Choosing Candidates Beyond The Resume

Everyone likes to make the right decision, and not have to go back and put in the work a second time because of a mistake. The same is true when it comes to hiring candidates. You want to choose the right candidate the first time, but this is easier said than done.

There’s more to hiring someone then looking at their resume and skills. In fact, finding the best hire is like matchmaking and finding a mate. You wouldn’t decide to marry someone based only on information they could fit on a page, right? You should like each other, have mutual respect, trust each other, have a compatible work ethic, and be committed to the same cause. Since finding the right candidate is like matchmaking, then a resume is like a first date. The candidate is putting their best foot forward, often regardless of the truth. 

To figure out if you and your candidate are a good match, you must spend time with them. Hiring people is one of the riskiest decisions in business, but we spend the least amount of time on it. Take the time to get to know your candidate, to ensure that you are making the right decision. To do this, you need to go beyond the resume and dive deeper into how the candidate thinks and operates.

Why you Should get it Right

Before we go into how to effectively evaluate candidates, it helps to understand why it’s essential to choose the right person and why it’s worth putting in a little extra time.

First off, it’s costly to hire the wrong person. If the employee leaves or is let go after a month or two, it costs businesses with less than 500 employees $11,000. For business with more than 1,000 employees, a bad hire costs $24,000. If this happens frequently, it can begin to affect your organization’s bottom line very quickly.

Bad hires impact other areas besides cost. Our research found that bad hires can leave a negative mark on the business and their team. The top three non-financial costs of bad hires are:

  1. Loss in productivity.
  2. Compromised quality of work.
  3. Negative morale.

In addition to these factors, bad hires also cost human resources staff and managers time, as they have to go back to the drawing board and find a replacement.

There are many strategies to avoid bad hires and ensure a candidate is a good fit, but first and foremost, use common sense and follow your instinct. Here are several red flags to look for from the start:

  • Does not produce the proper level of work.
  • Has attendance issues.
  • Co-workers file complaints.
  • Doesn’t work well with others.

A lot of times the initial feeling you get about a certain candidate is accurate. Work on developing specific questions that will reveal these red flags, so that you don’t find out these issues once you’ve hired the person. In addition to instinct, there are other ways to identify the right candidate, such as specific interview questions, pre-hire assessments, and candidate evaluations.

Interview Successfully 

One way to hire the right person the first time is to interview your candidates successfully. This starts by establishing a consistent set of questions that you ask each candidate. If you don’t ask all candidates the same questions, you face the classic apples and oranges problem. You won’t be able to compare their answers and how they respond to the same question or situation. Instead, you should have one list of questions that you ask each candidate. It may seem tedious during the interview process, but it will pay off when it comes time to evaluate your top candidates.

What should these set of questions include? To determine that, we need to use the behavioral interview method as our guide.

The purpose of the behavioral interview is to identify how an applicant behaved and handled a real-life situation, based on their experience. The applicant should be able to identify and explain the actions they took to find a resolution to the situation. This method increases your chances of hiring employees that will be a good fit for your organization, because it goes deeper than the usual surface level interview questions and gets to the root of the candidate’s behavior to determine how the candidate would act in future situations. Remember, past performance is the best indication of future behavior. 

Here are examples of some common behavioral questions:

  • Describe a major challenge issue you have faced and how you solved it.
  • Give an example of when you had to deal with a team member that wasn’t carrying his or her weight.
    • How did you feel?
    • What did you do?
    • What were you thinking?
    • What was the result?
  • When is it okay to miss work? How many unscheduled absences did you have in the last six months? 
  • Describe a time you had to go above and beyond. 

Implementing these types of behavioral questions in your candidate interviews helps predict future behavior, but it also can show if a candidate is prepared or not. If it seems like their answer isn’t comprehensive or seems far-fetched, then chances are they weren’t expecting these questions. Look for honest, specific answers that have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

In the end, having a consistent set of questions that include several behavioral questions can help you pick the right candidates that fit into your culture, since you know how they react to difficult situations.

Use Pre-Hire Assessment Tools

Another way to identify the right candidate is through pre-hire assessments. Pre-hire assessments are 35 percent accurate, and can help make your decision easier and help you feel more confident in your decision, since you have data to back it up.

Pre-hire assessments shouldn’t be the only form of evaluation for hiring someone, but it can be very effective when used in conjunction with interviewing, once you’ve narrowed down the candidates.

