how do I ask references about a candidate’s personality?

A reader writes:

I am a manager at a nonprofit and hire part-time workers to work in recreation-type centers across the city. Since they are working with kids, adults, volunteers, stakeholders, etc., strong interpersonal skills are part of what we look for. However, interviews make people nervous, and it can be a little hard to judge those skills in interview (but not impossible — we generally do a pretty good job).

My question is about checking references and getting managers to talk about interpersonal skills with us. For example, we recently interviewed someone who was GREAT on paper and quite good during the phone screen, but was just … odd in person. She swayed/rocked nervously when answering, sort of closed her eyes while thinking, and kept her hands very tightly clasped, almost like she was wringing them. It was enough that I was sure this was at least somewhat akin to her regular demeanor at work, but her answers and resume were solid, so I moved forward to the reference check just in case. No one would give me anything other than glowing reviews about her interpersonal skills, and it sounds terrible now that I’m typing it out, but I just wasn’t convinced. If managers had said “yeah, Mary can come across a little oddly on first impression, but she has xyz strengths that helped her build strong relationships,” then I actually would have had my mind put more at ease.

We ended up not hiring Mary for a few reasons, but mainly because it just felt too risky based on our gut reaction to her.

But since this comes up every once in awhile, how should I handle situations like this? How frank can I be when asking past managers about social skills? Can I say “Mary came across a little oddly in our conversation, like she was extremely nervous; is that something that has been an issue in the past?” That question is not well-worded obviously, but I’m just having trouble thinking of some more direct questions to get at this issue!

Yes, you can absolutely ask references about interpersonal skills! Many jobs require a particular type of social skill — whether it’s being able to quickly build rapport with people, or establishing trust with a skeptical audience, or putting people at ease, or dealing effectively with strong personalities, or all sorts of other things.

The key is to think about what’s truly needed in the role. You don’t want to fall into the trap of rejecting someone great because she doesn’t seem outgoing enough if the role is, say, doing data entry by herself all day. In other words, make sure it’s not just about whether or not you like someone’s personality, but about what traits are (and aren’t) linked with excelling in the job.

You can define that pretty broadly; excelling in the job will usually mean not being an arrogant jerk, interrupting people, being rude, and so forth. You just don’t want to get overly broad and reject someone for being shy or offbeat or quirky or otherwise different from the rest of you when it really won’t matter. Sometimes people run amok with this and reject people for simply being different from the rest of their team, justifying it as a matter of team cohesion. You want to watch out for that, because that’s how you end up with homogenous teams with group-think, as well as very little diversity of race, age, socioeconomic background, etc.

Anyway, as for what to say to references, it’s fine to be pretty direct. I probably wouldn’t say “Mary came across a little oddly,” but it would be fine to say, “Mary seemed like she might have been quite nervous in our interview. Did you ever observe nerves being in an issue in her work or in her relationships with colleagues?”

You can also ask things like, “I had trouble getting a sense of what Mary is like to work with day to day. What can you tell me about her personality and her relationships with others at work?” Or “the person in this role will have to establish warm relationships pretty quickly with a variety of personalities. Can you tell me about times you’ve seen Mary do that?”

In some cases, too, it can make sense to ask the candidate about your concern directly. In this case, if you did a second interview with Mary, you could dig into times in the past when she’s had to use interpersonal skills at work, build relationships with people, and so forth. In other cases (although maybe not this one), you can just name the concern for the candidate and see what they say. For example, if you were worried that a candidate was too soft-spoken to be able to successfully deal with your office’s domineering personalities, you could say something like, “This job requires fielding some pretty difficult personalities. You seem pretty soft-spoken and I wonder how you’d approach that.” You might end up hearing that your very soft-spoken candidate has tons of compelling stories about doing that successfully in the past … or the ensuing conversation might solidify your worries. Either way, you’ll get better information by naming your concern and asking about it.

{ 135 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Kyrielle

    These issues can be approached gently and well, and Alison’s given some great examples – having that framework available so you’ve thought about it before asking will help a lot.

    Just make sure you’ve thought out a framework of approaching the topics in general first, so you don’t blurt in the moment (to a very nervous, shaking candidate, who had “kindly” been given a cup of strong coffee by the admin while waiting), “Are you on drugs?” (Actual question asked by a coworker of mine in a real interview. I…just kind of sat there blinking. Which, come to think of it, was the candidate’s reaction too. I think we might have hired him.)

