The Four Least Wanted - how to counter and neutralize poor candidate etiquette

I recently read an article written by Jonathan Littman and Mark Hershon, summarizing their new book called “I Hate You.” This comedic take on a traditional workplace self-help book shows you how to identify the “Ten Least Wanted” --the people you hate in the workplace--while revealing the strategies to neutralize them.
It got me to thinking about identifying candidates in a similar light. In uncertain and stressful times especially, people aren’t on their best behavior, and this poor behavior often leaks its way into the interview process. Candidates respond in a variety of ways when put on the spot and asked to answer questions about themselves – some treat you like a telemarketer interrupting Thanksgiving dinner, others determine they have built an instant rapport with you, and feel compelled to tell you about the colonoscopy they are going in for next week.
Regardless of what you experience, there are ways to identify, counter and neutralize these behavioral faux-pas.

1.) The Oversharer

This guy is extremely likeable at first. He often starts the conversation with friendly banter about the weather, talk about his upcoming vacation, or shares the information that “this is a perfect time to talk,” because he has just returned from walking the dog. In moderation, these can be smart tactics to engage in on an interview – showing your personality and ability to quickly build rapport, however when taken too far it can be fatal. The Oversharer will often mention things that leave the interviewer stumped in response, such as his mother passing away last month, his divorce being finalized tomorrow, or that he keeps running to the bathroom due to the flu bug he has. Regardless, it is up to the interviewer to keep things on track, and important to stay focused on the task on hand, bringing the conversation back around to the job and the resume. Counter his oversharing with something like “I only have a limited amount of time before my next meeting, and need to get through all of my interview questions….” If he has good listening skills, he should get the message.

2.) Mr. No Manners

One of the mysteries of the universe in my eyes is getting a rude response from a candidate upon first contact. Whether or not you are an active or passive candidate, you never know whose hands the fate of your career might land in, so it’s safe to treat every recruiting call like it is important, whether or not you think it is. Mr. No Manners will treat your interruption of his day as if you’ve called him before 7:00 and woken him out of bed. He will tell you he is too busy to talk, cut you off, and engage in general naysaying before you’ve even described the position. There are a few ways to deal with Mr. No Manners. Depending on the position, sometimes it is best to end all communication at that time, for example if the role involves heavy interaction with customers or teams. If you do choose to proceed, often times the best tactic is to call his behavior out in a non-confrontational way. For example, “I’m picking up from you that perhaps this is not the best time to talk, is there a time that would work better?” Often times this will catch Mr. No Manners off guard, and once acknowledged, he will correct his behavior. Otherwise, it may be time to turn Mr. No Manners into Mr. No Hire.

3.) The Yes Man

Candidates always want to appear competent, and often do not want to admit when they do not know something or have not worked extensively in a required area. When asked if they’ve have experience with XYZ, they will say yes. When asked how they rate themselves on a scale of 1-10, it’s always a 9 or 10. But peel back the onion a bit and you may discover they didn’t develop the code from cradle to grave, but actually just sat near the guy who did. Eventually it will come out, maybe in a technical screen further down the road, but this can disperse time better spent with other candidates. Since we can’t actually polygraph our candidates, develop your inner polygraph. Listen to their answer – are you confused by it? Usually candidates that can’t clearly explain their responsibilities leaving you foggy on the details are covering up for lack of knowledge. If their answers bring you on a circuitous route, never really addressing the question specifically, they are not the expert they claimed to be.

4.) The Groupie

While we can all commend enthusiasm, The Groupie takes it to a whole new level. He’s on your linked in profile, reading your blog, messaging you on Facebook, and overstepping countless boundaries in order to impress and show his interest. He will call to check in, on a sometimes daily basis to ask for a status update. Once declined, he will insist on knowing specifically why he didn’t make the cut, and then most likely continue to submit his resume to positions he is not qualified for. He acts either out of being desperate to get into your company, or just being desperate, period. Depending on which kind of desperate he is will depend on the best way to neutralize his behavior. Candidates that apply to every job you post, call every other day, and tell you of their financial woes quickly make their way onto the D list. However, if the candidate is passionate about what your company does, and has some relevant transferable skills for an opening, he may be a loyal long-term employee which the return on investment will over time, outweigh your irritation. *

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Comment by Ambrish Kochikar on December 31, 2009 at 12:51pm
Enjoyed reading the post! Thanks for sharing those observations. I wonder whether the author and others would think another 'least wanted' might warrant inclusion in the list. 'The Rambler' comes to my mind as someone I would least want to deal with. This person loves talking about 'anything' and they feel obliged to talk ad infinitum. One candidate I sensed as having this trait actually got hired by a client. 4 months later, they 'had to' let him go. Apparently, he was bringing down the productivity of the entire floor that he worked on. Luckily for us, we found a smarter, cheaper and 'less chatty' backfill.

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