Candidates have become far more sophisticated at marketing themselves. Through LinkedIn, resume writing services, and social media, they have become experts at influencing you with their resume, interview skills, and persona. Unfortunately, that also means it’s becoming easier to hire another company’s rejects because some candidates are getting savvy at selling themselves.

Do you want to avoid getting stuck with a problem hire? Here are some suggestions to help you dig down to find the real capabilities, strengths, and attributes that candidates possess and get a true picture of how they will fit into your organization’s overall growth plan. The goal is to become a smart consumer who gets beyond candidates’ marketing hype and doesn’t “get romanced” by the wrong crowd.

First, Get Your Own Head on Straight

You need to think clearly about the role to be filled. Specify the duties, responsibilities, and results you expect from the candidate – not just today but also a year from now. Write them down and discuss them with the candidate’s work team. This will help you understand the attributes and skills that will really matter for success.

Next, you should closely examine your value system: your own, the company’s, and those of the hiring manager’s department. Hiring and working with someone who shares the same values, work ethic, communication style, and attitudes about moving things forward is much easier.

When you put this all together, you’ll have a good idea of the type of person you really need. You’ll be far less likely to “fall in love” with a candidate because of personal chemistry or impressive credentials that don’t fit your business needs or values.

Be Alert to Warning Signs

Take a serious look at candidates’ resumes. First, ask the classic questions: Is the resume easy to read? Are there grammatical or spelling errors? Does this candidate know how to communicate the value they bring, and what have they done so far? Next, look for deeper problems: hints of things that a reasonable, career-dedicated person would not do. Examples of red flags include short-lived positions, illogical career transitions, accomplishing too much in a short period of time (like becoming a fighter pilot while playing college athletics and making the dean’s list) and consulting assignments that are not identified by a specific customer or market segment.

Does the candidate have a track record of staying three or more years in each position? Have they been promoted within the same company? Due to COVID and rapid capital market changes, the past three years have been difficult for many companies and people; consequently, candidates may not have had a long tenure in their last one or two positions. If this was due to company closings or a shifting commercial direction, was it that the company no longer needed the candidate’s skills, or did the signs point to a bad hire to begin with? Some candidates may have taken “consulting assignments” between positions – check that these consulting assignments are just that and not short-lived positions from which they were terminated.

You also want to be sure you are working with candidates who are serious about their careers and have invested in them. Does the resume show that they were dedicated to learning more skills and challenging themselves? Did they solve important business problems, save money, generate revenue, or streamline processes?

Do Your Homework

This is a critical step, but it is often ignored when personal chemistry with the candidate is good. Skip it at your peril!

Verify the information on the resume, such as dates of employment, position titles, educational degrees, military service, etc. If candidates handle money or sensitive information, procure credit and criminal background checks. Imagine how you would feel if something that was relevant to the job did surface.

Some companies also require a drug test before making an offer. When it is relevant to the job responsibilities, some companies conduct assessments — tests that candidates take either online or with a psychologist — to determine their psychological profile, motivations, attitudes, propensity for lying, and more.

One of the goals of recruiting is to make an informed decision. The more job-relevant information you discover about a candidate, the easier it is to make a sound job match.

You should also make a serious time commitment to reviewing references. Plan to speak with 10 to 12 people who have worked directly with a candidate. They do not all need to be in a supervisory role; you may speak with clients, peers, or employees. You can usually start with three or four referrals from the candidate and expand the list through your discussions with these referrals (i.e., ask who else knows the candidate’s work product). You also want to be sure that you get recent references, from the past one to four years, unless the candidate has worked with the same people for a lengthy period of time.

Get Personal

More than one interview is necessary, with an interview team as an ideal format. Start with a phone interview for screening purposes. If you are interested, invite them to come in for interviews that are based on questions tailored to the job specification and the candidate.

No one is perfect. Most people have something they regret and have learned from in their work history.

Formulate your interview questions to find out about these experiences. You want to know what candidates are capable of, what their Achilles’ heel might be, and if they can learn from their mistakes.

The most effective interview questions are open-ended and behavioral because they elicit the most useful information predicting future behavior. Commit to finding out how candidates have managed pressure, difficult situations, tough people, and challenging negotiations. Include follow-on questions to understand who did what, etc., in the experiences they describe.

You want the candidate to want you, so do not delay the process and signal that you are not that interested in them. You don’t wait too long between interviews or to provide critical feedback. Your goal is to have more than one candidate that is interested in working for you.

Practice May Not Always Make Perfect

Hiring is as much an art as it is a science, so there are no guarantees. You may review the resume, conduct thorough interviews and reference checks, and still not get it right all of the time. But each step conducted thoughtfully and insight-fully exponentially improves the likelihood that the candidate will be a good fit.

The most important things to remember are to remain objective, know what you want the candidate to accomplish before you start, and thoroughly gather information about the candidate. If you can check these off, then you know you have done everything possible to hire the best candidate for the job.