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      1. Kyrielle

        I *think* so? It was nearly two decades ago, so I’m worried I’m conflating two candidates in my mind. (The train wreck of a question was very memorable, though.)

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    1. Minion

      That’s great. I tend to say stupid, inappropriate things when I’m nervous and trying to lighten the atmosphere. I can see myself replying, “Only on Wednesdays and every other Sunday.”
      Followed, of course, by, “Don’t get up, I’ll show myself out.”

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      1. Kyrielle

        …the guy who asked that question probably would have cracked up by the end of your first sentence and tried asking you a question over the top of your second, actually.

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      2. Orca

        I now canNOT remember what drove me to this response, but when I interviewed for my current job (not in Wisconsin) I had mentioned I was originally from Wisconsin and the men interviewing me were talking about it and I…said there were a lot of mass murderers from Wisconsin?? Which is true but not the best thing to bring up in a job interview. Luckily, one of them very jokingly was like “well, thank you for coming in, have a great day murderer” and then continued the interview through my stammering apologies…I’ll have to ask my manager why they decided to hire me after that.

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        1. Elizabeth S.

          I now want to end every work conversation with “thanks, have a great day murderer!”

          Your workplace sounds like someplace I’d like to work. Especially since it isn’t in Wisconsin.

          (Just kidding, but I don’t do cold well.)

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          1. Orca

            I don’t do cold well either, I’m definitely further south now.

            And I just asked my manager and he doesn’t even remember me bringing up serial killers SO I guess it remarkably didn’t make an impression!

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        2. Businesslady

          Haha, I once was in an interview where the candidate, in response to two separate questions about overcoming challenging job situations, told stories about changing adult diapers in a nursing home and cleaning out kennels at an animal shelter. I couldn’t resist saying something like “okay, so I’m getting that dealing with excrement isn’t your favorite thing, but since this is an office position…”

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          1. Orca

            Like on That 70s Show where Eric is offered SEVERAL jobs that deal with disposing of dead animals and then is talking to a bank manager and goes, ” Just to be clear: this job does NOT INVOLVE dealing with or killing animal???”

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    2. Lemon Zinger

      Wow. If someone had asked me that, I’d walk right out of there. How incredibly rude and unprofessional.

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  2. Bend & Snap

    …Mary sounds nervous and that’s it.

    But it’s really common to ask about how people are to work with, collaboration skills, people skills. Soft skills are important too, and fair game in reference checking.

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    1. Stranger than fiction

      Yeah, most likely. Years and years ago, after being hired, my manager joked about how I was swinging my one leg the whole time I interviewed and I had had no idea! Just a nervous tick and I was young and not so aware.

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      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        My nervous tic when I was young and unaware was twisting a strand of hair. I have an oral report in high school, and my teacher asked me if I was aware that I was twisting my hair the whole time. I was not aware.

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  3. Looc64

    I’m just gonna point out that rocking, hand clasping, etc. are all stuff that an autisic person might do. I get that gut feelings can be pretty helpful in hiring, but sometimes gut feelings come from prejudice.

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    1. fposte

      One of the reasons the comment policy requests people not armchair diagnose is because it doesn’t help people figure out what to *do*. If the job needs social skills of a certain degree, it doesn’t really matter whether she lacks them because she’s autistic, anxious, or oblivious. That’s not prejudice, that’s finding candidates who can do the job rather than sentencing both employee and employer to a circle of dissatisfaction from a bad fit.

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      1. SystemsLady

        I was going to say, even non-clinical levels of anxiety combined with a lack of being conscious of it can lead to this kind of thing. Doesn’t really matter what it is.

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    2. TeaCozy

      I also noticed that she seemed to be stimming. Still, fposte has a point that if the job requires social skills which Mary happens to lack, regardless of why she lacks them, it makes sense to move on with other candidates. Maybe she’s better suited to work that lets her open up and relax gradually with the same coworkers each day, rather than regularly being confronted with strangers (which interpersonal skills-heavy jobs likely involve).

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      1. fposte

        The beauty of a good reference call is that you can get more information about this, too–some people don’t have the smoothest social face but are still fine communicators in practice, whereas some really are at their best when not dealing with a ton of other people.

