As recruiters, we have a natural tendency to go easy on our candidates, especially during the first screening. We’d prefer to treat them as if they were celebrities and we were Barbara Walters. To avoid confrontation, we ask superficial questions and accept clichés for answers. Or worse, we simply tune out the answers we don’t want to hear.
Unfortunately, there’s a downside to softball interviewing: We end up working with a lot of poor-quality job seekers who can potentially wreak havoc on our performance—and our reputation.
Every time I screen a candidate, I try to remind myself of presidential candidate George McGovern’s disastrous interview of Sen. Tom Eagleton of Missouri. When asked if there were any skeletons in his closet, Eagleton replied, "None that I can think of."
Based on his answer, Eagleton was asked to join the ticket as the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate. Yet it took less than a week for the press to dig up the fact that Eagleton suffered from bouts of depression so severe he had undergone electroshock therapy—a revelation that not only forced Eagleton off the ticket; it helped derail the Democrats’ run for the White House in 1972.
Should Eagleton have been more forthright during his interview? Absolutely. But it was the open-ended nature of the question that really caused the problem, by giving the candidate way too much wiggle room. A direct, carefully scripted question (such as, “Have you ever been treated by a psychiatrist?”) might have forced an entirely different answer, and in turn, altered the course of U.S. history.
How to Vet Your Candidates
Each candidate deserves your full attention—and a healthy dose of scrutiny. If the candidate’s free of defects, great. But if the candidate fails the litmus test, you could be in for a bumpy ride in the form of a turndown, a falloff or an accepted counteroffer. By tightening up the initial screening process, you can save time and avoid a lot of headaches down the road.
To help you decide whether a candidate gets the red light or the green light, consider these four factors:
By asking the right questions, you can vet your candidates accurately—and quickly. And by spending more of your time with the winners, you’ll make your clients happy and your bottom line healthy.
- Bill Radin, President