There are four types of pre-hire assessments that are beneficial: cognitive ability, personality, integrity, and job knowledge. Let’s break them down one by one.

Cognitive Ability Assessments: Cognitive ability tests use questions or problems to measure the candidate’s ability to learn quickly and use logic, reasoning, reading comprehension, and other enduring mental abilities that are fundamental to success in many different jobs. Cognitive ability tests assess a candidate’s aptitude or potential to solve job-related problems by providing information about their mental abilities, such as verbal or mathematical reasoning, and perceptual abilities, like speed in recognizing letters of the alphabet.   

Personality Assessments: Some commonly measured personality traits in work settings are extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to new experiences, optimism, agreeableness, service orientation, stress tolerance, emotional stability, and initiative or proactivity. Personality tests typically measure traits related to behavior at work, interpersonal interactions, and satisfaction with different aspects of work. These kinds of assessments are often used to determine whether candidates have the potential to be successful in jobs where performance requires a great deal of interpersonal interaction or working in team settings.   

Integrity Assessments: Integrity tests assess attitudes and experiences related to a candidate’s honesty, dependability, trustworthiness, reliability, and pro-social behavior. These tests typically ask direct questions about previous experiences related to ethics and integrity OR ask questions about preferences and interests, from which conclusions are drawn about future behavior in these areas. Integrity tests are used to identify individuals who are likely to engage in inappropriate, dishonest, and antisocial behavior at work. 

Job Knowledge Assessments: Job knowledge tests typically use multiple choice or essay type questions to evaluate technical or professional expertise and knowledge required for specific jobs or professions. Examples of job knowledge tests include tests of Microsoft Office product proficiency, data entry or typing, basic clerical skills, accounting principles, A+/Net+ programming, and blueprint reading.

In addition to these four pre-hire assessments, there is also a DiSC assessment, which can be beneficial to more accurately gauge a candidate’s behavior. This test focuses on four different behavioral traits: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. By asking how you respond to specific challenges and rules, and preferred work pace, it determines what personality type you are. You shouldn’t make hire or fire decisions based on a DiSC, however, it can help you evaluate for compatible attributes and find the right fit. It also allows you to get to know the candidate at a deeper level.

These different kinds of assessments help you determine which candidate possesses the right skills and behavior that fit the job and your company’s culture. Using these tools can reduce the risk of making a bad hire, and demonstrate how the candidate thinks, which won’t change when you hire them. Assessments are also a good management tool for after the hire, and can help you identify how your current employees think and operate.

Utilize Candidate Evaluations

In addition to successful interviewing and pre-hire assessments, you also need to complete the traditional candidate evaluations, such as:

  • Criminal background check.
  • Reference checks.
  • Social security verification.

When it comes to reference checks, think outside the box. Use social media, especially LinkedIn, to see who they know and reach out to their important connections to get an extra opinion of the candidate. When you visit their LinkedIn profile, view their endorsements and see who has endorsed them. This gives you a peek into their influence and effectiveness in their past positions.

You may have a candidate picked out, but if they don’t pass these evaluations, it can be back to the drawing board. Ensure that every candidate goes through these processes, to avoid finding out a few months into the job that the employee has past criminal charges or is unfit to do the job.

Another type of evaluation is a job shadow. If you have the luxury of time, it’s helpful for some candidates to spend four to eight hours with a potential co-worker. This allows the candidate to get a feel for the position and, many times, the candidates will self-select out. This also allows your staff to evaluate the candidate, and analyze if they would be a good fit for the position and the team.

There's a lot to it

There’s no question that a good resume is essential to the hiring process, but you need to know that there’s more to it than just words on a page. Successful interview questions, pre-hire assessments, and standard evaluations can reduce the risk of hiring the wrong person, and give you peace of mind that the person you choose for the job can do the work efficiently and effectively.

Hiring people is time-consuming, difficult, and frustrating, but hiring the right person for the job is priceless.

How does your organization vet and evaluate candidates?


Katie Roth

Katie Roth has been in a leadership role in the employment industry for the majority of her career. Currently, she is Manager, Talent Acquisition for Oasis, a Paychex® Company. Katie is a graduate of the University of Iowa and is certified by both the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), as a Senior Professional in Human Resources, and the National Association of Personnel Services, as a Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC).


June 7, 2017

Posted by

Katie Roth