        I work in academics, where stereotypies run rampant in the neurotypical and neurodivergent alike :-). We have a lot of positions where a social manner isn’t a high priority–but there are also jobs where it is.

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        1. Looc64

          Sorry, I wasn’t trying to armchair diagnose. I stim a lot, and I’m kind of worried about not being able to do a lot of the more subtle stuff that can help you in an interview. A job interview is going to be a much more stressful situation than your average work interaction, so asking references about job performance is a good idea.

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          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

            Well, it all depends on what the job is — after all, when I worked in a call center, every day (with the exception of holidays) was astronomically more stressful than my interview. A lot of customer-facing roles can be, because the interviewer is a lot more likely to act professionally than clients are.

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      2. tcheasdfjkl

        Based on what the OP wrote about Mary, it doesn’t seem like she was actually missing any skills, she just appeared “odd” because she had some habits that may or may not be attributable to some kind of neurodivergence but in any case are purely cosmetic rather than indicative of actual social skill deficits. So to me it does look like the gut feeling is based on a prejudice of “this person is weird” in the absence of actual things that were wrong.

        Of course it’s possible that customers would have that judgment too, but I think accommodating that would be much like accommodating customers’ racism or sexism – gut feelings based on prejudices which end up disadvantaging people who did nothing wrong.

        Also consider that especially in a field related to education, many “weird” or neurodivergent kids might actually hugely benefit from having a role model who has some of the same weirdnesses that they do and still does a great job.

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        1. Astor

          Thank you for putting into words a lot of how I read this situation too.

          I’m absolutely willing to believe that hiring Mary might cause extra work for others. But I bet a lot of it will not because of Mary’s skills but rather because of others’ assumptions about her skills. And if there’s any way you can support her or others like her, I bet that it will be worth doing because it will cause a better environment for everyone in the long-run.

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          1. Mando Diao

            I don’t necessarily think this stance is fair. When it comes to kids and their wefare, I’m willing to throw an adult under the bus. Kids don’t deserve to be someone else’s learning experience. It’s not just about the official job duties. The person who fills this role may need to be able to identify the nuances of interactions between the kids. She needs to have the ingrained authority of an adult that the kids will listen to. She needs to be able to “read” other adults, especially since these kids are probably at-risk in some way. The source of Mary’s awkwardness and weird social skills doesn’t matter. If the OP senses that Mary wouldn’t be able to recognize bullying or subtle passive-aggression, OP absolutely cannot put Mary in charge of kids.

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            1. Jaguar

              You’re making an awful lot of assumptions (kids being at risk, OP thinks Mary couldn’t recognise bullying, etc).

              There’s also the point to consider that, as a society, shielding kids from ever meeting adults that don’t conform to normalcy has the double-whammy effect of making normalcy even more socially ingrained in the next generation as well as making kids that don’t fit social normal feel even more isolated.

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            2. Astor

              Which is why I specifically said my opinion was based on the impression that the extra work has nothing to do with Mary’s skills and more to do with others’ assumptions about her skills. If the problem is that Mary cannot recognize bullying or subtle passive-aggression, then she’s not a good person for the job. But if the problem is that people *assume* that because Mary has certain behaviors that she cannot recognize bullying or subtle passive-aggression, then she’s still a good candidate.

              And I’m basing this on 10+ years of prior experience and education working in daycares and schools, where we prioritized the kids and their safety. But that includes having them experience working with various kinds of safe and responsible adults.

              And that also includes being aware that what the general public thinks are warning signs are not the same things that trained professionals are tracking. I don’t want to risk having someone who I am uncomfortable with working with children, but it is certainly worthwhile to evaluate why I’m uncomfortable, especially when it’s someone who obviously fits a commonly discriminated against group.

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        2. OP

          This comment versus Mando Diao’s is partly what prompted me to check references, rather than rejecting Mary outright. This interview has certainly made me reflect a lot on skills vs. character traits, and what diversity/inclusion mean to our organization in very concrete ways.

          I will say that my decision was made easier by the fact that checking Mary’s references raised some other red flags. She’s in her 30s, but turned out to not have any full time jobs on her resume, as some of the experiences she referred to simply as “work” turned out to have been volunteer. That in combination with her interview demeanor made me confident in my decision, but it’s a situation I continue to ponder!

