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Mar 17, 2015
by James

What To Do When a Great Candidate Has a Bad Interview

Posted in Interview Training

Great Candidate Bad Interview

Last week I was conducting a phone screen on a job candidate for a management level role. The person’s resume was almost an exact copy of the job description and she was from a top tier company that was known for developing great people for the position I was trying to fill.

Combine these attributes with the fact that I received this candidate as a referral from an executive who claimed that this person was a “rock star”. To say I was excited to get on the phone with this candidate would be an understatement!

So the call starts and we hit it off right away with some small talk. We shot a couple jokes back and forth and then settled into a smooth transition from chit-chat to career-related questions.

And this is where my dilemma began…

Every time I asked a simple behavioral based interview question, the candidate talked for nearly 15 minutes. She would start off fine, but quickly went sideways giving random anecdotes that she thought were humorous, but I didn’t. Each time I brought her back to center, she would acknowledge the rant and then go right back into a new one. I couldn’t control her!

After three questions like this I became frustrated and told the candidate that I’m having a hard time assessing her for this job because her answers aren’t concise and to the point. I asked her one more question and, to my dismay, she still couldn’t respond in a clear and direct manner.

So what do you do when you know a candidate is probably great, but they’re a terrible interviewer?

The short answer is…you have to try something different!

Here are a few suggestions that I use to address this situation:

1. Be honest. Tell the candidate that the interview is not going as well as you would have thought, given their credentials. Give them some time to respond. Maybe they had a horrible day. Maybe their dog died. Or maybe they’re just nervous! Following the use of this tactic, ask them one more question to see if they can “get it together”.

2. Conduct a different type of interview. Try a video interview or a face-to-face interview.

3. Have someone else interview the candidate. Compare notes to see if the new person experienced the same behaviors that you did.

4. Check their references. Do it yourself — don’t outsource it or do it electronically. Share feedback about what you observed with their references and ask them to validate or invalidate what you saw or heard.

5. Do some standardized testing (if allowed by your organization). Depending on the situation, try a technical assessment or a leadership/behavioral test. This might confirm or eliminate some issues related to skills or behaviors. You might not be able to tell right away, but you could be dealing with a highly functioning employee who has a disability.

If you still have doubts after trying some different methods, it’s time to move on. Let your executive referral know that you went above and beyond to vet the person but they just didn’t meet the standards for this particular role.

I know it sounds like a lot of work for a candidate who interviews poorly but, I often wonder how many times in the course of a year I reject a great candidate who would have been a huge success simply because they had a bad interview. While I’ll never truly know, I think using multiple forms of assessment will provide you with additional layers of confidence to make the right hiring decisions every time.

Just don’t forget…Not every great candidate is a great interviewer.

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