Archive for January, 2010

Fatal Flaws

January 29, 2010

We are all flawed human beings.  There’s just no getting around it.  As a hiring manager, you should keep that in mind that as you endeavor to hire the perfect A-player candidate.  Every candidate you interview, including the one you decide to hire, will bring with them their unique idiosyncrasies, shortcomings, and imperfections.  Thus, the key to effective interviewing is to look beyond the seemingly perfect picture and ferret out these potential blemishes.  More importantly, you need to determine how significant the flaws are and what impact, if any, they may have in your organization.

Similarly, as a candidate, you must come to the realization that you are not the embodiment of perfection.  After all, if you see yourself as faultless, then that in and of itself is a flaw.  In fact, the greatest candidates (and employees) are those who possess a level of self-awareness that enables them to identify and remain cognizant of their own limitations and foibles.  This becomes critical in the interviewing stage as increased nervousness and stress can easily accentuate such quirks.  The more you’re aware of them, the better chance you have at limiting their impact.

Let’s look at some of the most common flaws that invariably rear their ugly heads during the interview process and consider whether such issues are likely deal-killers.

*  Rambling – Nervousness in an interview usually manifests itself with ineffective talking.  Most people talk way too much and can’t land the plane in answering straightforward interview questions.  The question is whether this problem is symptomatic of a naturally overly-talkative person or someone who is sweating bullets in the interview.  Of course, if the candidate is applying for a position that involves high stakes presentations, then the nervousness alone might be a fatal flaw.

*  Lack of effective listening – The candidate may respond succinctly, but they’re not answering the question.  Granted, this will happen from time to time with anyone, and perhaps the interviewer didn’t ask the question clearly.  Yet, a pattern of not addressing questions asked is a red flag around listening and comprehension skills.

*  Lack of professionalism – Tact and common sense are all too elusive these days.  If a candidate brings up and harps on private issues, discloses confidential company matters, or makes derogatory comments about others, then that should raise an eyebrow.  If the candidate uses inappropriate language, doesn’t that make you wonder in what other venues such potentially offensive speech might arise?

*  Pompous, arrogant, or argumentative tone – A little humility can do wonders.  Yet, if someone comes into an interview with a chip on their shoulder, you must wonder about their coachability, self-awareness, interpersonal skills, and impact on others.  A cultural fit is just as vital as a position fit.  In addition, most of us improve throughout our careers by making mistakes.  A wise VP Sales told me years ago that if I’m not making mistakes, I’m either not trying hard enough, unwilling to take risks, or both.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Everyone has opportunities for improvement.  To come up dry when asked about these in an interview can certainly be seen as a red flag around intangibles.

*  Deceit – Dishonesty is an outright deal-breaker.  Some people are pathological liars to the point where they believe they are telling the truth.  One lie is made to cover another.  At times, lies can be difficult to expose.  This is where behavioral interviewing can help to substantiate or question credibility.

*  Involved in prior layoffs or been terminated – Far too many hiring managers assume that if someone lost their job, they are undesirable or damaged goods.  Funny enough, many of these same hiring managers have been caught in layoffs or terminations themselves.  As one mentor once told me, look at the many baseball, football, and basketball coaches who have lost their jobs.  Just like CEOs and VPs, many of these coaches are top tier professionals.  Yet, situations change.  From irreconcilable differences to financial crises to the need for a fall guy, people lose their jobs.  Naturally, references (including backdoor references) can help to better understand the circumstances.

*  Insufficient eye contact, poor sitting posture, and needless fiddling with a pen – Potentially all of this can be chalked up to lack of interviewing prowess or once again, nervousness.  As stated before, it may depend on the type of role the candidate is vying for.  An Accountant candidate may be scrutinized on non-verbal skills differently than a Strategic Account Manager.  As a friend once joked, how can you spot an extraverted CPA?  He’s staring at the other guy’s shoes!

*  Too low or too high energy – Once again, this may depend on the nature of the role, but ultimately, such a candidate must fit in culturally and interact well with others.  Either extreme could produce challenges.  Too much energy or enthusiasm can reflect a lack of self-control or come off as disingenuous.  Too little energy or engagement can be taken as the onset of negativity, a sign of disinterest, or poor interpersonal skills.

Flaws are ever-present.  We cannot avoid them.  And unless they are fatal in nature, flaws can provide an honest and distinct picture of one’s character traits.  Just as someone may bring into an organization a unique set of eccentricities, it’s equally likely that they’re also bringing fresh ideas and approaches.  The better we can identify the uniqueness in individuals and assess their impact, the more effective we’ll be at adjusting to them, both within ourselves and those around us.

Candidates should strive to become more open-minded about and aware of their own quirks while continually working on self-development initiatives.  Hiring managers ought to do a more thorough job at ascertaining a candidate’s fit in light of flaws, thus hiring people who can do the job instead of just those who can get the job.

Action Items:

1.  As a hiring manager, look around at your organization.  What kinds of flaws exist amongst your staff?  While some quirks are manageable and open to improvement, others are cancerous.  Try to delineate between the two groups and keep them in mind when interviewing candidates.

2.  Candidates that try to pass themselves off as flawless, and have no answer for the question about their own weaknesses or areas of improvement, are inherently flawed – either by a lack of self-awareness or an attempt to deceive.

3.  Are the candidate’s flaws you’re picking up on in an interview related to the interview itself (e.g. nervousness, lack of interviewing expertise) or more deep-seeded problems that could negatively impact your organization?  Aim to hire people who can do the job, bringing fresh perspective into the organization, quirks and all, and grow as the company grows.