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        3. JessaB

          Without armchair diagnosing, the OP made no real effort to figure out if this person could actually do the job needed before making a decision based on physical attributes that they do not know the cause of, or even the duration of, whatever this is could have been just nerves or a short term thing. Alison is right that they could have asked references about soft skills, or asked “what would you do in x circumstance” soft skill probing questions of the applicant.

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      3. VictoriaHR

        I disagree that Mary isn’t suitable just because of her demeanor in an interview.

        I am an Aspie, and one of my strengths is being able to take feedback and direct instruction and do exactly as I’m told. If someone told me to do XYZ as a part of my job, that’s exactly what I do. An autistic employee can be taught to do anything, as long as he or she is told what is expected. It’s when people expect us to just somehow innately know these social skills, without being told, that we get into trouble.

        I participate in an IT sector board at my local community college, where tech hiring managers get together and talk about the skillsets they want in the people coming out of college, in order to influence curriculum and such. I have been very frustrated by the hiring managers in these meetings, who constantly say that positions like Software Developer require a “high emotional IQ” – no, no they don’t. It depends on the company, but a head-down software dev role where someone is coding all day definitely does not require a person to make eye contact, lead meetings, interface with clients, etc. Putting that requirement on a position that some Aspies aspire to for the very reason that it’s *not* a high-EQ job, is telling Aspies in high school and college not to bother pursuing that path.

        Basically these hiring managers want the perfect employee – they don’t want to manage. The horror of having someone who does things wrong! Aspies are great employees in that they are typically highly adaptable and can learn anything you want them to learn. Just tell them what you want and they’ll take it from there.

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        1. sunny-dee

          An autistic employee can be taught to do anything. Um, can you tell them to read nuanced social cues? Not to be snarky, but the role that the OP described requires a lot of community interactions with a huge variety of people, including children. If someone’s Spidey sense is going off that someone isn’t really good at that kind of interaction, it’s legit to pass on that person.

          As for the software development – that’s partly true, but only for junio developers. Once you become a senior, you actually are expected to lead meetings, interact with customers, and work cross-team. I still would not describe is as remotely high-EQ, but if someone is incapable of doing really basic social interactions like that, they’ll not be promoted, and that is something to consider.

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          1. Bunny

            I’m an Aspie. Diagnosed at 40. I’ll be 43 this fall. Here’s the thing about kids and communication: kids are direct. They don’t mess around.

            Let’s all enjoy some irony and Freud as I tell you I’m a journalist who has to read a LOT of nuance, especially when I cover politics. I use my directness, though: I bust open politispeak, PR talk, and the like like the Kool Aid man busting through a wall.

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            1. Honeybee

              …kids aren’t always direct. It depends on what it is. Kids have a reputation for being direct because sometimes, very young kids raised in healthy homes will say something surprising that violates social norms. But kids who are raised in dysfunctional homes, have some sort of trauma, are just shy, don’t talk much, etc. might not be as direct. If the work involves kids who are disadvantaged or ill or something, they may be less direct. And kids can also sometimes exaggerate or prevaricate if they want (or don’t want) something.

              That said, I’m not trying to say that people with autism can’t deal with nuance at all – I simply don’t know either way.

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              1. AthenaC

                I know that’s a trap I fall into sometimes with my own kids. My younger daughter is direct to a fault. You know how we supposedly never negotiate with terrorists? Well, she doesn’t negotiate with anybody.

                My older daughter, on the other hand, is seemingly allergic to being direct. She won’t ask for what she wants, but when she gets upset she will lash out or be passive aggressive or push people’s buttons. Like her younger sister’s buttons. And then her younger sister gets loud.

                I’m sure it will be funny in the future, but right now it’s just aggravating.

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          2. Honeybee

            Yeah, I came to say the same thing about software development. I work in tech and am not a developer and I talk to developers all day. The ones who can interact with non-coders and lead meetings are the better ones, because they need to explain their work to management, UX, marketing, legal, etc. so we can all do our jobs, too. I’d say it’s at least medium-EQ when you get to the mid-level and above.

            That said, I don’t know about the first part. I think people with autism have a wide range of ability when it comes to social interaction depending on the nature of their autism.

