Hiring Wisdom: Is What You Heard What the Job Candidate Really Meant?

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“I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” ? author Robert McCloskey

You wrap up your interview of a promising job applicant and feel you now have a good understanding of the capacities, attitudes, personality traits, skills, experience this person would bring to the position. But do you really?

Language is an imprecise tool at best because we each hear what others say through our own particular filters.

2 ways to prevent interview confusion

First impressions and gut instincts are unreliable barometers as well. Because of differing life experiences and cultures, our individual assumptions, biases, and interpretations lead to different conclusions about the same information.

There are two effective ways to prevent these hindrances from sabotaging our efforts to hire the best:

  1. Probing; and,
  2. Separating information gathering from information evaluation.

Whenever an applicant says something that makes you feel you definitely should or definitely should not hire that person, it’s time to probe more deeply to ensure that what you heard is, in fact, what they meant.

Let’s say you ask the applicant to tell you about the career achievement they are most proud of and they tell you they wrote a 400-page safety manual. If your gut says, “Wow, we could really use this kind of expertise around here,” it’s your tip off that it’s time to probe and ask for details.

Ignore your gut and gather the facts

You should dig into how many people worked on the project, did the applicant actually do the research, writing, and editing, was it finished on time and on budget and, most importantly, something like: “I can see why you’re proud of that. On a scale of 0 – 10, where 10 is best, how do you think your supervisor will rate the finished product when I call to verify your employment?

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The other useful practice is to keep information gathering separate from information evaluation. In other words, ignore your gut instincts during the gathering phase.

Perhaps, because the applicant is sloppily dressed, your gut says, “Don’t hire this person,” and you wrap things up before you learn about all the advanced skills, experience, and total team player attitude they have.

Once again, do your best to ignore your gut and gather all relevant data for each applicant and, once you have the big picture, conduct your evaluation and make your decision after the interview is over.

This was originally published in the Humetrics Hiring Hints newsletter.

Mel Kleiman, CSP, is an internationally-known authority on recruiting, selecting, and hiring hourly employees. He has been the president of Humetrics since 1976 and has over 30 years of practical experience, research, consulting and professional speaking work to his credit. Contact him at mkleiman@humetrics.com.

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