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Skeptical of the Candidate? Try Three Questions

Kennedy's Column

Suppose you're interviewing a great candidate: top school, top of the class, top references. But suddenly something is said that sets off a few alarm bells, something that seems a little over the top, even for a wunderkind. What do you do now?

A good place to start is to ask yourself three questions formulated by UCLA psychologist and courtroom advisor, Mark Goulston. The questions are part of a strategy that emphasizes looking for consistency across three levels of response: thinking, feeling, and doing.

Thinking. First, ask yourself if what you've heard makes sense. If it doesn't make sense to you, it may not be true. Then ask the candidate for clarification. Begin by saying something like, "I'm puzzled by..." or, "I'm not following what you're saying."

Feeling. Does it feel right? Does something the candidate says make you wonder how her behavior would have affected co-workers or the customer? Does anything feel a little "off?"

Doing. Is what is claimed really doable? Could one person have done all this? For example, wouldn't other members of the team have had to play a role in order to meet such a tight deadline?

Remember, these are self-directed questions that help you to check the validity of what you're hearing without confronting the candidate. If a candidate is misleading you, it will be difficult for him or her to maintain authenticity in all three of these areas. If you feel uneasy in any area, it's probably time to investigate further.