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Are These Really Bad Hires? How to Evaluate Questionable Work Histories

It’s easy to dismiss candidates based on certain resume indicators.

For example, when you find tenures that are too short – or even too long – it’s on to the next.

But are you overlooking otherwise good, experienced candidates by making too many assumptions?

Here’s how you can avoid five common stereotypes and properly evaluate your candidates’ work histories.

1. Job hoppers

Spotty job history is often a turnoff to employers.

It’s easy to assume these candidates have difficult personalities or performance issues. But you should never completely disqualify candidates based on one attribute, like tenure, alone.

Even if tenure doesn’t look promising, give qualified candidates a second look. Take the time to figure out whether their departures were legitimate. There are many reasons job movement can occur. Use your interview to get the full story.

For example, you could ask, “Why do you think this opportunity is different from your past positions? Why do you think that you’ll want to stay?”

Try to understand their motivation. Is it an issue of boredom? Are your candidates continuously looking for a job that’s unrealistic? Or, is it something else entirely? For example, have they had difficult life circumstances over the past few years?

If you think difficult circumstances are at play, be sure to review candidates’ professional history over the course of their entire career, not just the past couple years.

Say, for example, in an unstable job market, your candidate continuously took the best position he could find in an effort to keep food on the table. In this case, there might have been quite a bit of job movement.

There comes a time to decide whether you want to take a chance on candidates. After spending time sourcing, recruiting and onboarding these individuals, you’ll want them to stay. So, while you shouldn’t disqualify candidates based on tenure, you want to be aware of it as well. You do run some risk with these individuals, so weigh the good with the bad.

2. Extended career break

You can’t assume that all career breaks are bad. Sabbaticals occur for a lot of reasons, and many of them are rational once explained.

If you notice resume gaps, use your interview to learn why candidates took a break.

For example, you could say, “I see there’s a gap on your resume. Why did you take time off? What were you trying to accomplish?” Or, “Some might question your motivation for taking a year off. How do you explain that?”

At times, sabbaticals are a chance for individuals to fulfill life goals – whether it’s to start a family or learn a new skill. It’s hard to not see that as a positive thing.

Or maybe your candidate took a year off travel. That’s not always a bad thing. Just think – when you take a break, you tend to come back re-energized. You return with a lot more to give.

On occasion, extended breaks are forced due to layoffs. Because the economy is still recovering, you may find individuals who couldn’t find a job for several months.

When evaluating candidates who were laid off, look for those who used that time to better themselves. People who spent their time reading or learning new skills show a lot of promise. Often, when these individuals return to work, they have their wings back – they’re ready to contribute and make an impact.

Beware of candidates who left a job without much thought. For example, candidates who suddenly decided to take a break without a plan of how to spend that time. This could indicate that they lack focus, purpose and direction.

3. Same company for extended period of time

These could actually be your best candidates.

Not only are they loyal, but these candidates have stayed with a company long enough to know how to change with the tides. Their ability to adapt has taken them far already.

Look at their history within their company. If they were consistently promoted, that’s also a good sign. It means they’re go-getters, problem-solvers and can quickly adopt new ideas.

You’ll want to use the interview to determine their motivation for making a career move.

If they have the right motivation, they could be a great addition to your team.

4. Same job for extended period of time

If your applicants have held the same positions for several years, you might wonder whether their skills are antiquated. It begs the question: Have they performed the same duties for years on repeat?

You’ll need to evaluate their experience, your available position and what you need from this role in the next few years.

Do you need a Steady Eddie? You know that these individuals can bring consistency. They can do the same process repeatedly without getting bored or losing interest. They’re stable, and they might make a great hire for a job that won’t change.

If it’s an evolving role, make sure your candidates have spent their time innovating. Find out if they were a real producer for their company.

For example, you could ask, “Did you ever come up with any processes that made your company run better or grow faster? Was there anything you created that reduced costs, increased value or productivity? What were the results of those changes?”

Seldom do you find innovators who haven’t created a few processes in their time.

5. Self-employed

Those who are self-employed may not have many boundaries. They’re used to setting their own hours. And making their own decisions. They’re their own boss.

You might be concerned with how these candidates will cope when they’re suddenly a part of a bigger team. For instance, how will they react to losing freedom and flexibility, and reporting to a new boss?

While you have to be wary to some degree, just think of what these candidates can bring to the table.

They’re accustomed to rolling up their sleeves. They’ve probably worn a lot of different hats. In many cases, they’ve done their own business development, scheduling and selling. And, they tend to be hard workers.

Use the interview to get a feel for how they’d adapt to a new environment.

For example, you could say, “You were self-employed. You would now be a part of a team with a manager and specific hours. How do you think you’ll react to that? Do you foresee any challenges to working with a new set of rules to be successful?”

Have candidates explain how they’ve operated in a similar environment in the past. In their response, look for evidence that they’ve already considered this question. Candidates who say they’re seeking more structure and increased collaboration will likely be your best hire.

Making a hiring decision

Remember, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to evaluating candidates. You have to look at it situation by situation. But if you see candidates with the right experience, take the time to hear their stories before you summarily dismiss them.

As you think through your hiring decision, ask the following questions:

  • What are you trying to solve? How can your candidates solve it?
  • Do their resumes speak to the skills and experiences you’re seeking?
  • Have they worked in comparable industries that might add value to your organization?
  • Have they dealt with the type of customers and clients you deal with?
  • Have they sold the type of products or services you’re selling?
  • Have they worked in an environment that has something in common with your workplace?

The more commonalities you can find in your candidates’ experiences, the more likely they’ll be a good fit.

Want more recruiting advice?

Download our complimentary e-book, Obstacles to Hiring: How to Overcome Nine Common Challenges.

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Lizzie Jeffrey

Great article on a subject that doesn’t see enough attention in HR! Thanks, Joe.

Insperity Blog

Thank you for reading, Lizzie!

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Debbie Stein

good article Joe. I try to keep an open mind regarding candidates if the skills are there on the resume’. I’ve found some great people with very odd resume’s.

Insperity Blog

Thank you, Debbie! It’s great to know you gave those candidates’ resumes further review and hired good employees because of it. Thanks for sharing your experience and have a great weekend.