The Evil Twin Syndrome

It’s only been a week since your new hire started and you’re already wondering, Is that the same person I interviewed?

I call this the Evil Twin Syndrome. You interviewed the good twin. The one with all the right answers to your interview questions. The one with the engaging smile and the firm handshake.

But who showed up for work on the first day? The evil twin. The one who is 20 minutes late. The one who has already asked off for next Friday. The one who doesn’t seem to have the skills the good twin claimed to have.

There are a couple of reasons why this happens:

1. Your interview process is designed to determine which candidate makes the best first impression and interviews the best, not which candidate will perform the job the best. The academic way to say it is the interview lacks validity. The practical way to say it is the way questions are asked and answered doesn’t accurately predict whether the candidate will actually do well in the role.

The solution to interviewing better is to ask better questions. Sounds pretty simple, but I’ve sat-in on many interviews with executives and I’m amazed at how poorly some of them prepare for and conduct interviews. Often they are looking at the resume for the first time as they walk into the conference room. One common mistake I see is providing the candidate the answer before they ask they question. Jane, I’m looking for someone who can do X, Y and Z. Can you do X, Y and Z? Jane responds, Absolutely! The next question is, Great, when can you start? The executive checks the box and moves to another priority. When Jane’s evil twin shows up for work, everyone is surprised when she is struggling with Y. After all, we asked her if she could do it and she said, Yes.

Really good interviewers ask probing, open-ended questions that don’t reveal what the interviewer is specifically looking for. Jane, tell me about a time you did X? What were the challenges you faced doing X? Which X-related projects are you most proud of and why? Have you ever been responsible for Y? Tell me about your experience with Y-related challenges?

For some roles, I recommend giving each interviewer a specific assignment and a list of questions. Interviewer number one might only be responsible for determining if Jane has the technical skills needed to perform the job. Interviewer number 2 might only be responsible for determining if Jane’s preferences regarding company culture, manager and peer relationships, and communication styles align with the realities of our organization. This is much more effective than having two or three interviewers in a row ask the same questions – Jane, why did you leave your last job?

In my experience, really good interviewers make good selection choices only about 50-60% of the time when they depend on their gut instinct alone. How can they improve on those statistics? That question is answered when we look at the 2nd reason we end up with the evil twin too often:

2. The interview is not supplemented with anything to highlight those potential discrepancies between what the candidate said in the interview and how they might actually behave.

A lot of managers skip the reference check because so many companies today are hesitant to give out any information beyond confirming the candidate actually worked there when they say they did. Even though some calls are non-informative, I still get some that are helpful. LinkedIn is an excellent resource for accessing people in the candidate’s network who might offer some insight into how a candidate might fit into your role.

But an even more important method is layering-on one or more pre-employment assessments. The right mix of assessments will show you how the candidate is likely to behave under pressure, what motivates a candidate to give discretionary effort, and what competencies they really bring to the team. To get the most out of an assessment, it should be benchmarked to the job in advance. Some managers use assessments, but review the results without a benchmark and having already decided they want to hire the candidate. They then rationalize-away any results that might suggest the candidate is not an ideal fit. This pattern leads some to lose confidence in assessments altogether. They used the assessment, but they still got the evil twin.

I haven’t made an important hire in the past 15 years without considering assessment results. And I can’t imagine making an important hiring decision without them! They have definitely improved my good hire percentage and cut down on the number of times I’ve experienced The Evil Twin Syndrome.

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