Decision 2010: Choosing the right candidate

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Posted by Matt Rivera

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May 20, 2010

We've just gone through a big primary election here in Pennsylvania. As I recycled the ton of campaign literature we received in the mail, and listened to the commercials that were somehow still running late Tuesday night after the polls had closed, it occurred to me how much an election mirrors the hiring process.

The idea is to pick the best one -- the best candidate for the job. But with so much information, some of it contradictory, it's hard to know if you are making the right choice. It's also difficult to really get to know someone in a 60-minute interview, or during a few well-placed 60-second commercials.

Many of the candidates' discussions in the primary were similar to those we have every day about the qualifications, skills, and experience of candidates for our client's open positions. And while we typically don't get an opportunity to interview a political candidate in person, I thought it would be a good time to give you some reminders for interviewing candidates in general (political or otherwise). Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Understand what you are looking for. Do you want a senior senator with relationships across the aisle, or are you looking for change? Define the skills and experience you want and how they relate to the position. Don't be swayed midstream to start looking at other areas, or expand the scope of the job without good reason.

  • Ask the right questions. A debate would be interesting, but unfortunately, that's typically not an HR-approved vehicle for interviews. However, you should make sure you are consistent with the questions you ask, and that they are relevant to the job. If in doubt, ask HR or legal.

  • Use behavioral interviewing techniques. Nothing proves a candidate's case better than to say they passed or supported specific legislation. Look for specific accomplishments and ask questions like, "Tell me about a recent challenging project. Walk me through how you approached it and how you got it done." If they can't give you specific examples, they probably don't have the experience you are looking for.

  • Get differing perspectives. It's always interesting how newspapers (which are supposedly objective) and unions endorse specific candidates. While you might not agree with them, they do give you a different perspective. If possible, have multiple people in multiple positions interview a candidate, including, preferably, someone from a much different level or even department from your own. You might be surprised at the different impressions you get and how they add to your overall evaluation.

  • Check credentials. A candidate usually  has to stand on his or her record. However, many times, a candidate will try to embellish accomplishments, experience, or education. Take a closer look at these areas by asking specific questions about how long they were in the program, or where and how the training was received. Look up schools, programs, or certifications you don't recognize. Background and education checks don't always catch everything and are usually based only on public records. A few well-placed questions, along with a little research, can help clarify credentials. And often, the candidate will be more forthcoming when you keep asking questions.

  • Empathize with the candidate. This is probably one of the most important ones right now. Keep in mind that not everyone communicates the same way or is comfortable with the interview process. And there are a lot of people out there who haven't interviewed in a long time, or might have been out of work for a longer-than-expected time (and have gone through a lot of interviews in the process). Give them time to respond, ask for clarification, and always, SMILE and be professional. Luckily, you typically don't have to deal with negative campaigning when you are hiring, but be aware of your attitude, as you go through this process. It's easy to get jaded after being bombarded with so many commercials or candidates.

If all of this seems like a lot of work, then you're right. That's probably why a lot of people simply don't vote. But whether it's finding the right person to represent your interests in Congress, or finding the right person for your team, it's critical that you take the time or dedicate the resources to properly screen and assess candidates.

And the interview is critical. If you've ever met a political candidate, they are often much different in person than they are in their 30-second commercial (in both good and bad ways). Lets face it, you don't want to get stuck with someone who isn't who you thought they were. Although you can always fire someone, there's risk involved with that, and it takes additional time and resources to find a replacement.

So choose carefully, and by all means, get out and vote, even in the primary elections. Otherwise, you might have to wait another four long years for the right candidate to come along again.

Topics: HR Strategies

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