5 Methods to Help Interviewers See Through Candidates’ ‘Smokescreens’

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TreeAccording to CareerBuilder, most companies — 69 percent — will experience a bad hire at least once a year. Bad hires are not totally avoidable, partly because no interviewing technique is 100 percent reliable. Furthermore, today’s candidates have spent a lot of time fine-tuning their interview skills. They’ve learned how to conceal their shortcomings through agreeable “smokescreens” that make them seem like perfect hires — even when they aren’t.

As a result of the average job seeker’s advanced interview technique, the average employer needs to up its game. Today’s interviewers have to find ways to get behind these candidate smokescreens to find out what’s really going on. To help them do just that, I suggest these five strategies:

1. Make Use of In-Tray Exercises

An in-tray exercise is a roleplaying activity in which a candidate acts as if it is their first day on the job. The idea is that such an activity give and employer a glimpse into how well a candidate can really perform the role they are vying for.

To execute an in-tray exercise, you can prepare a desk where candidates face simulated tasks, emails, queries, and items they might see on a typical day. Then, candidates are given a couple of hours to “work” on their in-trays. For each item on hand, they’ll need to take action or recommend a course of action. By looking at each candidate’s end results, you can get clear snapshots of how qualified each candidate really is.

2. Run Teamwork Simulations

These assessments are especially good when interviewing candidates for leadership positions.

For a teamwork simulation, you’ll want to invite all the candidates — ideally, you should have at least four candidates — in for an interview day. You’ll need to set up multiple scenarios (you can find plenty of these online) that require one person to lead and the others to participate as team members. Each candidate should have one turn as a leader.

WindmillWhen, running teamwork simulations, be sure to pay attention to candidates’ leadership skills and their abilities to work as team members. How the candidates perform in each role will say a lot about what kind of employees they will truly be.

3. Incorporate a Pay-for-Performance Scale Into the Role

One way to test the confidence of a candidate is to see if they’ll put their money where their mouth is. By all means, pay your employees well, but also consider tying up to 25 percent of a new hire’s salary to certain performance goals.

This approach can help you to get behind the smokescreen of any seemingly superhuman candidate. If the candidate does have a few hidden weaknesses, they might manifest themselves as a reluctance to accept a pay-for-performance scale. A genuinely great candidate who is truly confident in their ability should be open to accepting a pay-for-performance scale — after all, they know they actually have what it takes to hit those performance goals.

4. Bring Candidates Aboard for Trial Days

Skip the simulations altogether and head straight to the real thing by bringing candidates in for trial days. During these days, candidates should meet team members, participate in meetings, and even do some actual work. There’s no better way to get behind a candidate’s smokescreen than to really watch them in action.

5. Contextual Interviewing

Research shows that even experienced recruiters make “attribution errors”, where they fail to take into account the context in which a candidate’s past performance occurred. For example, Candidate A might have double the sales of Candidate B, but Candidate A might also be working in a much easier sales environment than Candidate B.

In reality, Candidate B may be the better candidate of the two, but if the interviewer fails to assess the context of each candidate, they may mistakenly hire Candidate A.

WallWhen assessing the claims of candidates, it’s important to probe into the surrounding context. Get an understanding of the context of a candidate’s past achievements, and you’ll get a better understanding of a candidate’s true abilities.

Candidates are out there at this very moment practicing their interviewing techniques. As an interviewer, you can’t afford to let them get the upper hand. If you want to make the best hires you can, you need to use these strategies to dig deep and find out who your candidates really are.

Read more in Interview Techniques

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.