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          3. Anon for this

            I know someone on the spectrum who spent a fair amount of time with a research study about facial cues, looking at the categorized expressions and how they were coded/explained, scientifically.

            He can read facial expressions better than I can. He is amazingly, almost frighteningly, accurate at reading small cues, and not misreading them based on what he wants to see.

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            1. NotAnotherManager!

              My older child is on the spectrum, and he has done facial cue memorization and also participated in a group therapy geared towards helping kids learn how to navigate social interactions. They teach them, step-by-step, how to introduce themselves, how to carry on conversations, ask if they can join a game on the playground, etc. and then they practice and reward. It’s been very interesting to watch my kid get older and get better at social interaction basically by rote memorization of what “supposed to” happen. I think social interactions are always going to be harder for my child, but we have seen a lot of progress in the past two years.

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              1. Bunny

                It’s a very weird thing to explain to people who aren’t like me. Imagine being a hippo who would like to join a jump rope game.

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        2. fposte

          I didn’t say that Mary wasn’t suitable just because of her demeanor in an interview. I didn’t meet Mary and I don’t know the job. I don’t think any of us can say from here whether she is or isn’t suitable, and we very much can’t say from here whether she was or wasn’t the best candidate.

          What I said is that *if* the job needs certain skills, it doesn’t matter why she doesn’t have them. (And I disagree strongly with the notion upthread that presentation isn’t a social skill.) That’s true if you need somebody to drive and you have a strong blind applicant same as if you need somebody to drive and you have somebody who just thinks cars are icky.

          But I do totally agree (and apparently deleted this from a draft post at some point) that it’s important to be scrupulous about the nature of the need and not fall into the trap of making a convention a requirement. Maybe you just need somebody with reliable transportation, not somebody who can drive, and the blind person’s been getting around the city on her own all her life so would be fine. I don’t know which situation this is, but then I don’t think anybody else here does either :-).

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          1. Lissa

            Yeah, this is a bit of a…weird thread to me, because it basically involves guessing that somebody’s interview weakness is due to being neurodivergent (etc) and then…if it turns out it is, be more likely to hire them? I don’t know how that would work. I mean, what if Mary *isn’t* autistic and just gets super nervous? TBH this sounds a lot like me, and I *would* be a really bad fit for a job where you need immediately positive impressions etc. I am good socially once I get to know people but I get really really anxious when I meet people for the first time in a non-scripted encounter.

            I agree that gut feelings can come from prejudice (I like this, as it’s a bit of pushback against the recent trend of “always believe gut feelings if you think someone’s bad news they are” which I never really agreed with) but I think this is a different situation. And I mean, what is the solution when you have a bad feeling about somebody, but also it might be prejudice (or both!) I think what the OP did *was* the best idea for that situation — call references and ask, try to determine if others had the same impression, what might be going on etc.

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            1. Rebooting

              Exactly. I do all of the things that Mary does, and I’m not autistic – I have a serious anxiety problem and I use movement to deal with nervous energy, and have done so for long enough now that it’s unconscious for me. I’d be an awful fit for the job described. I’m great with people once I get to know them, but I’m terribly awkward on first meetings.

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            2. Tau

              I think the OP hit a sore spot for a lot of neurodivergent/specifically-autistic people, because the traits described are very very common among autistic people (although, as you point out, not unique to them by any means) and the scenario described is… in a way, it’s a lot of autistic job-seekers’ worst nightmare? Where superficial typically-autistic behaviours in one specific situation are taken as a deeply indicative of how one functions overall and that’s used as a basis for rejection. OP’s situation is more complex than that, of course, but there are shades of it that I think made a bunch of people pretty alarmed. Me included.

              I have no idea if Mary is autistic or not and don’t think it should really matter anyway – as you say, it’s not like an unsuitable person should be hired just because “she’s autistic! she can’t help it!”, and besides, I think speculating about whether someone is on the spectrum is pretty rude in general. If someone is autistic and hasn’t disclosed, they have a reason for that. But I do feel the situation was handled less than ideally, not because “you shouldn’t make a decision based on gut feeling”, but because “more detailed questioning and probing the references might have turned up enough information that the decision wouldn’t have to be made on gut feeling.” Not to blame OP in any way, because it sounds like a really tough situation where she did the best she could, there were other factors that played into her decision to reject Mary, and I’d also be unsure how to ask detailed questions about someone’s social skills in that sort of situation… but I really like Alison’s advice and proposed questions here.

