The Perils of Falling in Love.

As someone who has observed hundreds of hiring processes over the years, I’ve seen my share of missteps. I’ve witnessed hiring managers spend entire interviews talking about themselves, only thinking to ask a few questions of the candidate at the very end. I’ve watched interviewers robotically read one question after the other from a prepared list, never really listening to the candidate’s answers.Perils of Falling in Love And I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen unprofessional, disorganized, and just generally ineffective techniques derail interviews.

But the one mistake that leaves me shaking my head every time I see it is unique. It’s all too common, and hiring managers often don’t realize they’ve done it until it’s too late. What’s the sin? Falling in love with a candidate.

No, I don’t mean “romantic” love, although that probably happens every once in a while. What I’m referring to is when interviewers lose their objectivity and good judgment because they connect strongly with the person sitting across the table.   This usually occurs because the two people have some thing or things in common, and the more they talk and share stories, the more they “click.” Before you know it , the hiring manager starts thinking, “Hey, I really like this person.” There’s a shift from wanting to make sure the candidate and job are a great fit to thinking about how nice it would be to have this individual on the team.

What causes interviewers to fall in love? There are lots of reasons, but the most frequent situations I see are the result of the hiring manager and the candidate having one or more of the following in common:

  • Similar backgrounds (grew up in the same area, went to the same schools)
  • Shared interests (sports, hobbies, volunteer work)
  • Past experiences (first jobs, previous employers)
  • Similar personal situations (single or married, with or without kids, empty nester)
  • Shared relationships (professional or personal)
  • Mutual goals (career advancement objectives, professional accomplishments)
  • Shared geography (live in the same area, frequent the same places)

Interviewers also fall in love with candidates because of their personalities. If the last three people you’ve interviewed have been nervous, boring or unable hold up their end of the conversation, it’s likely you’ll be drawn to the next individual who’s polished, confident, funny or well-spoken. And don’t underestimate the power of a candidate who is well-mannered, charming, energetic or a good listener.

So why is falling in love such a mistake? Because most of the time when it happens, the interviewer stops being neutral about the candidate. I’ve seen hiring managers ignore red flags or danger signs when they’re in love. I’ve noticed them only hearing what they want to hear. On a few occasions I’ve watched them unconsciously feed candidates the “right” answers so it appears the job is a great fit. I’ve also seen them skip steps or shortcut their hiring process because someone seems “perfect” for the job. But the biggest problem is that they can’t accept anyone else’s negative feedback. They are quick to dismiss references or other interviewers who voice concerns or point out flaws in the candidate.

Once managers understand this phenomenon and resolve to avoid it in future hiring situations, they often ask me how to prevent it from happening again. Interestingly, I’ve found that simply being aware of a tendency to fall in love with candidates is key.   When managers find the conversation turning to shared interests or commonalities, they can recognize the situation and stay on their toes. The discussion should be long enough to build rapport but not so extensive they spend half the allotted interview time sharing war stories with the candidate.

Another key element to maintaining objectivity is having a written Hiring Profile in front of you during each interview. Your Hiring Profile should outline the 8-10 most important tasks the job you are hiring for entails. It should also list the experience and education levels you want as well as the technical skills you need. Finally, it should list the core behavioral traits (assertive, social, detail-oriented, flexible, etc.) you need to get in the person you hire.   Use this Hiring Profile throughout your interviews to help you focus your questions on determining if the candidate has what it takes to do the job. And it can serve as a checklist post-interview to figure out where the individual fits or doesn’t fit with what you need. Hopefully it will shine a bright light on situations where you really like the person but recognize they lack the most important things needed to succeed in the job.

Maintaining your objectivity is easier when you have something concrete to keep you on track. And a good dose of awareness doesn’t hurt, either.

About the Author: 

Janna is Vice President of Client Services for The Berke Group, where she leads their education initiatives and serves as their key client advocate.  Berke provides powerful assessment software that measures personality, talent, and intelligence and helps companies hire the best people.  Janna develops Berke’s  learning programs and provides both on-site and web-based management training for companies and individuals. She also writes about people management strategies, trends and best practices.

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Hiring Manager
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