How to Get the Truth in an Interview: Perspectives from a Search Firm

Resumes paint the picture that the candidate wants to convey – highlighting successes and accomplishments over their career.  A résumé doesn’t tell you about the bad stuff - about their mistake that helped get their company an FDA warning letter, or the miscalculation that delayed a project by months.

Interview TruthGetting to know the real candidate is key - and this where the interview comes into play – but it often takes the right techniques to get the entire story.  Most candidates easily present what they want for you to see during the interview – and too often, hiring decisions are made based on just this – with maybe a few softball reference checks. 

So, how can you get past this and get a candidate to reveal who they really are, warts and all?  The most effective techniques I’ve seen at doing this is one described in the book Topgrading, called the “Threat of Reference Check”.  This method lets the candidate know that, as part of the interview process, you will want to speak with their managers for each of their roles over the past 10 years.  Then, when you ask the question, “How would your manager describe you?” – you are much more likely to get the real answer. 

This interviewing technique can be extremely powerful, but take care to be sensitive in this process, and wait until you have established a level of trust before you spring this on a candidate.  For example, it might be more appropriate to do this in the on-site interview as opposed to doing this in the initial phone screen.  Some candidates also may not allow you to speak with one or all of their former managers – sometimes for very good reasons.  You will have to use your best judgment in a case like this and see if it makes sense to proceed with the candidate. 

The interview phase is one of the most critical phases of the entire recruiting process, and having the right techniques can be the difference between hiring an A-player, or making a bad hire who can cost you millions.