Interviewing Myth #9: Candidates Will Change

All hiring managers have been deceived at some point by candidates assuring them that they have overcome weaker points, failures and mistakes of the past, saying, “I’ve learned my lesson and assure you I’ll be:

  • “better organized”
  • “a good team player”
  • “disciplined in keeping my sales activities up to date in Salesforce”
  • “keeping my manager (you, hiring manager) well informed”

…and the list goes on. Of course, people DO change. All A Players learn and grow, and they overcome weaker points, because they are self-aware, eager to learn, and follow through on their development plans. But… all 6,500 managers I’ve interviewed have mis-hired people who claimed to have overcome some weaker points but hadn’t, at least yet.

Don’t bet someone has changed for the better unless they have proved they already have changed for the better… in reference calls with managers from the past 3 years.

No matter what interview approach you use, that “approach” probably asks the candidate for examples of successes but also failures; candidates know they can’t claim they are perfect so they admit a current weaker point and usually claim they have overcome it. Because reference calls are almost always worthless, candidates figure they can get away with it.

Fortunately Topgrading elicits the truth because 1) candidates are told that a final step in hiring is for them (not you) to arrange reference calls with their bosses, so they admit REAL weaker points, 2) the Topgrading Interview covers all jobs, and 3) you should hear from those bosses that the weaker point in question was NOT a weaker point for at least the past 3 years. In other words, the candidate says that although there was that weaker point for years, they overcame it and the reference calls will show NO evidence of that weaker point for at least 3 years.

Maybe they are sincere in believing they can overcome the weaker point, but in my 6,500 interviews I’ve heard candidates say they intended to overcome that weaker point after job 3… and again after 4… and 5 and… you get the point. It’s sort of like someone professing they will stop smoking, and the joke is, “I’ve stopped many times.”

What if the candidate admits a shortcoming that is serious and almost never overcome – like dishonesty, laziness, not achieving goals, or a poor team player? Would you ever bet that candidate has changed? Sure. A front-page Wall Street Journal article explained why I bet that a stock broker fired for dishonesty had changed. He told me that when he was fired he was shattered, that he had lost the respect of his family and friends, and so he would be 100% honest in the future. Here’s the point: he insisted that my client contact every manager he had since being fired a decade ago. He assured my client that all managers would say he was 100% honest and that his integrity was “rock solid.” The reference calls all confirmed it. Though not able to legally sell a stock or bond for the rest of his career, he rose to Chairman and CEO of one of the largest financial services companies, leading to the positive version of my advice:

Bet someone has changed for the better when reference checks with all managers of the candidate in recent years confirm that the desired changes have taken place.

I hope these tips help you avoid costly mis-hires.

More from this series:

Scroll to Top