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Let's Consider Prosecution of the True Waterboarders - Those Who Go Negative in an Interview to Get the Info...

By now you've heard, President Obama is considering allowing the prosecution of the legal eagles who allowed aggressive interrogation techniques that some consider torture, but others consider necessary in a world gone mad. 

I'm probably like the majority of America.  I don't like the concept of torture, but I sure sleep better 24 knowing that if we need to get info to prevent Charlotte from being ground zero for a dirty bomb, we can get it. 

In short, I like to have some Jack Bauer types around. You never know when you need them.

Of course, there's a similar game going on inside your company right now with important, but obviously less severe consequences.  It's called aggressive interviewing techniques.  Most people don't teach them and wouldn't support them if they heard a Jack Bauer of the interviewing game use them.  They'd say it's the equivalent of waterboarding in the recruiting scene.

But, like Jack, in the global terrorism scene, you need to find some CIA-type thugs who will do what's necessary for you to figure out if the candidate is the real deal.  To really do that, you have to ask for negative information as part of the interviewing scene.  Here are some thoughts about what that looks like in the behavioral interviewing scene:

--"That's good (referring to an answer), but it doesn't really answer my question.  Tell me..."

--"I need more detail about what you did in the situation.  What you're giving me is very high level, I need to dig into the details with you".

--"That happened a long time ago.  Do you have a similar experience that's happened in the last year?"

--"Most of the examples you are giving me are team oriented.  We value teams here, but for purposes of you being a candidate, I need to know what you did, not what the team did.  Focus me on what you did".

--"That's a great example with a good outcome.  Now tell me about a situation where you used a similar strategy but it didn't work out for you".

--"Tell me about a time where you've been fired or taken off a project due to your performance."

--"I'm struggling to understand the details of what you've done in these situations.  Once you tell me about a scenario, start giving me deep, deep details of what you did, not what the team did, not what you usually would do in that situation, but what you actually did."

--"You keep telling me what you usually do in situations.  I'm not interested in hypotheticals, I'm interested in what you have actually done."

I know, I know.  That's not exactly waterboarding, is it?  But here's the thing.  At least 99% of your hiring managers and HR pros won't go negative on a candidate, even if the essence of what they are doing is asking the candidate to answer the question the way they need it answered.  From the standpoint of interviewing, you need to change the culture of your interviewing process.  It's good to be professional; it's good to develop rapport.  Those are all things you need.

But, when you're not getting the info you need, you better have some Jack Bauers of interviewing who can pull the wiring out of the wall and do what it takes with the candidate to get what YOU need.  It's what your company needs, and it can be accomplished without putting a single candidate's head under water.  They may feel like that's happening because the technique is so rarely used, but it's not.  It's OK to go negative, in fact, you're supposed to mix that in to get the best results for your company.

Or you can let the dirty bomb go off in Charlotte and deal with the sucky hire.  It's up to you. 



I like it - I think questions like this would really get to the bottom of it. The only place I don't like it is for entry-level positions. Otherwise, the candidate should be able to come up with a decent answer.


Asking those questions is the way I was taught - along with the maxim regarding past actions and future performance. Using the information gleaned from them has stood me in good stead. I've never seen them as a negative.

Mr. Big

It's a tricky situation, and the impetus these days seems to be on companies to mitigate the risk of a bad hire. It's risk management. Just as in the example of waterboarding, it's a matter of how the information gathered is interpreted.

Enemy combatants who've been waterboarded can still lie, or tell half-truths. Under stressful conditions, people can lie convincingly to end the process, leaving the interrogator with information that is not only useless, but dangerous.

As for Michelle's maxim that "past actions determine future performance," (which I agree with) how would you interpret information, let's hypothesize, for a candidate who's had a great work history for decades, but, for reasons linked more to politics (let us say new management that decided to clean house and did whatever possible to get rid of old employees, including making up complete fabrications concerning work performance?)

Now you're sitting across from a seasoned, competent candidate who's been unfortunate enough to have gotten caught in the political machinations of a company in flux, with poor leadership, and finds him or herself having to defend against the dismissal and negative reviews he's been saddled with.

The candidate can't very well tell the truth, because then he'll be seen as a whiner who blames management for his predicament, even though that's the God's honest truth. He's been put in a position where his past performance is irrelevant, because companies these days tend to base a candidate's performance on the last hire, rather than the candidate's track record.

The fact of the matter is, unless the candidate's been fortunate enough to be laid off, the resaon he's sitting in your HR office is because he's been fired. The trick for the HR person is to figure out a way to properly analyze the information given, determine whether the dismissal was due to poor performance, change in the organization, economics, etc. and judge accordingly.

Not hiring a competent candidate because of perceived issues concerning past employment is just as risky as hiring a novice because they have no past.


Unfortunately, I believe HR is the worst area of an organization to try to hire an HR employee. The research stats are alarming. Countless studies suggest that even properly applied behavioral interviewing is a low predictor of bringing in the best hire.

It's absolutely wrong to speak negatively of past employers, but the truth is often very negative so the silence or lack of information is sometimes perceived as "shirking".

I'll provide a scenario. Let's say a candidate with three stints in four years with no work history for the last year is looking for an interview. Bad candidate right? Not necessarily. Resumes often tell us little no matter how "good" or "bad".

Even if the person has the highest credentials, Graduate Degree in the field, HR Certification, long hours of work and school along with incredibly high test scores and a number of unique work related accomplishments. It only takes one confused manager to make a candidate look bad for years, thus disqualifying them from the stable opportunities at more successful organizations.

Also, I agree the best "bad hires" (people who underperform, shirk responsibility for any setbacks, create chaos) are absolute masters of deception, no matter how much waterboarding. We are still likely to hire them. Unfortunately, we are at their mercy.

Just a thought.

I'm certain that we are all looking at the wrong information to evaluate candidates. I only wish a better option existed. The person or group that solves that problem will do very well!

Formerly good employee of bad employer

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I only wish that more employers understood that last statement. Unfortunately, in this age of self-preservation-they make the immediate call that where there was smoke, the employee must have been the fire.

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