4 ways to weed out low performers in the interview

4 ways to weed out low performers in the interview

In the quest to make the right hire, it can be harder than expected to weed out low performers. Whether they lied on their resume or are just great at selling themselves, a low performer can sneak into your shortlist and you need to identify them ASAP. Luckily, there are a few red flags to look for.

Here are four ways to weed out low performers in the interview.

Watch tense

In the research for his book, Hiring for Attitude, Leadership IQ CEO Mark Murphy found that high-performing employees speak in the past tense 40 per cent more often than low performers.

“When you ask high performers to tell you about a past experience, they’re 40% more likely than low performers to answer using past tense verbs,” Murphy told the American Management Association. “That’s because high performers actually have the experience to recount and they’re not afraid to reveal their attitude to you.”

Low performers, meanwhile, use the present tense 120 times more often, and are 70 per cent more likely to use the future tense. In short: look for the candidate that tells you what they “did” rather than what they are “doing” or “will do.”

Listen for pronouns

According to Murphy, low performers are 400 per cent more likely to use second person pronouns (like you and your) in their interview responses.

“You’ll hear high performers using a lot of first person pronouns (‘I did…’),” said Murphy in the American Management Association interview. “On the other hand, a person who has nothing to share or who wants to hide something (like a bad attitude) will use absolutes and speak in a fluffy way using lots of adverbs and lots of future tense verbs and far more second and third person pronouns. You’re going to hear a lot more ‘he/she did’ than you will ‘I did…’ from low performers.”

It’s a bit of a no-brainer: if someone is focusing on what other people did, they’re probably not a top performer.

Also, be wary of the first person plural, rather than singular. An overuse of phrases like “we did” might indicate someone piggybacking on others’ achievements – or even a lie, according to James Pennebaker, who developed a textual analysis computer program in the 1990s. “A person who’s lying tends to use ‘we’ more or use sentences without a first-person pronoun at all,” said Pennebaker in a Q&A with Harvard Business Review. “Instead of saying ‘I didn’t take your book,’ a liar might say ‘That’s not the kind of thing that anyone with integrity would do.’ People who are honest use exclusive words like ‘but’ and ‘without’ and negations such as ‘no,’ ‘none,’ and ‘never’ much more frequently.”

Ask performance based questions

Conventional wisdom suggests that past behaviour is the best indicator of future performance. People who have spent their lives lying on the sofa watching Netflix usually don’t suddenly turn into go-getters, just as successful people don’t suddenly decide to lie on the sofa and watch Netflix for the rest of their days. That’s why questions about past performance are a great way to weed out low performers from the rest.

However, it may also be worthwhile to ask about future performance as well. In an interview with Recruit Loop, Lou Adler of the Adler Group suggests a performance-based interview with two types of questions. The first asks for a specific example of past performance, like the candidate’s most significant career accomplishment to date. The second asks for a predictor of future performance, such as how they would solve a particular problem.

For more interview question tips and tricks, download our free eGuide, Interviewing for success. Here’s a sneak peek:

Throw down a challenge

According to Inc, Tejune Kang of IT firm Six Dimensions has an original way of weeding out the passive candidates. After the interview, he says, “It sounds like you have the right degree, the right background, and the right skills, but in our company every employee has those qualities. That’s a given. The problem is, I just don’t see that extra something in you that all of our people have. I’m sorry, but I just don’t think this is the right fit for you.”

Says Inc:

“Then he sits back and waits. What happens? Nine out of 10 people immediately fold. They say, ‘Well, I appreciate your time.’ They say, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way, but thanks for the interview.’ But the true gems don’t fold. They instead immediately rise to the challenge. After all, they want the job and know his company is the right fit for them. So they work hard to overcome his resistance. They say, ‘I think you’re wrong. I’m here for a reason. Here’s what you’re not seeing.’ In short, superstars don’t give up–which is exactly what you want every employee to do.”

Whether you want to go so far as to do this kind of test with your candidates, or just keep an eye out for those red flag pronouns, the goal is the same: weed out low performers to let the superstars shine.

See also:
8 ways to spot a star performer


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