candidates over-selling themselves

A hiring manager writes:

One issue that we are having is people we interview over-selling themselves.  Our last two hires both had a number of issues.

One came from an agency (not yours) and said that she could handle a project from beginning to end.  She was an intermediate at best and we let her go. 

One came on her own and even after checking references, we believed that she was a senior candidate.  She was a lot better than the first one, but her work came back with a number of errors.  She blamed the software that we were using, etc and left on her own.

Both people were very nice, so I think that references wanted them to land somewhere.  I feel that this is part of the problem. Glowing references, but can’t do the work!


There are a few ways to detect if a candidate is over-selling themselves –


1. Ask behavioural interview questions

Behavioral questions are those interview questions that start with “Give me an example of.. “, “Tell me about a time when…”. They should be the cornerstone of your interviews, as well as using probing questions to do some further detective work.

Your goal is to have the candidate provide you with measurable achievements. Ask specifically what their individual contribution was to successes, rather than masking that they ‘helped to’ or were ‘part of team’ who achieved great results.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a second set of eyes in the room for any follow up interviews.


2. Testing and Exercises

For certain roles there is the opportunity to involve technical testing and short exercises into the recruitment process. For example, ask them to compose a business letter in 20 minutes, or give them a programming test.

There are also tests available that can help you determine if a candidate will be the right ‘fit’ for your company. For example, the Workstyle & Performance Profile from TalentClick profiles candidates’ tendencies towards certain work traits such as adaptability and willingness to take direction. This kind of testing could have helped with your second candidate and may have shown that he/she was less adaptable and unwilling to learn new software.


3. Perform in-depth (360) reference checks
We’ll be writing a more detailed post about how to conduct thorough reference checks. But the first major step is to ensure you have the right references.
When asking for references from the candidate, go through the list with them and verify who can speak directly about their on-the-job performance. You can also ask them who performed their last performance review to ensure you have the right contacts that will provide meaningful insight. 
Here at The Headhunters we also find it helpful to perform 360 Reviews. Meaning, we ask for a supervisor reference, a peer/colleague reference and a reference from someone who reported into the candidate. This will give you a fuller picture of how a candidate fit into an organization.


Image Credit: morrosv7