Is the candidate as good as they say they are?

The team we employ, whether in-house, out-sourced or our suppliers, are crucial to our business so it is imperative that we choose wisely.  Here are some tips to make sure you really are choosing the right team members to enhance your business, and to ensure that candidates really can do what they say.

Even if we think we are good at selecting the right team there is still so much we can learn! I have found that it really is a case of not basing it on just one thing (too often people place too much emphasis on the interview), but here’s another interesting perspective.

In an article in the Jan/Feb 2012 Harvard Business Review they suggest that the choice of candidate should be spread across CV, interview and references – though I think it is also important to include research as part of your selection.

So your team selection should include as a minimum:

  • Research – Check Google, Linkedin and social media to see what is being said by or about them.  It is amazing what you can find!  Are they still worth interviewing?
  • CV – Do they have the skills, knowledge and experience required by the job to make them worth interviewing?
  • Interview – Will they be a good fit? Do they have the potential to grow?  Will they add value?
  • References – Now this is the important, but tricky bit…

I find it is becoming increasingly difficult to get really valuable information from referees, how often do you come across companies that will only state that they were employed in x position from x to x.  How useful is that really? And if the candidate is a good sales person, how sure are you that they are what they say and that they will deliver?

Kevin Ryan from Gilt Groupe has a great suggestion regarding getting valuable insight from the referee.  Most people are cagey about what they will say to a stranger, and getting valuable references are exacerbated by recent legislation allowing a candidate to ask what was said about them.  Kevin suggests that you look at your network to find someone who knows the referee – and Linkedin is a great tool for this. You can then ask that person who is known to the referee to ask for the reference on your behalf.  I am sure you will agree that if they know the person they are talking to they are far more likely to be honest – especially if it is verbal and ‘off the record’.

I also consider that it is wise to get referee details before letting the candidate know you are interested in them. The idea of saying you are interested subject to reference checking would demonstrate that it was the references that clinched or failed the deal.

I was recently recruiting an Account Manager and it was at the reference stage that one candidate failed. I discovered they hadn’t asked their referees for permission to act for them, which became evident when one of them couldn’t even remember who the candidate was! Not a good position for someone who has applied to be responsible for our clients!

If anyone wants to know the HBR suggested reference checking questions please let me know and I will send them to you. But anyone interested in HR or getting the most from your team – I do recommend the January-February 2012 Harvard Business Review. Some really interesting articles.

And just on my soapbox regarding recruitment – I consider this the most important aspect of all! Do the candidate’s personal values match those of the recruiting company? And if the company doesn’t have a set of values they should certainly look at addressing this first (imho this is as bad as not having a job description and person specification). If their values match (this should not be determined via direct questions but through insight) then there is a much greater chance that they will fit in and help your business succeed. I find that whenever people focus on skills and overlook values then it bites them in the proverbial. End soapbox.

Happy recruiting!

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2 Responses to Is the candidate as good as they say they are?

  1. Derek Field says:

    Interesting blog Gaynor,
    I entirely agree the whole recuitment process should be as comprehensive as possible, I find comments and testimonials on LinkedIn to be quite valuable as they cannot be “fudged” ie the person leaving the comment would not normally do so if they didn’t really think the candidate in question was worthy of their efforts, dates are also listed with the testimonial. Beyond this I always dig a little deeper into the background of the person leaving the testimonial to check the relevance of their career to date and whether they have “job hopped” and simply writing decent testimonials in the hope of getting one back – this is easy to check, you will find a lot of mutual “backslapping” goes on.
    With regards to formal references, if the candidate in question has a solid career history in a relevant sector and has not “job hopped” one of the more valuable references is going to come from his/her current employer paricularly if he/she has been there for a few years.
    Herein lies the problem, no candidate worth his/her salt is going to permit a hiring company to take up references from their current employer until a formal offer has been made and accepted, trying to dig out information on a candidate from current colleagues is frought with danger and could put the candidate’s current job at risk.
    Having carried out a full and professional search using all the tools available a well constructed interview with deep searching/probing competency based questions is the best and time proven way of sorting the wheat from the chaff and discover how well the candidate has conducted their own research into the hiring company, it’s products, services, market and customer base.
    Requiring the candidate to prepare and give a presentation on a carefully selected topic is also invaluable and provides an excellent way of comparing the relevant skills of each shortlisted candidate.
    Finally, quality psychometric assessments can be useful in certain circumstances, the ones I use will outline cultural fit as well as identifying any necessary ongoing career development training.
    Derek Field

  2. Gaynor Gravestock says:

    Some great points here Derek that support as well as add further insight to the recruitment process. I guess if anyone is concerned about going through the recruitment process themselves then they can always call on a professional :-)