Don’t Lie To Me – Make Candidates Show Who They Really Are

In almost every interview, we ask, “Why are you looking?” or “Why are you looking to leave XYZ company?”

What is the information that we expect to receive from this question?

We can find out the story, but is it the real story? For example:

  1. If the person’s job was eliminated- The person tells us that their job was eliminated. Was it their performance, or the company performance? Did the company conveniently eliminate the job because the candidate wasn’t performing? If the job was eliminated in anything, but a company shut down, the candidate will have practiced their response to this question, which will have some version of the truth, but nothing we can validate.
  2. The company/group/department isn’t doing well. How can we validate this? If it’s a public company, we can do research, but this seems like a pretty open excuse that is hard to get to the bottom of.
  3. It’s not the culture I like. Again, how do we validate that this isn’t a problem with the candidate? Another blanket excuse that if we don’t know the manager/group personally, could be a bit of a ruse. It’s the perfect reason to leave pointing fingers without being pointed at. It also opens the question to how this person does in a group, which doesn’t usually get validated until later in the process during references (with people who the candidate tells us to talk to).
  4. (my personal favorite) There aren’t any growth opportunities- This is another doozie. How in the world can we as sourcers/recruiters validate this one? We can ask what the person has done to move ahead, but what’s the right response to the typical, “I feel there is no room for growth/there is a ceiling over my head.” I find that this is a cover up for people who aren’t thriving in their current roles, and who don’t have the mentorship or internal reputation to move within their company.

What can we ask instead to get similar information without open up the candidate to tell the tale they have practiced in anticipation of our “Why are we talking today?” questions?

I like to ask candidates who are currently employed, “What are you looking for in your next role that you don’t have in your current one?” Followed by something like, “What does your next role have to have that your current one does not?” This way we are focusing on future job fit vs. unpacking the current role and why we are talking. There are a lot of clues to a person in how they answer this question, and an astute recruiter or sourcer will make a note of these clues and come up with follow ups that get to know the person better.

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If the individual isn’t currently employed, ask something like, “What do you want in your next role that you haven’t had in previous roles?” Again, this may lead your candidate on a tangent that will tell you a lot about them, but it won’t elicit the candid response they have been practicing.

When getting to know a new candidate, and finding out their motivation for looking for a new job, think of ways to ask the question in a way that they won’t have rehearsed. When you give them a question they aren’t expecting, candidates will show you who they are, and will be more likely to tell you more.

Liz is the Owner/Principal Recruiter at Liz Bronson Consulting, specializing in teaching companies how to recruit with a more human-centric approach to finding talent. She and her team also augment company recruiting teams, finding them top business-side talent. 
Liz began her corporate career as an HR Generalist, and took those skills to recruiting, where her holistic approach to people management helped hiring managers build productive, cohesive teams. She spent 9 years at VMware predominantly focused on building out the product management and product marketing groups before helping companies such as SignalFx, Hortonworks, Greylock Partners and Evernote.
Outside of work, Liz is active in the Austin community, serving on the Board of Little Helping Hands- a non-profit dedicated to teaching young people the value of community service. She is often found with her family and 2 crazy dogs.