Why the Candidate You Hired Isn’t the Employee Who Actually Showed Up

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“But he interviewed so well!” the frustrated manager lamented at a leadership conference I presented for last week. “He was so sharp … so prepared. I thought he’d be a great fit. But when he came in for training, he was like a totally different person.”

“That’s because you didn’t interview him. You probably interviewed his parents,” I replied.

When you discover that a good friend, colleague, or your own son or daughter, is going to interview for a job, naturally you want to help them. After all, you’ve been through many interviews, and you know what it takes to make a great first impression and stand out from the crowd.

So if they’re open to suggestions, you let them know some of the questions they’ll likely be asked, and coach them on how they should answer those questions.

Who is the real applicant?

And if you were to direct that individual to go search for a book on “how to interview for a job” on Amazon, they’d have more than 6,200 from which to chose. There’s no shortage of materials and resources to help them prepare for the interview.

But if this individual is asked the questions you or one of those books predicted they’d be asked, and they answered those questions exactly the way in which it was suggested they answered and, in fact, got the job, would they be able to keep it?

The ultimate goal of an interview is to determine whether the person sitting in front of you has the skills, the attitude, and the core work ethic values that you know are essential for success in your organization. If they provide the right answers, but don’t personally align with those answers, you’re going to make a bad hire.

The solution is to ask interview questions they haven’t been coached on how to answer. These aren’t trick questions, but rather, questions that cause an applicant to think, reflect on their own experience, and respond in an authentic way.

If their response merits further investigation, you should be prepared with follow-up questions that provide a deeper look into how your candidate’s skill set and character aligns with your needs and your culture.

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You need to up your interview game

If you want to make certain the interviewee is the person you are actually hiring, start fresh. Write down all the questions you typically ask in an interview (those that you consider “staples”). Review that list, and if you remember ever being asked any of those questions, eliminate them from your repertoire.

Even if you are the originator of a question, and it’s one you’ve been using for more than  two or three years, it’s probably now part of the public domain and your applicants have been prepped on how to respond. Delete those as well.

As you rethink your interview questions, begin with the end in mind.

Carefully consider the combination of skill sets and core values you require for each position. Then create a series of new, meaningful questions that enable you to determine if the person in front of you is, in fact, the real deal or a dummy being manipulated by someone behind the curtain.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit revivingworkethic.com.

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement, and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the millennial mindset, and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 4 leadership books including his newly released Amazon #1 Bestseller On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out.  Learn more at EricChester.com and follow him at @eric_chester


3 Comments on “Why the Candidate You Hired Isn’t the Employee Who Actually Showed Up

  1. Everything you said is true. I work both as an Executive Search consultant and with a video interviewing provider. One reason we developed our video interviewing tool was so that hiring managers could quickly look at the candidate prior to the face-to-face interview and decide if they do or do not want to meet with them. This of course saves them a great deal of time.

    Asking questions of the candidate that they cannot produce canned responses to is definitely key as you mentioned.

  2. Eric, solid points! I wanted to add a comment focused on your readers who use recruiters: DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

    Before the interview happens, understand what your recruiter’s qualification process is. This advice is valid for your HR, corporate recruiters, or 3rd party recruiters…basically anyone who may round up a breathing candidate.

    Have you done your homework? (Link: http://www.clinicalstaffingreviews.com/have-you-done-your-homework/)


  3. And make sure anyone on your team interviewing candidates KNOWS HOW to interview! As a recruiter I often see hiring managers with horrible interviewing skills.

    If you are a poor interviewer, you shouldn’t expect good interview results. There are a few things which can help to prepare your hiring team to conduct powerful interviews and further identify great candidates – I hope this helps!


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