Getting the Truth From Job Applicants


Every job applicant I’ve interviewed in the last ten days claims to be a “team player” and “motivated by challenge.” I’m calling b.s. They either don’t know themselves very well or they’re liars.

I keep finding that individuals who say they’re team players when interviewed, don’t play well with others when hire and those who say they challenge complain as soon as they face it.

How do I learn the truth when I’m interviewing?


Begin with conversation-starting interview questions. Ask, “If you were offered two jobs, what would lead you to choose one over the other?” and “If you land this job, hoping it will be an ‘A’ job, what might be the small disappointments that will cause you to feel it is only an ‘A-‘ or ‘B+’ job after four months have passed?”

Then ask questions that drill down. Ask, “What can you tell me that demonstrates your ability to actually operate as a member of a team?” and, “Give me an example of a challenge you faced that forced you to go above and beyond. How did you handle that challenge?” When your applicants answer these questions, listen for specifics and not generalities.

Also, learn what drives your candidate. Tell your interviewee, “I’d like to learn about your career journey. I’ll ask you to travel back in your memories to job X. What led you to take the job?” Once you’ve heard the answer, ask, “What led you to leave it?”

Repeat the process with the job or position two jobs prior to the candidate’s current/most recent job and the job prior to the current/most recent position.

These casual questions reveal patterns. You may hear, “I wanted a new challenge” two or three times. If so, you can ask, “Was there a way you or your employer could have increased the challenges of that job?”  

When you’re listening to your applicant’s answers, pay as much attention to nonverbal signs as what the candidate says. The most important nonverbal clues appear as the applicant decides how to answer a question before speaking. These clues are called “meta-expressions.” As an example, imagine your applicant tightens his/her mouth and looks upset but then says, “my supervisor and I got along well.” When nonverbal signals contradict what an applicant says, believe the nonverbal.

You won’t, however, get “the rest of the story” until you conduct in-depth reference checks. Ask a minimum of two former supervisors for detailed information about each candidate, using questions such as, “What specifically tells you that this former employee was a team member?” and, “Give me an example of what happened when this job candidate faced a challenge that pushed him to truly stretch.”

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, and “Solutions”, (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Send your questions to her at, visit her @ or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

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One thought on “Getting the Truth From Job Applicants

  1. Wise, wise strategy! It’s a real conversation, too, not something scripted. Gerat ideas here, and hopefully, some great truths are told!

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