How to Determine What a Job Candidate is Really Thinking

Resumes are helpful. Interviews can provide insight. But how do you know what a potential new hire is really thinking?

You don't -- unless you conduct a stealth tour.

Most interviews include some form of facility tour, even if that just means walking around the office area. Handle the tour correctly and you'll learn a lot more than you ever imagined about a candidate's motivations, interests, and fit for your business.

I stumbled on the stealth tour technique by accident when I was in charge of manufacturing. My boss had just finished interviewing a candidate for a management position and was starting the tour when some crisis came up.

I happened to be in the hall. My boss saw me and said, "Jeff, can you show Mark (not his real name) around? He's interviewing for the CS opening. Great -- thanks!"

And off he strode to slay another dragon.

Without trying I had slipped under Mark's "how important is this person in the organization?" radar, a device many job candidates employ. How?

  • He didn't know my role. My boss didn't introduce me by title, and I didn't introduce myself that way either because I'm not into titles. When Mark asked I just said, "I work in the manufacturing area," because that's what I always said.
  • He couldn't tell my role by my clothing. Even though all the other managers dressed "professionally," I had shifted my personal dress code to jeans and polo shirts: I spent 90% of my time on the floor, liked to get involved, liked to get dirty... okay, who am I kidding. I hate khakis and figured out a way not to wear them. (Plus, when you can perform you aren't always required to conform.)
So Mark assumed I was just a shop floor guy. Within minutes he made statements and asked questions he never would have had he known my role in the company. I learned:
  • He was given the option to resign from two previous jobs but it definitely wasn't his fault; his bosses created the conflict because they constantly "held him back."
  • He felt focusing on productivity -- both as as a business and personally -- stifled creativity. "I'm an ideas person. I'm not hands-on."
  • He wanted to know if there were policies against dating employees, especially those that might report to him.
  • He thought my boss was a jerk.
My boss had planned to hire Mark until I told him about our tour. "Wow. I had no clue. He was great in my interviews," he said. " How did you get all that out of him?"

"I didn't," I replied. "He just told me."

Here's why the stealth tour approach works:

  1. Some candidates can put on a great show for the CEO. They don't try nearly as hard if they perceive someone to be "below" them. Think of it as the waiter test: If you want insight into how a person treats people, take them to lunch. How they interact the waiter is a much better indication of their interpersonal skills than how interact with you.
  2. Some candidates want to know the "inside scoop" about the company. (Fair enough, since interviews are a two-way process.) They will often ask the stealth tour guide questions they will never ask you, giving you better insight into their perspectives and agendas.
  3. Some otherwise great candidates simply don't perform well in interviews. A conducted by someone other than you gives them the chance to relax and show their true (often positive) colors.
Next time you have an opening, give it a try. Choose someone in your organization whose opinion you trust. Don't introduce them by title, and tell them to be relatively vague about their role in the organization if asked.

When you finish your formal interviews, just say to the candidates, "(Jeff) is going to show you around so you can see what we do. Take all the time you need, and I'll see you when you're done."

Sneaky? Not really. The more you know about the candidates the better hiring decision you can make. The stealth tour is just another way to give potential new hires a chance to show they are a great fit for the position and your business. Most will shine. Some will not. Either way, you can make a better decision.

Isn't that the ultimate goal of every good hiring process?

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Photo courtesy Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 (PS3) and IGN.com