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Candidate Evaluation: Hit or Miss?

January 16, 2012, 09:00 AM
Topic: Careers

Determining whether or not a candidate is perfect for the job can be so difficult. Is there a science to it, is it intuitive or is it just a plain hit or miss proposition?

I believe that it is all of the above. Those of you who have followed my writings know that I call choosing the right candidate a 50/50 chance. You may be interviewing a very honest person - one you can read like a book, or maybe the person in front of you has missed his/her “real” career as an actor!  Remember, both you and the interviewee are on their best behavior, so the playing field is not exactly level.

That being said, there are steps that can be taken to determine which of the candidates are the best of those interviewed. These steps are intertwined with preparing for the interview and the actual interview itself. 

Is there are definitive job description? If not, write one and use it. You will do a better job of crafting interview questions if you have a good job description to refer to. Plus it will keep you focused on the requirements of the position rather than the candidate’s story. And yes, you should have a set of questions that you ask of each candidate. That is not to say that you can’t deviate when necessary depending on the candidate’s experience and communication style, but you still need a set of standard questions. These questions will be the least subjective way to rate your candidates. From a human resources perspective, using a standard list of questions will prove that no prejudice has entered into your final decision should there be such a claim.

With the job description in hand, you must also determine what other factors will make a candidate succeed in this position. Can’t figure out what they may be? Consider the following: has there been a previous person who was successful in this job? What was their personality like? Did they like to work on their own? Take initiative? Have a positive, infective attitude? What was their style of communication?

You can also look at this from the opposite angle: was there someone in the position who did not work out and what qualities did that employee possess? Or, if it is a new position, determine what personality you think it will take, what kind of personality will work best with you, with the peers to the position, what style of communication works best in the company/division. Determine what you are looking for and then design questions that will define these factors in the candidate and add them to your question list.

Once you have chosen the candidates to interview based upon the experience outlined on their resume, and after you have prepared your questions, bring on the candidates! There are things to look for during the interview that will help you to determine who has the best chance of success. For example, suppose you are interviewing for a customer service position and every question you ask, the candidate responds to with 2-3 word answers. Even if the answers are correct, this is most likely not the person who will make a client comfortable. Listen to HOW the candidate answers questions: do they take their time and give it some thought before putting their tongue into action? Do they use good grammar? Do they ANSWER the question directly or dance around it? Say you’ve asked a candidate to describe a situation where they have shown initiative and they dive into a historical summary of their experience. Sure that experience may have required initiative, but does this really answer the question?

Last but not least, watch the candidate: do they look you in the eye when answering? (they should); are the sitting with arms and legs crossed (if so, h/she may be confrontational or at the least feeling defensive, is this OK?); do they pick at their fingers during the interview? (not good!); is h/she comfortable with who h/she is (this type of person will be better able to not only adjust to a new job, but to also determine which job is right for them – a key factor to success).

An important practice to remember is to prepare a rating system for yourself. Prepare a simple chart that lists all the items you are looking for in a candidate like education, years of experience, “place” of experience, and list your questions – or the objectives of your questions. Next to each item insert a scale from 1 to 5. Keep this chart relatively short and relevant to the interview. You don’t want to have to search your mind for the ratings – your questions and the chart should be working together to make this task easy for you. If you are comfortable doing so, complete this chart as you are interviewing. If not, complete it immediately after the interview. Do not wait as time will change your memories and therefore your perceptions. This is another reason to keep it short and simple – so that you have no excuses to not take the few minutes to complete the chart immediately.

Beneath the chart write your subjective impressions and what your intuition is telling you. There is no reason to ignore these – they can be very strong factors in a decision and/or they may assist you in breaking a candidate “tie”. Be sure to think about what you heard and saw during the interview and write these down.

Preparing appropriately for interviews, using rating charts to compare candidates and considering your own carefully determined impressions and intuition will give you the best chance to choose the best candidate. Good luck!

Gni Grossman
Founder | GG Companies
Gni Grossman is a principal at GG Companies, a human resources consulting and executive recruiting firm. She started this company after over twenty years as a human resources generalist with corporations such as The Hay Group and De Lage Landen and 5 years focusing on recruiting for the equipment finance industry at Molloy Associates, Inc. Gni holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the Johns Hopkins University.

Readers may contact Gni Grossman at and/or contact Gni at 781-859-5157.

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