Three Legal Tactics for Detecting How Applicants will Really Behave on the Job

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

“This person is next in line,” said the pharmacist.

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

“But I have to check to see if you’re in the system,” explained the pharmacist.

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

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

I shrugged and he checked her in.  “Thank you,” he said after she had left. “That happens two or three times a day.”

Outside of wanting to rant about this kind of inconsiderate behavior, this incident reminded me of something I’ve taught managers for years: How applicants behave and what they do once they’re hired can be vastly different things. All the interviews and tests in the world won’t reveal this. When the person’s in a rush, how is he going to treat those around him? When he’s feeling pressured, how will he treat the customer? When he’s in the last ten minutes of a shift, what will he say to the customer who’s going to delay his departure?

So, what can you do to elicit the “real” behavior from applicants? Try these three ideas:

First, have applicants come in contact with strangers. This could something as simple as asking the receptionist to chat them up. Does the person respond with understanding? Does he empathize? Perhaps instead he treats the receptionist with a dismissive, “I don’t need to talk to you,” attitude. Would you want this person on your team?

Second, keep the applicant waiting for a few minutes. No one likes to be kept waiting. But some of us are more patient than others. Does this person grow impatient? How does he deal with the delay? Does he chat with the receptionist? Does he find something to read? Does he review his notes about the company? Does he sit there and stew or ask what’s going on every five minutes. Who would you rather have on your team?

Third, place applicants in an environment where they have to perform. This strategy requires more time and effort. It is also the most effective. Ask applicants go on a “scavenger hunt” by collecting documents or information from several people within the company. This will force them to establish a brief rapport with each one. Then you can ask those individuals for first impressions. Place applicants 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 weird. After an hour of this, you’ll get a feel for how they handle unexpected distractions, interruptions, confusion and the like.

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 strategies fool-proof? No. But they will reveal the potential behaviors of people upon whom you will rely once on the job. 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.

Good News! People Can’t Walk and Lie During Interviews

Business coaching concept. Young woman being interviewed for a job.

Ever feel like you’re wasting time interviewing job applicants? They prepare answers for the questions they assume you’re going to ask. You end up asking those questions and getting their prepared answers. There are only so many variations on what you need to know. Even if you get creative with how you ask, most can still adapt and tell you what they know you want to hear.

A more effective strategy? Get them moving. Rather than screen applicants in an office or meeting room, take them on a tour. Why? Because you’ll disrupt their expected rhythm. Imagine arriving for an interview expecting to sit across a table or desk, only to hear, “Let me show you around and I can ask you questions at the same time.” How would you react? A strange environment. A person you’ve just met. The stress of answering probing questions. Watching your step and navigating equipment. You get the idea. That’s the point. All those prepared responses are flushed from your mind by completely new stimuli.

While it might be easier to do this in industrial settings, these “tours” can be conducted in any workplace. You can even prep a few colleagues in advance with a question they can ask when introduced to applicants as you pass through. The variations of this can be endless.

So what does this accomplish?

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A chance to gauge energy. Watch applicants walk. Their gait and posture will serve as insights into their confidence, determination, outlook and other attributes you may not pick up sitting across a desk.

A reality check on their claims. Some applicants choose to “spin” their experience. Walk an “experienced” tradesman through your shop and yard for instance. It will become readily apparent whether he is comfortable in the environment. How can you accomplish this same effect in your workplace?

An insight into people skills. For many, meeting new people can be a considerable effort. If this will be part of their job responsibilities, introducing them to a number of colleagues will give all of you a glimpse into their comfort level in doing so.

Why go to the trouble of doing this? Simple – You’re making a decision worth tens of thousands of dollars and one you may have to live with for a long time. How can you adapt this strategy to your environment? You may be surprised at the results it yields.