Is Your Hiring Process Too Friendly?

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 12.32.55 AMWe all agree that nothing ruins a workplace culture like a jerk co-worker or a rude manager. But how do you uncover those characteristics in your pre-employment interviews? Even Vladimir Putin can seem charming if you only ask questions like What are your career goals? What motivates you? and What are you looking for in a job? before making an offer.

Your hiring process needs to occasionally challenge the candidate to see how they react to pressure. The best way to do this is to share criticisms with the candidate so you can experience firsthand — through your own eyes and your own ears — how they respond.

Before I expand upon that concept, I want to make sure my advice is balanced. Yes, the candidate should be challenged, but you must also achieve these five emotional outcomes during your interview process:

  1. The candidate feels your company is professional.
  2. The candidate feels all their questions were answered.
  3. The candidate was happy to interview with you.
  4. The candidate is enthused about the job and your company.
  5. The candidate’s expectations were managed properly. (Candidates you want to advance in your interview process should feel that you are excited to have them as potential hires. Candidates you want to eliminate from your process should not mistakenly feel that they’ve been guaranteed another interview or a job.)

To achieve those outcomes while challenging the candidate, your tone can’t be accusatory, condescending, or emotionally charged. The tone of your interview should be more of a conversation, not an interrogation. Examples: You said earlier in our interview that you’re OK with criticism. Can I give you some? and I want to share a criticism with you. I hope I don’t come off as harsh here — I’m just trying to make sure this is a right fit for you and us. Can I share with you an area that concerns me?

Next, be direct and succinct so the candidate is clear about the criticism, then observe their behavior. I’d like to share two anecdotes of how candidates reacted when challenged.

The first story is about a sales candidate who happened to be a 6’ 5”, 250-pound former college athlete we’ll call Mike. You’ll understand later why I mention Mike’s imposing appearance. Mike had answered our initial questions in laid-back fashion such as I get along with all my co-workers and My manager and I get along really well.

Article Continues Below

Wanting to expose Mike to an aversion, our hiring manager said, “You said you were OK with criticism. So can I share one with you?” The hiring manager pointed out several instances during the interview when Mike strayed from the path of the conversation and provided unnecessary details. Basically, he told Mike he was a long talker, an issue which sales reps need to correct in order to be effective. As the hiring manager delivered this message, Mike’s smile became a scowl and his face turned beet red. He leaned forward on the conference room table and curled his hands into fists. His loud reaction included such comments as Who do you think you are? and I’ve never been so insulted in my life!

The second story is about Darrell who was applying for the Operations Manager position in our Pittsburgh office. Darrell was highly accomplished and filled with confidence, which sometimes presented as lacking humility. So I said to him, There’s a lot we like about you and would make you a great fit here. Can I share with you my biggest concern? Darrell said yes, so I let him know that everyone in our interview process who interacted with him — including me — noted his larger-than-normal ego. We were concerned if we hired him, he might be self-centered, not willing to admit personal shortcomings, or give credit where it’s due.

He was surprised but didn’t get defensive or combative. He was inquisitive, asking for examples that would lead us to have that concern. I referred to my interview notes and read back to him in succession portions of some of his answers that lacked humility. Darrell smiled and said something to the effect of, “I see where you’re coming from. I’m glad you pointed that out, because I don’t want to make people feel that way. I’ll keep an eye on that. And if you see me do that again, please point it out to me.”

As you might have guessed, we did not hire Mike and offered a position to Darrell, who has been a wonderful leader, manager, and co-worker. He has truly enhanced the culture of our Pittsburgh office, and I’m not surprised one bit. He rose to the challenge in the interview process and has exhibited that same behavior on the job.

Jim Roddy is the president of Jameson Publishing and author of the book “Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer,” which features hiring lessons, interview best practices, and recruiting strategies for managers through the perspective of a cancer-surviving executive. For more information on the book, go to


9 Comments on “Is Your Hiring Process Too Friendly?

  1. Good article, good advice. The practical way to see how people react to stress, is to stress them and observe their reaction. The above is good advice on how to do so politely and practically. However, the more tricky issue is how you test people to see how they’d react when the guy described above as ‘Mike’ is running the company, and his attitude and ethic trickles down through the whole structure. How people react to that is much harder to gauge, but also more important to determining their long term viability as an employee.

