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Don’t just ask questions: Here are six ways to learn more about candidates

We largely expect the interview process to consist of a skill test and additional questions. But a good point comes from Lazlo Bock in an article for The Wire: relying on those two factors alone can prevent you learning more about candidates.

An interviewer decides from the get-go whether they like an interviewee, and spends the rest of the time confirming it in his/her head. It’s perhaps a harsh assessment, but it would definitely impede your ability to learn more about candidates.

As Bock explained: “Psychologists call this confirmation bias, ‘the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs’. In other words, 99.4 per cent of the interview is spent trying to confirm whatever impression the interviewer formed in the first ten seconds.”

There could be a saving grace though. It’s what Bock calls “thin slices” – small moments of observation that influence bigger decisions, be it your handshake, posture or way of speaking. That’s why questions alone won’t tell you whether they’re a good fit for your company.

Here are six ways employers tried getting around the problem to learn more about candidates – especially their habits and personality.

(1) Thomas Edison

Edison may be known for a great many things, but it’s his recruitment process that has recently garnered attention. He had candidates answer 150 excruciating questions, unwilling to hire those who couldn’t get far.

Spanning the likes of “Who was Roman emperor when Jesus was born” and “What material did Chile export to the Allies during the war,” we can assume he placed much emphasis on factual knowledge. But there’s something he did afterwards in an effort to learn more about candidates.

He would make them eat soup, presenting them with the option of salt. Many refer to it as the salt test. Essentially, it looked to weed out those who added salt without having first tried the soup. Assumptions weren’t something Edison was keen to have on his team.

(2) Speaker and ghost writer Jeff Haden

Haden once dedicated an article to finding out more about candidates. In it, he suggested people behaved differently during interviews. But he had his ways of finding the “jerks”.

“Interviewees give you their best,” he wrote. “But how do they act when they aren’t trying to impress you? What candidates do while they’re waiting in your lobby can tell you a lot. So I would ask the receptionist how she was treated. I found out what they did while they waited in the lobby.

“I asked if there were any chance encounters with other employees. Occasionally I picked up a disconnect between the show a candidate put on and the way they acted around those they weren’t trying to impress. After all, a nice guy in the lobby may not be a nice guy on the job, but a jerk in the lobby will always be a jerk on the job.”

(3) Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus

In an Inc interview, NASCAR champion Knaus divulged his reason for using an emotional intelligence test. It allowed him to learn more about candidates – even those initially too shy to speak up.

“There is no good or bad result,” he said. “Whether an individual is introverted or extroverted, for example, doesn’t affect their ability to do the job. Great teams are made up of all sorts of individuals. What the test does do is give me a sense of how to better relate to that person.”

That’s not the ultimate decider though! What he really wants to see is the candidate’s car. Let’s just say the cleaner it is, the better: “I figure if you don’t take good care of your stuff, you aren’t going to take good care of ours.”

The secret to how Bloom learns more about candidates surfaced after an interview with Think Advisor’s former editor – James Green. It all begins and ends in a restaurant.

Green noted that it had nothing to do with whether elbows were placed on tables, if chairs were neatly tucked in, what they ate or drank, or even how much they drank. No, it focussed on their interaction with the waiter/waitress.

According to Bloom: “You learn a lot from taking someone to dinner because how you treat people matters. If a prospect mistreats someone like a waiter, they’re more likely to mistreat a service person in the home office, and Commonwealth doesn’t want those people.”

(5) The Heineken team

An immersive test of sorts was the brain child of the company’s marketing team. What they wanted was to gauge the reactions of potential staff – we’re convinced though that they did it for laughs.

Shortlisted candidates were invited to Amsterdam during a football tournament, where the team put them through a series of “unexpected situations”. During kick-off the boss would lead the candidate to the meeting room, holding hands the entire way.

When the meeting started, the boss would “black-out” and the interviewee had to show off medical skills or assistance. A fire drill followed – candidates had to help firefighters rescue a stranded Heineken employee from the roof. Everything was recorded so the team could vote who they most want on board based on responses.

(6) Jeff Haden’s former boss

Haden – he has great ideas on the subject – makes another appearance. This time it regards how his own boss learned more about candidates. He explains that he was once told to give a candidate a tour – his position as head of manufacturing was omitted.

Most interviews include some form of tour. If handled correctly you might learn more than you ever imagined about a candidate’s motivations, interests and fit for your business. In this case, Tom the candidate didn’t actually know my role – he assumed I was just a shop floor guy.

“Within minutes he said things and asked questions he never would have if he knew my role in the company. He wanted to know if there were policies against dating employees and if there would be much interaction with the boss. He could already tell my boss was a jerk. My boss had planned to hire Tom until I told him about our tour – and he divulged all that information himself.”

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