This Simple Trick Keeps Me Out of Interviewing Hell

shaking-hands-over-tableHow many times have you hired someone only to wonder by the end of their first week on the job “What happened? Where’s the guy that I interviewed? This is a totally different person!”

It’s happened to me more times than I care to admit. And to my clients, too.

Turns out it’s a pretty common problem.

But an unnecessary one.

First, you have to realize that job interviews are a pretty awful way to predict how the candidate will actually perform on the job. You’re both sitting in a sterile white room, face-to-face, trying to BS each other. Or at least that’s how it seems sometimes. You ask a bunch questions. They tell you what they think you want to hear. You hear what you want to hear. And that’s it. 60 minutes later, interview’s over.

Days later, you extend the offer thinking you’ve found the perfect person for the role.

Then they show up for work.

And oy vey.

“What happened to my candidate?”

Over thousands and thousands of interviews, I’ve developed a trick that helps dramatically. Because it helps me see the real-person, not the candidate-person.

The trick?

Help the candidate to relax.

I know it sounds super-simple, but it’s not. First, they’re nervous to begin with. Interviews just have a way of doing that. And the more they want the job, the more nervous they are because you’re the one thing standing between them and the job.

Plus, they’ve been taught and coached to say certain things. And to not say others. To dress a certain way. To be something… something other than their authentic self.

So you’re not really seeing them. You’re seeing some strange candidate version of them. And to make things worse, most interviewers have been trained — formally or otherwise — to make the candidate nervous. “If I can make them sweat, I can see how they perform under pressure.”

It’s BS. It backfires.

Because now you’re not seeing the real person at all, just some strange representation of them. And then you wonder why it’s so difficult to assess their ability to do the job accurately?

So by going out of my way to help them relax, I get the real person.

Don’t get me wrong: I interview the heck out of them. But I get far more authentic answers than most.

I stroll with them to the kitchen and we grab them their favorite drink, offer them a snack (it’s always telling if they accept). Take off your jacket, stay a while.

And then?

I don’t ask questions. I turn the table and let them ask the first questions.

This is disarming enough to throw them off their usual game. They ask me questions about the business, the industry, the role.

As a side benefit: From the quality of their questions, I get to assess their preparation & insightfulness. If they ask me about our benefits plan in the first five minutes, I know what’s really important to them. If they ask about how we differentiate from the other company in our category, I understand that they think at a strategic level.

But the real benefit is that this 5-10 minute process really relaxes them. They come to believe that I’m not here to hurt them, but to help them get the job, and to really engage them in the discussion.

No spotlight police interrogation-room interview, like some late night  Law & Order rerun.

I even offer to answer more of their questions later, at any time.

And then I begin my questioning.

I get a relaxed, forthright, candid person who’s far more likely to reveal the truth. Not a tightly-wound candidate.

Try it, and let me know what you find.

Also, you may want to try the other strategies I’ve laid out here:

Never settle.

Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman is the author of Recruit Rockstars: The 10 Step Playbook to Find the Winners and Ignite Your Business. The Chief Talent Officer at Chicago-based Strong Suit Executive Search, Hyman currently teaches the MBA course on recruiting at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and hosts the five-star Strong Suit Podcast. Jeff has been featured by Inc., Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg, and other media outlets. Learn more at

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