Interviewing Myth #4: Never “Lead the Witness.”

Interviewing authors and trainers do have a very good point: If the candidate says, “I was disorganized in that job and so I didn’t meet all my goals,” do NOT ask, “Did you get better organized in your next job?” Such “leading the witness” makes the candidate think, Heck, I was still disorganized in the next job, but this interviewer wants me to say I got organized so, “Oh sure, I got much better organized.”

“Leading the witness” like that surely results in mis-hires! But this will surprise you – the hiring managers who achieve 85%+ A players hired (average among the thousands of managers in our case studies) really DO “lead the witness,” but in a totally different context.

Recommendation: Toward the end of the interview “lead” the candidate to admit shortcomings.

During the chronological Topgrading Interview, you’ve asked 10 basic questions (plus follow ups) for all jobs. You KNOW the candidate’s strengths and weaker points, successes and failures, and what every boss would list as their strengths and weaker points. And you will suspect that one or two weaker points persist today. You fear that candidates will deliberately not admit a chronic weaker point in the current job, just to get the job.

For example, suppose a candidate has always had a tendency to take on too many projects, to please bosses and not to admit, “I can’t do it.” And the pattern is to not get everything done on time, on budget. But your hunch is that the candidate still has this tendency, and you need people on your team who will tell you that they cannot do this latest project without lowering the priority of another project. It’s time to LEAD THE WITNESS:

“Bill, your career has been very successful overall, and I appreciate your elaborating on your successes and some failures, too. One persistent challenge has been a super willingness to take on projects when managers have asked you to, even though you probably should have declined. You didn’t want your managers to think less of you because you are hardworking and eager to prove you’re good. The downside is missing some numbers. I’m guessing that in your current job you have taken on too much so that although you say your current manager would rate you Very Good, you might have been Excellent if you had pushed back a little more, right?”

LEADING THE WITNESS! I just put negative words in the candidate’s mouth, for two good reasons:

  1. I’m probably right in my hunch. The candidate knows a final step in hiring is to arrange a call with that boss and, if I’m right, the candidate will admit, yes, it’s an issue. If I still might hire the person, we’d first have to have a talk about how to not see a repeat of this shortcoming.
  2. It’s super fair to the candidate! This is a chance to prove my hunch wrong! “No, Brad, I’m happy to say I finally learned to stand up to unreasonable or unrealistic requests. My current boss would tell you that I’d say things like, ‘I’ll be happy to adjust my priorities and put this new request of yours as high in priority as you like. I’m working 70 plus hours per week and I’m determined to complete all my projects on time, on budget, and with very high quality. So, I can do the new project, but Project 7 will probably have to be delayed 4 months.’”

I hope these tips help you avoid costly mis-hires!

Interviewing Myth #1: Don’t Interview Behind Your Desk

Interviewing Myth #2: Take Very Few Notes

Interviewing Myth #3: Always Be “Neutral” In Interviews

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