar-worthy interview performance one week could completely unravel if tested again.

That’s why it’s important not to rely on one interview alone. Instead, conduct two or three interviews. Use social recruiting apps, and get talent hiring managers and even company execs involved.

Having additional perspectives on an applicant can make can make the hiring job easier, after all, and using hiring programs will help you stay organized throughout the process. The Resumator’s applicant tracking tools, for example, allow an interviewer to take detailed notes and then upload them to The Resumator so that they can be shared with co-interviewers.

The group can then discuss impressions or explore any discrepancies discovered during the interview process. It’s a way to get a clear view of an applicant’s true traits – instead of only the ones they want you to see.

Even the most intuitive talent hiring experts will, from time to time, pass on a great worker or hire a bad apple. The Eagle Scout intern with the heart of gold works diligently for a week then disappears without notice. The promising young designer presents a client with a website that looks like it was created in MS Paint.

And somewhere out there, a great employee – one that HR simply missed – is working for another company. You win some, you lose some, right? But when you begin to look beyond a candidate’s cover letter and resume, when you start to quantify and gauge the subjective qualities that matter most, and when you teach yourself to really see the person that’s sitting before you in the interview chair, that’s not intuition.

That’s something closer to objectivity. And that, to us, is the secret of talent hiring.

This article originally appeared on The Resumator Blog.


7 Comments on “5 Ways to Uncover a Job Candidate’s Hidden Strengths & Weaknesses

  1. Just because u have a long gap in ur work history dont mean shit, especially now and days with the economy… Ive been turned down jobs because of this. The world we live in goin to shit anyway, its almost impossible to get any kind of job anymore, companies ask for to much, and wonder why theres jobs out here and unemployment goin up, get a clue bitchs, thought our personel life and our job is supposed be seperated from one another, right? so why u ask for so much,,, damn, the world we live in, someone cant go to work to provide for there family cuz of personel issues that got nothin to do with the job.

    1. Dear Mike,

      The possible reasons you haven’t been hired are actually in your reply above.  You cannot communicate professionally (you do not write grammatically or spell correctly), your attitude is one of entitlement, and you are vulgar.  Good luck to you.

      An HR Manager

  2. Great tips, Eric! I especially enjoy, “Don’t fly solo.” It’s also our opinion that employers should interview candidates several time before making a final selection, but we often hear that hiring managers and other workers involved in the hiring process feel multiple interviews take too much time away from their jobs. That’s why we suggest employers look into one-way video interviews for the initial large pool of candidates. One-way video interviews allow candidates to record answers to employer interview questions. Those on the hiring team can then watch candidates’ answers at their convenience, possibly during a break at work. As you can see, one-way video interviews are convenient and time saving for both parties.

  3. The glaring error in this post is its failure to include the following: 1) USE RELEVANT MEASURES WHEN ASSESSING YOUR APPLICANTS. For no particular reason, it is quite fashionable to force applicants to submit to credit checks. This gives no useful information to help you predict an applicant’s success on the job, and absolutely discriminates against applicants who have been victims of mass layoffs and unemployment crisis. Being laid off during the worst economy since the Great Depression is not an indicator of being a bad employee; nor is having one’s credit suffer when one is laid off during the worst economy since the Great Depression. The HR industry’s love affair with irrelevant credit ratings is responsible for passing over good applicants and, ironically, therefore prolonging those applicants’ inability to pay their debts – therefore making it even harder and harder and harder for those applicants to ever find a job and re-establish their credit and their lives. If you are an HR professional, be that (PROFESSIONAL) and do better.

  4. There is very useful information here, Eric. While interviewing prospective professionals, it is often challenging to develop a process that allows your organization to hire strategically. My favorite tip is #2: know what you’re looking for—simple, but so crucial. Many recruiters focus mainly on education and experience, but taking this a step further and creating a list of positive traits required for the job is an excellent idea. Like job seekers tailor their resume to the position in question, it is important to think and uncover traits specifically for the open position. You’re right—subjective traits can foreshadow measurable qualities, and often these qualities provide a longer lasting impact than college or past job achievements. – Randy Hain, Managing Partner, Bell Oaks Executive Search

  5. Do the animals have just animal skills, or are they intelligent agents I could teach things? I love that question. I wish someone would ask it; I would want to work at that place.

    Good post too, and helpful for anyone; if you’re the candidate or even if you’re in a job already — makes you think about your skills, your career, your motivations. Asking what inspired your prospective employer to do what he does is no bad idea for applicants either. An interview is a talk about mutual satisfaction, not a tribunal.

    I do agree with the illiterate poster though: gaps are over-stigmatized. Even if you were unemployed and got lost, it’s an experience you had and it may have taught you something (at least that, hopefully). Also, skills aren’t just in what your record says: society needs more qualities than what’s standard in (big) business.

    And yes: some companies want the world for nothing.

    In the guy’s defense: he’s coarse and uneducated, and maybe angry, but he came here to read this. Who knows what skills he has? Don’t judge.

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