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Optimum Talks Blog

The “Truth-Serum” Interview Question

by Optimum Talent

The old adage that “People are hired for their skills and fired for their behavior” is not about to be dismissed anytime soon. Poor-behaving executives are being sent packing simply by exhibiting attitudes and behavioral patterns that are toxic to the organization, regardless of their ability to do the job. Seasoned recruiters know this well and spend less time sifting through CV’s searching for technical skills and experience, and instead focus a significant part of the selection process on getting to know the person behind the resume, revealing the applicant’s personality strengths, weaknesses, approach and style.

An individual’s naturally preferred behavioral style is displayed regularly and effortlessly across situations and time throughout their career. It is the DNA strand of how they act and react. Predicting which applicants will possess the desired soft skills and personal characteristics in the interview process is no easy task. Candidates in job-seeking mode are boldly selling their skills and past accomplishments while displaying only their best behavior. They are all so nice! Seeing as most interviewers are not mind readers, and using a polygraph machine has become a somewhat frowned upon practice since the movie “Meet-the-Parents”, it can be difficult to decipher their true personality.  However, there are techniques interviewers can use to get an honest glimpse into a candidate’s naturally preferred behavioral style that tell you a lot about the person beyond the “pitch”.

The best predictor of how someone will behave in the future is how they have behaved in the past. And the best way to get a glimpse into an individual’s past behavioral patterns is to ask competency based interview questions such as “Tell me about a time when you…” “Give me an example of…” After posing some of these questions, I then inject them with what I call the “truth serum” question:

“What is the biggest misconception people at work may have about you?”

This question pierces right to the core of who they are and the insight gained is remarkable. However, the real secret ingredient is not the question itself. The magic lies within the brutally honest responses that follow. This question is designed for the applicant to paint you a picture of what they are not. It summons thoughts and false perceptions that they think others may have of them simply because they don’t know them well enough.

The reality is that there seldom are any misconceptions. Other people’s perceptions of someone are usually pretty accurate as they are formed on observed behavior and actions witnessed. Furthermore, because the question is posed as a misconception, candidates are usually honest in their responses, because after all, they are describing perceptions that they THINK are not true.

Twenty years after I posed this question for the first time, I remain in awe as executive after executive pours out all the terrible “misconceptions” current and past coworkers have of them. One of the most recent responses included the following comments, “people that really don’t know me may think that I am arrogant and confrontational, I spend too much time managing upwards, and I am only out for myself – but of course I’m not really like that – but I could see that being a misconception”.

This applicant just spent one hour showcasing their talents, capabilities and accomplishments while selling me on why they would be the ideal candidate and in a few sentences, after I posed my “truth-serum” misconception question, eliminated themselves from the competition.

This is not to say that all candidates have poor misconceptions about themselves – in fact most do not, but it is a great question to validate your own perceptions of an applicant you are just not sure about. A good response to this question would be along the lines of “I don’t believe there are any misconceptions about me. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I am very direct, respectful and honest. What you see is what you get”.

So, when assessing for personality type to get a portrait of a candidate’s behavioral profile, forget the curveball questions about how many marbles would fit into a bus or who would win a fight between Spider-man and Batman. If you want to quickly find out the personality type of a potential candidate you are interviewing, ask them what people might say about them that is not true, sit back and listen carefully for the TRUTH.