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          2. JessaB

            The other issue though is if there was a disability it might not be any kind of neurodivergence. Palsys, Parkinsons, many, many potential things could cause that kind of physical reaction that have not one damned thing to do with any social skill issues (and we do not know that the applicant had them anyway.) I maintain that nobody knows why the applicant acted that way and none of the questions that would tease out whether they were an actual bad fit or not, were asked of the applicant or the references. Whether or not there’s a disability or just nerves, or fright, doesn’t change that we don’t know the applicant could not do the job.

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        3. Tightrope Walking

          I agree and disagree with you.

          I agree that Aspies can learn anything. I’ve seen this in action with my own staff who occupy various parts to the spectrum. I hold high standards for my staff and it’s never been the diagnosed Aspies who have failed to meet them. It is just as you say, I clearly express my expectations, we make sure that appropriate tools and training are available, and the work gets done.

          I disagree that software dev is a low EQ (gah, I hate that term) field, and I think it would be better off if everyone going into it realized that effective developers have to work as a team and communicate their thought processes to others. Not usually external customer facing, no, but communication skills are required and the better developers do lead meetings and are capable of nuanced social behavior, like shifting culture and code switching in communication. The Aspies I have had the pleasure of working with have absolutely been capable of learning this. One has gone on to be the public face of their company in their subject matter, is having world wide impact on policy and direction, and is currently healing a rift between some factions of the industry. They have astonishing technical expertise, yes, but they have learned powerful social skills as well and the combination is the next best thing to a superpower.

          I don’t think that young Aspies should be told that software is a field they can enter and not be expected to learn how to handle neurotypical people, that is setting them up for limited careers, stress and disappointment. I do think that social interaction skills are learnable, and telling everyone that is only helpful as well as honest.

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          1. Tau

            Thanks, I’m an Aspie software dev and think this is an excellent point. I’d see software as an area where technical skills count for more comparatively than they do in many other fields, and where it’s more likely (but not impossible) that you’ll be communicating almost solely with internal people and teammates instead of needing to be the face of the company for a client, both of which can help when you have difficulties with social skills. But IMO it’s not a “keep your head down and just work” career, and you’d be doing a disservice to prospective programmers if you describe it that way. Software development is collaborative work, and chances are you’re going to be one of a team involving multiple roles that have to make sure everything goes smoothly. Effective communication is a core skill. As far as careers for hermits go, I don’t believe I’d recommend it.

            …which is honestly perfectly fine by me because I think I’d go slowly mad if the career was really a case of “code, keep your head down, don’t talk to anyone ever”. :) So, I suspect, would every other Aspie I know. Not a random sample by any means, but we can be a very chatty lot.

            The thing that I like to harp on is that effective communication and social skills can take broader forms than many people assume. Jumping to another disability – I stutter, and a lot of people assume that precludes you from being effective at, basically, any job that involves talking to people as a core requirement. (I notice upthread someone pulled us in as “you wouldn’t hire a stutterer for an ESL job” – case in point.) But my career plan pre-software was lecturer, I did a lot of public speaking during my PhD and I got really good feedback and a lot of praise on it. I’ve read about a stutterer in Australia who got voted best lecturer at his university and talks about how he thinks the stutter actually *helped* him in that. People find this shocking because they think they know what good communication has to look like and stuttering isn’t in that, but they’re generally making that assumption without actually having the experience to judge.

            So – jumping back – Aspies can be super-effective at social skills tasks (your examples are very heartening on that front), but the way we do it doesn’t necessarily match up with how a neurotypical person might approach the problem or might think the problem *has* to be approached. A lot of the time I think we get judged on superficial details, with the people doing the judging thinking those superficial details reveal core issues. It’s important to remember that although gut feelings can be very valuable, they can also lead you astray.

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  4. sjw

    I find it useful to describe the job (as it relates to interpersonal activities) and then ask the reference for their insight into how the candidate would perform. “Mary will be in a position where she would need to build rapport with people quickly, and deal with some stressful situations on occasion. In your opinion, how would she handle that type of responsibility?”.