  2. This is a great example of ways managers can get more “real” information from a candidate they are interviewing. This is why I firmly believe in behavioral based interviewing. More importantly though, managers need to be trained/advised on how to provide candidate ffeedback and I think we are too afraid to do this. Other ways we have suggested that managers can get more in-sight into their candidates is by asking probing follow-up questions. Ask about a project for example, not only the details/outcomes/challenges but then ask them what their specific role is, how did they feel about the project/outcome/challenge. You can often get boddy language from candidates which can be telling and then you can continue to probe the candidate based on their response.

  3. @Everybody; So, do jerks and a******* get hired because they slip through the cracks/don’t get weeded out by effective behavioral interviewing, because jerks and a******* like to hire other jerks and a*******, or do nice people become jerks and a******* after they get hired?


  4. @ Keith,

    It’s complicated and a mix of factors. No one wants to hire a jerk, but people have wildly differing opinions on what constitutes a jerk. And then they have all the typical sub par recruiting and work/life/salary/opportunity/management issues we’re all familiar with which keep the very top talent away from them, and lead to them settling. So, they end up with differing degrees of jerkiness whether they like it or not.

    If I had to bet, I think most people would want to avoid the ‘Mike’ type above. It’s sussing out that aspect of a person’s personality that’s hard, and often people feel shackled by potential lawsuits in what they can and can not ask. I see nothing illegal or even appropriate about the questions above, but unfortunately even though the litigious nature of the US labor market is way over stated, in my opinion at least, HR usually sees it as their job to get everyone paranoid to the point of walking on egg shells about everything, even if they work for no-name company in Beastlick Montana, which no lawyer would ever sue on spec without a guaranteed win.

    That last seems true of all lawyers/companies, and potential lawsuits. No one sues unless they have money to throw around or unless the lawyer feels it’s a slam dunk case. Of course, there is incentive for companies to push the idea that US labor is especially protected and overly litigious whether or not it’s actually true. Which it isn’t.

  5. Interesting article.

    Some people will get hot under the collar but most won’t and those that don’t will come up with what we want to hear anyway and it will come across as music to the hiring manager’s ears.

    From my experience, the safest bet is to use proper BI techniques, basing the assessment on past performance as much as possible.

    Jim the questions are limited in value but the skill to identify the concern/capability gap in the responses in the lead up is what makes a good interviewer perform better than others. Many can be coached to ask a question, but not everyone will be skilled enough to quickly assess the response and reform the problem into a telling/meaningful follow up question.

  6. Hi Gareth,

    I agree. It’s easy to can an answer to a behavioral question. The truly smart and creative can answer damn near any question satisfactorily.

  7. It can be so difficult to suss this type of behavior out in an interview, but this article provides a helpful way to attempt to do it. We also use role plays and live simulations of situations that leaders or sales people may encounter to assess how candidates would react. By having a structured and semi-scripted conversation as well as standard scoring guidelines, we can compare multiple candidates’ performance across key competencies and really gain insight as to how they would deal with certain people and challenges. It’s very telling to see how they manage their emotions and think on the fly, not to mention it’s a very relevant and interactive job preview for the candidates!

  8. First of all, to assume Putin is a bad guy is naive. He might not be the nicest guy of all time, but I don’t think you get to be the leader of Russia by being a flower composed of rainbows and unicorns. Check into the truth of how American policies impact the world before pointing the dirty end of the stick at Putin.

    Secondly, you definitely can take the “rattle the candidate” way too far. Once you get 90+% of your candidates to walk away from your interview process hating you and your company, you’ve gone too far. And I know from speaking to people, that this happens all the time with certain companies.

    Lastly, making the candidate face direct criticism of them being “defensive” is a slippery slope. How does the company and management accept criticism towards their own acts and policies? Or does this thing only roll one way? I agree if someone is overly defensive, that is a problem. But you better make sure the company itself passes this test, or hypocrisy gets born, and that can be a company morale killer.

  9. Great article – managers who are afraid to express their concerns with a candidate often lose out on great hires. Balancing the constructive criticism with ensuring a great candidate experience, like you said, is vital – and a fantastic way to see how they’d handle conflict in the workplace. I’ve seen hires come out of “maybe” candidates after encouraging managers to be honest with candidates about their questions/concerns/etc., and I’ve seen minds changed after reactions to “good on paper” candidates who we expected to ace but sadly showed a vastly different side. Both ways save time and help ensure a more successful hire.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *