Subscribe to Inc. magazine
STARTUP

How to Get Job Candidates to Take Off the Mask

How do you get job candidates to ditch their canned answers and reveal a bit of the real person underneath? Two CEOs offer ideas.
Advertisement

As Jon Steinberg, the President of Buzzfeed recently put it, the interview is really as good as it gets.

"If you are interviewing or negotiating with a new hire, and you like them more and more, you are making a good hire," he writes. "If you are having a difficult hiring process but think it will be great ‘when they person gets on board and this hiring is behind us’ let me assure you: It never gets better. How it is, is how it will be."

Which is something we all understand intuitively. Just like you pick your socks up off the bathroom floor before your date comes over, you make sure you put your best foot forward (whatever you understand that to be) at an interview. Which means, as Steinberg pointed out,  that if someone grates during the hiring process, he is really going to really drive you insane as a colleague.

But what if you’re facing the other problem. What if a candidate is too polished? You can tell the person sitting in front of you is an ace interviewer (a good thing, no doubt) because of his or her flawless performance, but you get the distinct impression that this isn’t the whole story. Lurking underneath that highly polished surface, must be a complex, imperfect human who, just like the rest of us, has quirks and weaknesses. You just can’t see them.

It’s one of the trickiest parts of interviewing, and one Adam Bryant, author of the New York Times’ "Corner Office" feature, recently delved into on LinkedIn. In the post he shares advice from some of the CEOs he has interviewed for overcoming this challenge without resorting to questions that are downright bizarre. The first suggestions come from Zappos.com boss Tony Hsieh, who recommends two interview questions:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you? If you’re a 1, you’re probably a little bit too strait-laced for us. If you’re a 10, you might be too psychotic for us. It’s not so much the number; it’s more seeing how candidates react to a question. Because our whole belief is that everyone is a little weird somehow, so it’s really more just a fun way of saying that we really recognize and celebrate each person’s individuality, and we want their true personalities to shine in the workplace environment, whether it’s with co-workers or when talking with customers.

If you had to name something, what would you say is the biggest misperception that people have of you? Then the follow-up question I usually ask is, 'What’s the difference between misperception and perception?' After all, perception is perception. It's a combination of how self-aware people are and how honest they are. I think if someone is self-aware, then they can always continue to grow. If they're not self-aware, I think it's harder for them to evolve or adapt beyond who they already are.

The third is from Wendy Lea of Get Satisfaction, who shares this favorite interview question:

Let’s assume we’ve worked together now for six months. There’s something that I’m going to observe of you that I have no idea about right now. What would that be? And it could be good or bad. I’ll let them decide. It forces them to clean out their closet a little bit. The human condition is so complex. I’m not a zipped-up girl. I have moods. I have emotion. I need people to show me their own complexity, because if they don’t have any, they may freak out with me. I might hear, 'Well, you might notice I get overwhelmed.' And I’ll say, 'What would be the circumstances that would put you in that state?' This is not a formula, but it does help me understand how self-aware they are.

Intrigued? Check out the complete post which also offers an alternative to the much loathed ‘what are your greatest weaknesses?’ question.

How do you nudge candidates out of their comfort zone? 

Last updated: Sep 27, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: