The modern-day interview dynamic is a mystery box. As much preparation as you do—and you should do plenty of preparation—all you can really know for sure when a candidate walks in the door is that they’re wearing their favorite outfit.
Beyond that, an hour, even a day, of conversations and vetting can still lead to false positives. How can you quantify the experience on their resume? Are you experienced enough to make that judgment? Are there magic questions that can help divine an answer?
Not really. Like back in high school, where some students aced the SAT simply because they “test well”, some candidates simply “interview well.” And that can be dangerous. For candidates and existing employees alike, it is important to recognize what isn’t on their resume, and what isn’t on yours.
I have noticed a recent trend in resume presentation wherein applicants visualize their own skill levels on sliding scales weighed against the types of skills needed for the position. It often looks something like this:
I like this because, while not scientific or exact, it is nonetheless a telling exercise. The candidates are forced to be introspective; to take a personal inventory of what they think they can do, and how well they think they can do it. There’s an intrinsic honesty in this exercise, because no one would have the audacity to give themselves top marks across the board (a huge red flag if you ever come across it). So even if they embellish, there’s a kernel of truth to it.
Do you know who else should conduct this exercise? You. Brand leaders, hiring managers, senior executives, directors—everyone should take an inventory of their skills, and then consider if you are in a position to judge the work of all of your subordinates and candidates.
After all, it’s no accident that we have a record number of job openings in the U.S. but lack the qualified candidates to fill them. Many of the applicants are not bringing the correct skills to the interview setting, and many who are responsible for hiring don’t know what they are looking for. As tech consultant Shelly Palmer recently wrote, “I am personally amazed by the number of recruiters who have sent us ‘vetted’ professional coders who can't actually code. This is such a serious problem that if a recruiter sends us three candidates who cannot pass our coding test, we fire the recruiter. We can't afford to waste the time.”
The mismatch problem dogging our job market is best crystalized in the field of computer skills. Individuals who are in a position to judge their work very rarely interview coders, engineers and programmers. Beyond the cursory certifications, it is hard to know for sure if these highly skilled candidates are actually highly skilled.
I’m an advocate of a candidate showing and proving, even auditioning on the spot. As a hiring manager, you may not be much of coder, but you can easily find a skill challenge to test the mettle of your applicant.
Likewise, if he or she is a copywriter, it is best to review their work beforehand. The same goes for designers. They may be great at what they do, but are they great at what you need? Lawyers are familiar with the old Latin maxim “de gustibus non est disputandum,” translating to “when taste is involved, there can be no disputes.” This means that in the subjective language and visual arts, a crackerjack writer or designer may still not demonstrate the aesthetic your brand needs. If so, it is best to go another direction.
And finally, if you don’t know how to do something, don’t put yourself in a position to judge someone else’s acumen at doing it. In the example of the coder, don’t be afraid to loop in a member of your tech team who can inform your decision, or someone with writing experience, or designing experience. Headcount is usually the single highest cost of doing business, and every personnel decision you make—good or bad—will have lasting repercussions.