How to Detect Rudeness in Applicants

The baby cries and calls mom from a bed

I had been standing in the pharmacy line for about ten minutes and was next to be served. Just as I stepped up, a middle-aged woman slipped in front of me and said to the pharmacy tech, “I just need to drop this off,” handing him a prescription.

“This gentleman is next in line,” said the tech.

“I know,” said the woman, “but I just need to drop this off.”

“I can’t accept this prescription without checking to see if you’re in the system,” explained the tech.

“I know,” insisted the woman, but I’m in a hurry and I just need to drop this off.”

The tech gave me that pleading look that said, “Would you mind if I dealt with this rude woman?”

I nodded and he checked her in. “Thank you,” he said after she was out of range. “That happens a couple of times a day.”

Outside of wanting to rant about those who lack courtesy, this incident reminded be of something I’ve taught employers for years: How applicants behave and what they do once hired can be considerably different things. All the interviews and assessments in the world will not reveal this. When the person’s in a rush, how is she going to treat those around her? When she’s feeling pressured, how will she treat the customer? When she’s in the last ten minutes of her shift, what will she say to that person who’s going to delay her departure?

So what do you do? Here are three suggestions:

First, arrange to have applicants come in contact with strangers. This can be as simple as having the receptionist try to chat them up. Does the applicant respond with understanding? Does she empathize? Perhaps instead she treats the receptionist with a dismissive, “I’m better than you,” attitude. Those are the ones to watch out for.

Second, keep them waiting. No one likes to be kept waiting. But some of us deal with it better than others. Does the applicant grow impatient? How does he deal with the delay? Does he chat up the receptionist, find something to read or review information about the company? Maybe he sits there and stews or asks what’s going on every five minutes. Who would you rather have on your team?

Third, place them in a situation where they have to perform. This strategy requires the most time and effort. But it is also the most effective. Have applicants go on a “scavenger hunt” by collecting documents or information from several people within the firm. This will force them to establish a brief rapport with each one. Place them in an office with an in-basket exercise and have people call and interrupt them with questions and requests that range from the informative to the inane. After an hour of this, you’ll get a feel for how they handle distractions, irritations, confusion and the like.

Notice that all of these strategies deal with nuance. But it’s the nuanced behaviors of others that can get under our skin and can cost us money. Is all this worth the investment? You decide. You’re making a thirty- to fifty-thousand dollar decision by hiring someone.

Are these ideas fool-proof? Of course not. But they will go to some length in revealing the potential behaviors of those upon whom you will relay once they’re on the job. After all, most people don’t get fired for a lack of competence. They are released because of the attitudes and behaviors that those around them consider unacceptable.

Why Shouldn’t I Hire You?


I’ve been teaching employers how to recruit and hire the best people for more than 25 years. In all that time, I have never been a fan of the sit-down interview. There is too much opportunity for posturing and deception. The applicants know what you’re going to ask. If you’ve conducted enough of them, you know what they’re going to say.

Over the past few years, tech firms have pioneered the use of trick questions. These include: “Why are manhole covers round?” and “How do they print the ‘m’ on M&Ms?” This may work for engineers and coders, but not so much for other positions.

If you must conduct sit-down interviews, here are a couple of questions that will compel applicants to reveal more of their confidence, beliefs, and self-insight. The first, “Why shouldn’t I hire you?” will force applicants out of the normal interview rhythm and into uncharted territory. That’s they type of territory where you want them. There is nothing better than candor in an interview.

The second, “What’s your great weakness? provides you with the chance to see what happens when they take off their “confidence hat” and think though the stuff that can bedevil all of us. There is more detail in this Fast Company article. While these questions are not new, they are a good way to re-think the standard interview that can get stale over time.