You thought the job applicant knocked it out of the park with his resume and his answers to your interview questions. You interviewed the references he provided. Do you make the offer?

Not so fast. Have you checked out the real person behind the resume and interview answers? Have you asked probing questions or just the standard ones? What about the references your candidate didn’t provide? If you search the applicant out on social media, will you find posts that shock you?

If a job applicant you’ve taken at face value has ever fooled you or disappointed you once hired, try the following the next time you interview:

Ask questions that take interviews from surface to in-depth

Here are three samples:

“If you took this job, hoping it would be an ‘A’ job, what are the small disappointments that would lead you to feel it was only a ‘B+’ job?”

“If you took this job, what could another employer offer you to lure you aware two years from now?”

“When I call your last supervisor, what will s/he tell me about you?”

As another example, when Alaska-based employers to vet out-of-state candidates before they bring them up for in-person interview, I expect the applicants to voice excitement about Alaska.  Then I ask, “would you be more interested in a job offer from a company in L.A. or Portland”? If they respond L.A., I ask “how come?” If they answer, “more opportunities,” I then ask “San Francisco or Seattle?” If they answer “San Francisco because it’s more cosmopolitan,” it makes me doubt their long-term interest in Anchorage.

Dig into reference information

            Most employers don’t adequately question references.  A thorough reference check contacts the references not listed as well as those listed by the applicant and lasts at least fifteen minutes. I won’t soon forget my uneasiness when interviewing a subsidiary manager accused of sexual harassment while conducting an investigation for a client. On impulse, I asked for the manager’s resume and conducted a reference check, although my client had insisted their employment search firm had conducted a thorough reference check pre-hire. When I asked one reference, “how long did you supervise him and in what capacity,” the vagueness of the answer bothered me so I probed further. The glowing reference came from a supervisor at a prison library where both were inmates.

Check out your candidate on social media

You can’t afford to ignore social media. It can reveal whether your candidate can present him or herself professionally; discrepancies in a resume or application; whether the applicant bad-mouths past employers, and even involvement in illegal activities.

At the same time, vetting job candidates on social media opens a Pandora’s Box. You learn information that federal and state laws don’t allow you to consider, such as the applicant’s race, family status, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, age, and medical conditions. Further, if your applicant has a common name, you may find posts authored by someone other than your candidate, leading you to assess the wrong individual.

Manage these risks by making social media vetting part of the reference and background check process and by focusing on job-related characteristics, such as verification of work history, education and credential, memberships and other criteria important to the position and ignoring anything related to protected categories. You can find this information in blog posts, press releases and other media mentions. If a post showing questionable judgment leads you to make a no-hire decision, make a screen shot of the post along with the URL.

If you haven’t searched out your candidate on LinkedIn, twitter and haven’t asked in-depth questions of the applicant and his references, remember this – avoiding a bad hire is one hundred times easier than getting rid of a problem employee.

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully.” Send your questions to her at or follow her twitter @lynnecurry10.

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