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    1. Rusty Shackelford

      Yes, exactly. I got a call once from someone I knew from a previous job… she was interviewing my old boss (who hadn’t listed me as a reference, of course). She said something along the lines of “the person in this position needs to be able to gain the respect and admiration of her staff and build lots of goodwill and trust; what is your opinion of Old Boss’s abilities in those areas?” And I was able to say “I don’t think she’s well-suited for that.” Which relieved us of having the conversation we would have had otherwise, which would have been “Was Old Boss a good boss?” “Lord, no, she’s batshit crazy and mean as hell.”

      So, in the LW’s case, the question could be “The person in this position needs to be able to build relationships with all sorts of different people and make them feel comfortable from the get-go; how do you think Mary would handle that need?” instead of “Um, is Mary kind of weird all the time, or just in interviews?”

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      1. designbot

        The one time I got a call about someone who hadn’t given me a heads up or outright asked that I be their reference, I just said “I’m sorry, but I was not expecting this call and am not able to provide a reference for this person.” Simple, avoids all the conversations, and also communicates that the candidate does not know proper business etiquette, or their references would have known they were references.

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        1. NutellaNutterson

          But Alison is always reminding candidates that one’s reference list is not the “only legally allowed to call these people” list. I do think the burden is on the reference checker, if they’re not just using a candidate’s list, though. Perhaps some context from the caller would have changed that surprise for you?

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          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Yep, just came here to say that. I’d just be careful about wording the response in a way that makes it clear that “I was not expecting this call” means “this person didn’t contact me about being a reference” so that the caller can clarify if they’re calling off-list. Otherwise it may sound like “I would never recommend this person.”

            Reply
            1. JessaB

              Yes this. If what was meant was “I don’t give references without talking to the person, or if they don’t know you’re calling me,” for whatever reason, then that should be said.

              Reply
        2. Rusty Shackelford

          The fact that it was a surprise wasn’t an issue at all. I only pointed that out because I wanted to make clear I wasn’t allowing someone to use me as a reference, knowing that I’d tell anyone who attempted to hire her to run far, far away. I was actually thrilled to be able to help a former coworker by giving her a solid reason to reject a bad candidate.

          Reply
  5. Leatherwings

    From a candidates perspective I think this is great too! I have pretty intense social anxiety and I know I can come across as a little weak in interviews – but I have a strong, forward personality once I warm up to people a bit. I love that my references can speak to that even if I can’t demonstrate it as easily in an hour long interview.

    I want my personality to match their team culture too!

    Reply
    1. AFT123

      Great point from a candidate’s perspective! I’d guess many people don’t come out of interviews feeling like the showed the best, truest self, and would be relieved to know their references were able to shed some light on what they’re really like. Awesome comment!

      Reply
    2. the_scientist

      Absolutely! I am quiet and fairly shy, which can come across as aloof or overly timid, especially in an interview situation when nerves are involved. In fact, I’m pretty warm and friendly (and in fact, am absolutely not a pushover) once I get to know people and I know my references can speak to that.

      I also want to make the point that I’ve been able to spin being quiet/reserved as a strength, and I’d encourage others not to automatically view it as a weakness: I am an *excellent* listener, and pick up on details that others miss. I rarely speak off the cuff or without thinking through my response first, so when I do have something to say, you can be sure it’s well thought-out. I’d probably be a terrible politician, but in my field, this has given me the reputation of being thoughtful, confident, and a good long-term/strategic thinker.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        In my experience, that’s a pretty easy question for references, too; I’ve had several soft-spoken hires that would need to bring authority to their position, so I made a point of finding out whether it was a soft manner on a powerhouse or a retiring personality overall. It was a soft manner in all and they were great at their jobs.

        Reply
      2. Lady Kelvin

        I am too, and I’ve been told my whole life that I’d never make it as a scientist if I didn’t change my personality*. Turns out, being soft spoken has been an advantage for me, I have to work with several domineering/strong personalities who tend to use volume to win their way. Because I’ve built a good rapport with them by listening to them and talking to them without engaging them, they listen to what I have to say and are not nearly as difficult to me. Being soft spoken doesn’t always mean that someone doesn’t have a backbone.

        To be fair the people who give me this advice tend to be people with whom I don’t work with directly, rather the people who know me well would be shocked to hear that people think I’m shy and quiet.

