Interviewing is challenging enough when you assume that everyone is operating in good faith. You’re honest, they’re honest, and you both hope as hard as you can that you dig up the right information to determine whether it’s a good fit.
Unfortunately, some job applicants may feel like they need to fudge the truth in order to land a position, hoping that they can figure things out once they get there. In some cases, it’s true that on-the-job training can compensate for an otherwise strong employee’s areas of weakness, but only if both parties enter into an agreement with their eyes open.
Here are some guidelines to help you determine whether a job applicant is trying to fake their way into your company.
Their “experience” is impossible to confirm.
“Oh, I was a project manager at Strawberry Sundae Manufacturing Company for five years, and managed several multi-million dollar projects while there. Unfortunately, they went out of business two years after I left. And I didn’t keep in touch with my manager or anyone else from the company. And my house burned down recently, so I have no evidence of any of the work I did there. And the former owner scrubbed all evidence of the company from the internet and now lives as a hermit in the mountains of Kurdistan.”
Do organizations go out of business? Absolutely. Do people lose touch with their old managers? Less so in these days of LinkedIn, but it still happens all the time. But when the primary source of someone’s qualification for your open role can’t be confirmed from any source, you have a right to be suspicious. Find ways to dig deeper.
Their answers are positive, but vague.
“Tell me about the work you did as a Curriculum Coach at Sunshine Elementary School.”
“You know, the teachers needed a lot of coaching. They didn’t get the curriculum at first. So we worked really hard on things like lesson plans and classroom management techniques. And after a while they started to get it. It was incredibly rewarding when they finally caught the vision and got on board.”
What’s not in there? The name of the curriculum used. Why the switch was made, and how. The particular struggles of the teachers. The difference in experience from one teacher to the next. The coaching methods used. The administration’s requirements. And, and, and.
Now, this could just be someone’s summary, and it makes sense to dig deeper. Those behavioral interview questions are amazing at uncovering whether vagueness is deliberate or just an introduction.
“Tell me about a teacher who was resistant to the new curriculum, and what you did to work with them.”
“Tell me about what you did to avoid animosity between teachers and the administration.”
“Were there any parts of the new curriculum that you personally disagreed with? How did you deal with that?”
“Did parents have any concerns about the new curriculum? How did you explain it to them in a way that made them feel comfortable?”
If the answers are still vague, drill down deeper. If the answers seem off or inconsistent with each other, you might have someone who is faking their experience on your hands.
They can’t do a basic task or use the lingo.
Especially for highly technical positions, basic skills tests can weed out many people who claim to be “competent” in one area or another. These don’t have to be long. Whiteboarding a simple programming problem is a classic example. Running a quick database query is another. But there are ways to test softer skills as well.
- Here’s a list of events, reminders, notes, and tasks. Draft a summary email to the executive in question letting her know about what needs to happen today.
- Watch this three minute video of a toddler playing with dress-up clothes and write up an observation about their socio-emotional development.
- Here is a mess of files of varying types. Organize them into folders in a way that feels intuitive and user-friendly, and explain your reasoning.
When you’ve got skills that can’t be tested, you’ll of course need to talk about them. Be on the lookout for people who don’t understand industry-standard terminology. If your potential marketing person thinks “inbound” refers to call centers, you might have a faker on your hands. (Be thoughtful when you have applicants from other countries or whose work experience was primarily done in another language. The terms might be different but the work fundamentally the same.)
Want more tips on determining someone’s suitability for a job?
Download The Benefits of Scientific Hiring to learn more.