Job Interviews: Why we fail to smoke out impostors – and what to do about it

by on June 22, 2011 · 2 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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We’ve all done it. Interviewed people who were so polished, and so nice, that we hired them, only to find out six months later that they couldn’t actually DO anything. And we slapped our foreheads and said, “What were we thinking?”

We’re especially vulnerable to such people – I call them “impostors” – when we need to hire someone fast. We meet someone who presents well. We desperately want the person to be right – because if they’re not we have to start all over again with another candidate. So we make a hasty, ill-informed choice.

Good news: There’s a solution to this problem. It starts with recognizing that we’re all flawed – in certain circumstances we can get seduced by a candidate’s style and block out evidence that they might lack substance. To prevent this we need a clear strategy, one that we apply to every candidate we interview.

One piece of that strategy is the “Accountability Drill Down,” a job interview questioning technique to determine whether people truly deserve credit for achievements they put on their resumes.

Let’s see how it works in this example, where an IT candidate named Richard claims he successfully integrated multiple databases:

INTERVIEWER: Have you led a project to integrate databases?

RICHARD: Yes, when I worked for Datacorp I worked on a project to consolidate databases for four separate products lines into a single database.

INTERVIEWER: Did you “work on” the project or lead it?

RICHARD: I had a leadership role.

INTERVIEWER: Who was your boss at the time?

RICHARD: Al Jenkins.

INTERVIEWER: Did he work on the project?

RICHARD: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: So, he had primary accountability, right?

RICHARD: Technically, yes.

Smoking out Richard was simple, right? No. In fact, Richard’s job inflation would have gone undetected if the interviewer hadn’t been acutely aware that somebody who “led” a project was vastly more qualified than somebody who “worked on” a project, and hadn’t asked a series of sharp questions that forced Richard to admit that he was NOT the project leader.

photo credit: myklroventine

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2 Comments on This Post

  1. Donwhoward
    June 29, 2011 - 9:03 pm

    Primary accountability does not mandate functional leadership or even involvement. I do not see where you smoked Richard out, unless there is more to the exchange. Al Jenkins’ real talent may be in hiring, and empowering, the right people…

  2. Donwhoward
    June 29, 2011 - 9:03 pm

    Primary accountability does not mandate functional leadership or even involvement. I do not see where you smoked Richard out, unless there is more to the exchange. Al Jenkins’ real talent may be in hiring, and empowering, the right people…

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