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HomeBusiness & FinanceI Interviewed a Candidate Who Didn't Know What Was on His Resume

I Interviewed a Candidate Who Didn’t Know What Was on His Resume columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues — everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.

1. I interviewed a candidate who didn’t know what was on his resume.

For several years now, my company has outsourced a particular function to contractors, who use a well-known model, which I’ll call Model A. I oversee these contractors so I have some level of familiarity with Model A. We recently decided that we want to bring this function in-house, so we are looking to hire someone.

We received one candidate whose resume stated explicitly that he currently uses Model A at another company. During our interview, I asked him about his daily responsibilities, telling him that I was familiar with Model A. He told me that he didn’t know what Model A was. I pointed out that it was on his resume, but he insisted he didn’t know that term. He didn’t seem particularly embarrassed or concerned about the fact that he didn’t know what was on his own resume, but did seem somewhat surprised that the term was included there. He did turn out to be well-versed with the model, even though he does not know that it’s called that.

How much should I care that he probably just copied and pasted his current job description onto his resume without actually reviewing or fully understanding the content? I am considering not hiring him because of this, along with a vague feeling that he may be a good talker and a less good performer. But I can’t decide if it’s really that big a deal.

Green responds:

I’d explore that vague feeling more. Are there other things making you think he might be more of a talker than a performer, or is it just this? If it’s more than this, dig in there — that’s not something you should ignore.

But if it’s just this…. I wouldn’t be thrilled either. But a lot of people do get help with their resumes or pull from their job descriptions. It doesn’t reflect well on them if they do that mindlessly, but you should weigh that against what’s important for this job. If it’s a job where written communication is really important, it matters more than for a job that barely involves the written word at all.

Ideally you would have just named the weirdness and asked about it during the interview: “You seem surprised that this term is on your resume. How did it end up there?” (Don’t say that in an accusatorial tone, just in a curious one.)

If you’re doing a second interview with him — and I would, if you otherwise thought he was strong — you could ask that then and see what additional insight you get. But if it turns out that he just got some help with his resume or pulled from his old job description, I wouldn’t let that, alone, stop you from hiring him if the job isn’t writing-heavy. (Make sure you do some actual skills testing, though — for everyone, but especially here.)

2. Employees keep saying, “I don’t understand why we’re doing X.”

I manage a lot of process improvement. When we’re rolling out new initiatives to employees, I often hear, “I don’t understand why we need this new thing.” I usually assume they are asking for clarification because they want to understand, so I’ll explain the problem we’re trying to solve, and they just repeat, “Yeah, but I don’t understand why we’re doing that.” Sometimes I try to explain again, being careful to be more clear or use better examples. But it often ends up seeming like they just don’t want the new process to happen at all, even though they won’t say that.

It’s happened enough that I wonder if the problem is me. I’m a pretty direct person and also not great with subtext, so this might be one of those subtle social cues that I’ve never been great at picking up on. Is it common that saying, “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” actually means, “I don’t like that we’re doing X”?

Green responds:

Yeah, “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” often does mean, “I don’t like that we’re doing X and I don’t understand why someone thinks it’s a good idea.”

Not always. Sometimes it genuinely means, “I don’t understand why we’re doing X and would like to. Can you explain it to me?” Often you can tell the difference by the tone the person uses, or by the rest of the conversation. (If you explain exactly why you’re doing X and the person is still saying, “Yeah, but I don’t understand why,” there’s a decent chance that they mean, “That reason doesn’t cancel out my dislike of this change.”)

Sometimes you can say, “It sounds like you have concerns about the change. Do you want to tell me what your concerns are, and I can make sure we consider them in our planning?”

But this is a big thing when you’re working on process improvement. It’s not uncommon to get a lot of push-back. Sometimes that’s just a general dislike of change, but sometimes it’s based on legitimate and important concerns. So in most cases, it’s worth drawing people out about what their concerns are. You might not be able to change things to please them, but sometimes you’ll get crucial perspectives you wouldn’t have otherwise had. Plus, change usually goes down better when people feel they’ve had an opportunity to give feedback and be heard.

3. I accidentally described myself as outgoing when I’m not.

When I interviewed for my new job, I was asked to describe myself in three words or phrases. I said, “professional, a self-starter, and outgoing.”

The first two are true. But I’m not outgoing. I’m usually introverted and quiet, although I am very good at networking. Also, my last job required a lot of customer service interaction, so I was primed to think of that while I was interviewing.

I swear that it wasn’t intended as a lie! It was just something that came to mind and I said it without thinking. But when I start this next job — which is not a customer-facing position — are they going to be expecting me to be super outgoing, or can I be more like myself?

Green responds:

Nah, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. They’re probably not going to mention the exact details of your answer to that question. And even if they did, they’re not likely to hold it against you.

The only thing I’d worry about here is whether you may have inadvertently gotten yourself hired into a job that isn’t the right match for you — if they really want/need someone who’s outgoing and you’re not. But A: It’s unlikely that a single word in an interview would result in that. And B: It sounds like you’ve adapted to environments that required a lot of interaction in the past.

Either way, your best bet here is to be yourself and see how it goes.

4. Ethics of recruiting an employee from my previous job.

I work in the nonprofit sector and started with a new and larger nonprofit less than a month ago. I was involved with hiring a new staff member at my previous association; this new staff member had been with us less than six months when I left. We have an opening at my new association that this person would potentially be an excellent fit for, not to mention that the pay, benefits, and opportunities for career growth are significantly better.

What are the ethics regarding recruiting this employee? I fear the optics would be very poor.

Green responds:

Your previous organization doesn’t own its employees. That said, they likely won’t be thrilled if she leaves after six months. And if they hear you actively recruited her away from them, they likely won’t be thrilled with you, either. If that matters to you, I’d use a fairly light touch when you approach her: Make her aware of the position but don’t actively lobby her to take it. One way to do it is to send her the posting with a note asking if she knows anyone who might be good for it. You could add as an aside, “Frankly, it would be perfect for you or someone like you!”

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to [email protected].

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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