The Hiring Interview: Beware the Boast or You’ll Be Toast!

Toast, toasted

We’re all aware that we live in a land of chronic spin. Things aren’t just good, they’re “terrific.”

When it comes to hiring, it always pays to hire the person who will perform in the job, not the best boaster.

Here’s how:

Hiring candidates that perform, research at Google has reaffirmed, is best done through solid behaviorally-based interviewing. That’s lots of “tell me about a time” sorts of questions by multiple interviewers framed on the key competencies for the job, the organizational culture, and the work team.

It also means recognizing the boasters from the people who are matter of fact, and recognizing and correcting for your bias.

You want to hire the person who will perform best, after all.

And where are the land mines of bias?

For starters, gender. Turns out that males generally overstate, females understate their performance. In a research paper published this month from the Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences, three business school professors isolated some of the reasons.

The short story? We (both men and women) get conned more by male candidates. So for women candidates it’s not just lean in, but it’s listen well. For male candidates it may be more a case of lean out, and verify more.

Other biases spring up from anything that makes you feel more connected with some sets of candidates versus others: background, hometown, same university, same interests ethnicity, etc. ((See Ori and Rom Brafman’s book Click: The Magic of Instant Connections for the research behind how we feel more connected – and biased – with some people more than others.)

For a non-job related peek at how this works at the extreme, NPR has a fascinating account of a murderer who was incredibly effective in manipulating people to see him as he wanted to be seen, not as he really was. While job candidate interviewing is dimensions away from masquerading as a Rockefeller, the same bias traits apply.

We often see what we want to see, not what is actually there.

Cut to the chase?

When interviewing, use good behavioral interviewing processes, and trust but verify.

And remember to account and correct as best you can for your natural biases.


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.

Toast, toasted: Photo credit – Wikipedia

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