A few years ago, a job prospect asked us to reimburse her for taking a $2 subway ride to the final-round interview. I wish my team and I had paid attention to that red flag. Instead, we overlooked a key data point and hired someone who was penny wise and pound foolish. She did not work out in the long run because she was too tactical and not strategic enough for the role. So, that first $2 turned out to be the start of a much more costly mistake. 

Sometime after that, another candidate asked us to arrange hotel accommodations for a final-round visit. In the end, he decided not to use the room--but he didn't bother to let us know this in advance so we could cancel. Instead, he just wasted our money. The interview ultimately went very well, but we realized that this person's judgment wasn't aligned with our company values. We went with our gut instincts and decided not to proceed with the hire.

Over the years, we have learned that there's much more to the interview process than listening to a candidate answer questions. In fact, the most telling information typically come to light in between answers. The way candidates act during all those other minutes when they are "on stage" offers subtle clues to character and on-the-job performance.

To determine the best fit for your company, look carefully for these four traits both when you are interviewing and during those vitally important "in-between" moments. All of them can begin to reveal the true character of a candidate.

1. Punctuality

You can learn a lot about a candidate even before the interview. For example, did the person arrive on time? If not, or if she arrived unprepared or flustered, this could mean the candidate lacks discipline, doesn't plan well, or doesn't respect other people's time.

Showing up late to an interview--a crucial time to put one's best foot forward--is a big sign of a candidate who will be perpetually late or chronically unprepared on the job.

2. Communication Skills

Of course, the content of a candidate's answers to interview questions is crucial. But so is the way that person communicates--before, during and after your meeting.

Is the candidate hard to get in touch with? Does he make scheduling meetings a chore? Does she follow up and complete action items as requested? Does he proof his emails and speak professionally?

The way candidates communicate with potential employers during the interview process very likely mirrors the way they'll communicate with clients and colleagues once they're on your team. Don't be tempted to ignore these small details.

3. Judgment

To determine if your interviewees have good judgment, go beyond listening to what they have to say. Take a close look at what they do as well. Does the candidate ask inappropriate questions or make off-color "jokes" during the interview? Does she trash talk her former colleagues?

Consider taking the time to find out what this person is like outside the office as well. At Acceleration Partners, we have found it valuable to schedule time to interact with candidates in a more informal setting, such as at a restaurant. Consider what it says about a person, for example, if you take her out to dinner and she orders the most expensive meal on the menu. What if he drinks too much or treats the staff rudely? Is she texting the whole time, or does she stay focused? 

If you discover a candidate behaves in a manner that's not in line with how you or your best employees would act in the same situation--he might not be the right fit for your organization.

4. Thoughtfulness

Finally, perhaps the most important thing that can be discerned about candidates during the interview process is this: How thoughtful are they?

You can determine this, too, by looking at actions. Did the candidate send you a custom cover letter before the interview? Did she send a thank-you note afterwards? The content and quality of thank-you notes can say a lot about a person, revealing if someone is generally grateful, sensitive and empathetic--attributes that tend to make people better leaders and team players. Thoughtful thank-yous also show that the candidate is willing to spend extra time thinking ­about a task--a good sign of someone who will invest effort in doing the job well.

During the hiring process, most companies ask candidates to perform tasks to gauge their thinking--even if that work doesn't have much real-world value or relevance. Don't forget that the interview also offers an opportunity to assess the all-important human element of business: Can you and your team work with this person?

Most of the time, you shouldn't sweat the small stuff. During the interviews process, however, the little things count. Overlook them at your own expense.

Published on: Jun 18, 2018
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