Checking References the Right Way

Many employers think checking a candidate’s work references is tedious and unnecessary, but they are wrong.  When done right, reference checking is both enlightening and essential.  The problem is that employers don’t use the proper interview techniques and they don’t use the occasion of talking to references to its fullest potential.

Here’s how to do it right:  During the interview process, as you discuss the candidate’s work history, zero in on a particular event–or events–when the candidate and his or her co-workers worked to resolve a problem or disagreed on an issue.  Discuss this matter at length with the candidate, asking specific questions about time, place, and the people involved.  Now, from among those involved people choose the supervisors or co-workers with whom you would like to speak to verify the candidate’s version of events.

When you ask the candidate for the names and contact information of those involved in the particular events, note the reaction.  An honest candidate will typically try to help you in every way possible to contact the reference and thereby confirm his or her account; while a dishonest candidate will erect obstacles and make excuses for not providing contact information.

When you contact your chosen reference, you have specific, work-related events to discuss and verify, and now you can engage that reference in a conversation that confirms or refutes the candidate’s version.  When the candidate has told the truth about the event, even if it involved a difficult workplace problem, you will find the reference is willing to discuss it.  But when the candidate has misrepresented or exaggerated the event, the reference will contradict the candidate’s version, and you will know your candidate’s commitment to honesty is questionable.

Quality, work-related references gathered during the interview can provide insight into the honesty of the candidate, and finding an honest candidate is the key to finding a good worker.  The secret to finding useful references is to select them yourself.  When talking to references, the secret is to have relevant workplace events to discuss with them.

Does HR Run Your Company?

In business there’s a revered maxim: Never let your bookkeeper run your company.

At Patusan Trading Company I had an experience that drove this point home.  A furniture store owner in Virginia called to say that a customer decided to purchase a $12,000 oriental rug that she had seen during one of our rug show events.  But, she needed the rug before the Thanksgiving holiday, which was two days away.  So I drove 300 miles, delivered the rug, and picked up the check made out to the furniture store.  I promptly and proudly delivered the check just before the store closed at 6 pm.

Instead of expressing gratitude for a job well done, the bookkeeper glared at the check then groused at me, “What am I supposed to do with this?  Where’s your purchase order?”  The unexpected windfall for the store constituted unwanted work and an inconvenience for the bookkeeper.

Fortunately, the store’s owner walked in.  She thanked me for the check, for delivering the rug on short notice, for making her customer happy, and for providing a substantial profit on the sale.

Our maxim has a contemporary corollary: Never let your HR department run your company.  Bookkeepers and HR departments alike perform vital roles that keep organizations afloat.  They do their jobs so that managers can do theirs.  Bookkeepers and HR departments, however, lack the managerial mindset to prioritize profitability over process and consequently, they should be subordinated to management.

As a matter of big-picture importance, few things out-rank the hiring of top quality employees.  Yet HR departments routinely greet job-seekers with impenetrable bureaucratic mazes or with dismissive commands to apply on-line, a process that is fraught with pitfalls such as abstruse instructions, browser incompatibility, intermittent internet connections, and faulty algorithmic evaluation of job skills that are best judged by real living, breathing, thinking human beings.

Too often in this era of “apply online,” instead of a welcoming smile and a “Let’s take a look at your resume,” a job applicant is greeted with essentially, “Scram, punk, you’re bothering me.”  (Employers, if you don’t believe me, try applying anonymously for a job within your own company.  Most of you will be discouraged, if not shocked by the process.)

Hiring those workers who will determine the future success of your company is rightfully the job of management, and it should not be left to computers or to employees who are better versed in filing workers’ comp claims and tracking PLT than presiding over your company’s growth and profitability.  When it comes to hiring top-quality employees, the decisions should come from your company’s top planners.

Attitude of Honesty in the Workplace

“For success, attitude is equally as important as ability”- Sir Walter Scott

I agree with Mr. Scott, so let’s examine what comprises attitude and what makes it “as important as ability” to success.  For this discussion, we’ll define attitude (by which I presume Mr. Scott means positive attitude) as the state of mind, behavior, and social skill that is conducive to productivity in the workplace.  It is not coincidental that attitude and personal honesty provide the same positive workplace attributes since personal honesty lies at the core of positive attitude.

Because job candidates can fake a positive attitude, employers sometimes mistake a façade of friendliness, compatibility, and enthusiasm for attitude.  That’s why it is important to identify attitude’s core, which is honesty, and screen for honesty in job candidates.

Good workers possess the personal honesty or humility to accept their own faults and weaknesses, and account for them.  In the workplace as in nearly every other lifepath, individuals who possess the humility to acknowledge the gaps in their own knowledge, to appreciate their co-workers’ expertise, and to recognize the importance of fostering enduring workplace relationships will possess the attitude that makes them good long term employees.

Every company is unique, but all employers are looking for basic attitudinal qualities like dependability, competence, and teamwork.  Through effective resume screening and “All About You Interviews,” employers can identify the good-worker gene in job candidates.  Look for personal honesty and you’ll find the attitude you’ve been seeking.

All Good Hires Take Time

Previously, we learned that per the Brandon Hall Group, only 5% of employers adequately evaluate resume content during their initial screening process.  That’s not good.  Employers should carefully screen resumes to eliminate unworthy candidates up front so more time can be spent interviewing worthy ones.

Career blog Undercover Recruiter tells us 33% of employers know within 90 seconds of the start of an interview whether they will hire a candidate.  That’s not good either.  Most of us can’t decide our fast food order in 90 seconds.  Undercover Recruiter also says candidates can help their chances of landing their dream job by dressing well, having a firm handshake, and simply by making a good first impression.  That may be true, but haven’t HR personnel learned not to judge books by their covers?

Every job candidate has a unique work history that should be explored.  The best employees are honest employees, and it is the interviewer’s job to take the necessary time to poke and to prod through their work history until the candidate’s commitment to personal honesty is revealed.  Lax screening, subjective judgments, and canned interview questions save time, but fail to eliminate dishonest and unworthy candidates.  By using layered questions, falsifiability, and corroboration, all-about-you interviews uncover the crucial facts that allow interviewers to gauge a candidate’s level of honesty.

Take the time to get to know your candidates, meticulously analyze their resumes, and then use all-about-you interviewing techniques to unveil their level of personal honesty.  When looking for outstanding, long-term employees, there’s no better time-tested indicator than personal honesty.

A Hiring Manager’s Best Tool: The Resume

Some tools are so familiar that we sometimes neglect them.  That’s the way it is with job seekers’ resumes.  They’re the best tool to use when confronting a hiring decision, and they should be valued and used as such.

According to research published in 2015 by the Brandon Hall Group, only 5% of companies adequately evaluate resume content during the initial screening process.  Perhaps this is why 95% of the employers surveyed admitted to making bad hires each year.

Unlike a job application or an online questionnaire, a resume is wholly the creation of the applicant and it gives the employer insight into the applicant’s mind.  Interviewers should assume that every word on the resume is there for a reason.  The candidate has decided which skills, job duties, education, and experiences he or she wants to advertise.  The manner and style of the presentation has been determined by the candidate, and that too provides valuable insight.

Read the resume closely, checking and cross-checking content, names, places, timelines, job titles, and awards.  If the facts don’t line up, set that resume aside and look for a better one.  By screening resumes effectively, the hiring manager avoids wasting time on interviewing unworthy candidates.

While studying the resume consider these items:  Does the information align with reality?  What were the applicant’s intentions with each particular statement?  Why was it included?  What questions does it raise?  Ultimately, these are the questions that should be asked during the interview.

Interviewers should give resumes the attention they deserve.  Ignoring this important tool is tantamount to setting out in a rowboat with just one oar.  Proper use of resumes keeps hiring managers from going in circles.

All About You Interview

View of happy business team after workInterviewers want to know how a job candidate will perform if hired.  If you have been following this blog, you already know that personal honesty is the key to identifying a good worker.  But how does an employer gauge a candidate’s personal honesty?  Use the “all about you” interview.

Make the candidate the focus of the interview.  The effective interviewer uses general questions about past work experience, then concentrates on the answers to those questions to generate more questions, using each layer of questions and answers to delve deeper into various aspects of the candidate’s work experience.  Ultimately, the interviewer will use the information gleaned from this exchange and his/her listening skills to judge whether the applicant is honest.

The all about you interview is like a casual barstool conversation.  If you decide you want to get to know the fellow sitting next to you, your conversation will be focused on him; not you.  In an all about you interview, your approach runs a similar course, as it is a conversation that focuses wholly on the applicant’s work history and experience without relying on predetermined or canned questions.

The interviewer’s efforts are leveraged by asking questions about supervisors, working relationships with those supervisors, the sorts of workplace problems that arose, how those problems were resolved, who resolved them, the interviewee’s attitude toward co-workers, and more.  By the time the interview is a rolling into its second half hour, the attentive interviewer has compiled plenty of facts and references to validate the applicant’s statements and to gauge his or her honesty.  During this time, most dishonest candidates will make their dishonesty apparent by being vague, dodging questions, or by contradicting themselves.

Interviewers looking for honest workers will focus their questions on the issues, events, people, and preferences of their job candidates.  They engage in a work-related conversation with the candidate aimed at providing as much information as possible.  To get to know a job candidate, there’s no better tool than the all about you interview.

How to Identify Soft Skills in a Job Candidate

Every job requires people skills, also known as soft skills.  One position, a customer service manager, may require more soft skills, while another, a software engineer requires less, but all jobs entail some amount of human interaction, so soft skills are always needed.  How does an interviewer know how to identify soft skills in a candidate?

To answer that question, we must first consider what personal qualities underlie exceptional service or soft skills.  Once we know that, we can select candidates who possess those qualities.  It ends up there is a single quality that gives a service worker good soft skills.  That quality is personal honesty.

In his book, Hire Honesty, Bill McConnell explains that personal honesty rests at the foundation of positive customer service attributes like patience, listening ability, humility, and empathy.  Honest people acknowledge the world around them as it really is.  So they are used to handling real world situations and the challenges posed by them.  When honest people are confronted with another person’s problems, they have the worldly understanding that allows for practical responses.  This way, honest people solve problems instead of exacerbating them.

So how do you identify customer service skills in a job candidate?  You look for personal honesty.  “But,” you respond, “honesty is a hard concept to pin down.”  And you’re right.  Besides a witty liar can fake honesty.  So that’s where “managed conversation” and “all about you” interviews come into the picture.  We’ll discuss those in another blog.