        Reply
      3. Is It Performance Art

        I’m also very shy. I also dress well and only in clothing that’s flattering. Several of my colleagues at a previous job told me that they assumed I was a stuck up you-know-what because they could not believe someone who dressed like me would be shy. Once I get to know someone I’m fine.
        I also have a nervous temperament. My job is one of those technical jobs where people who’re nervous and channel it into diligence tend to do very well. That said i can think of plenty of jobs where my temperament would be a disaster. I find that explaining how that part of my temperament has been an advantage in past jobs is very effective in interviews.

        Reply
    3. SystemsLady

      Same here – baby face + a little cautious and preferring to listen first = people tend to mistake me for a quiet intern at first, but I very quickly flip that perspective completely, at least when I’m confident in what I’m doing. Which is fortunately most of the time!

      I would hope OP would call references if I were one of their applicants!

      (Once when I accidentally dodged the question initially, due to the real question being something else, I heard two different tones of “and you’ve been in the industry how many years?” twice in the same day from the same person.)

      Reply
  6. AnotherAlison

    I’ve lived through the opposite. A candidate seemed perfectly fine in his interview, but had lots of interpersonal issues on the job. (I didn’t interview him, but I asked around, and confirmed he wasn’t like he turned out to be.)

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      That’s so unfortunate, I hope you didn’t have to deal with him for a long time. Do you know if his references alerted your company to that? Or did they not check?

      Reply
      1. AnotherAlison

        I have no idea how it went down, but he did work here once before for a few months, so there might not have been a check. (The previous time was in a different department. He left for family reasons – was planning to move, but then didn’t, so eventually came back.) I’m still dealing with it. : ) Not a bad person at all, just other issues. . .

        Reply
    2. Kate

      Same here with two candidates (the second was a replacement for the first). Both seemed fine at the interview with any nervousness being brushed aside as interview jitters. Both ended up being ill-fitted to the position as well as having interpersonal issues. I didn’t speak with their references as I was not the hiring manager, but I love this advice for if I am ever that position.

      Reply
  7. CMT

    “You seem pretty soft-spoken and I wonder how you’d approach that.”

    Oh man, back when I was a wee little interviewee who was incredibly shy and soft-spoken in interviews, I HATED questions like this because they just made me exponentially more nervous. I get why employers would ask questions like that, because how were they to know that my soft-spokenness was totally due to interview nerves? But I still hated them. And as someone who still gets really nervous for interviews, I dread having to answer questions like that. I just want to say, “Give me a few weeks or so to get to know everyone and I’ll be as outspoken as you want and maybe more so.”

    Reply
    1. College Career Counselor

      In my opinion, that’s a pretty good response (and would be even better if followed up with a concrete example)! But it does acknowledge that you’re aware of being nervous, that it’s a temporary/interview thing, and that it’s not been a hindrance to your career.

      Reply
    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      That’s actually not a bad way to address it, though. If you get asked that, then you can totally say something along the lines of “I’m afraid I’ve got a bit of interview nerves — once I feel a little more relaxed and familiar with an office, I tend to open up pretty well, and at my last job… [insert ways you’ve displayed good interpersonal skills in the past.]”

      Reply
    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’d say to practice the crap out of an answer so that you’re comfortable giving one when the question comes up … because it’s way better for them to ask and give you the chance to fill them in than for them to assume you just aren’t the right fit for the job without ever asking about it.

      Reply
      1. Bibliovore

        Seconding the “practice the crap out…” people perceive that I am a gregarious, outgoing extrovert who is good with people and comfortable speaking to large groups. These are skills essential for my position. I have no natural talent or inclination in these areas. It is all practice and experience, zero inate ability.

        Reply
        1. Pam Adams

          Yes. I am introverted, but can fake the extroversion well- working with students in large groups and one-on-one in intense situations. Once I’m done, though, I need peace and quiet to energize.

          Reply
        2. AthenaC

          You and me both. People don’t believe that I am naturally socially awkward, but it’s the truth. All my skill in small talk, addressing a group, talking to clients, coaching staff – it’s all learned behavior. Fortunately, most professional and personal interactions can be classified into a limited number of formulas and decision trees. Once I realized this, it made it possible for me to work on how I presented myself.

          Reply
            1. AthenaC

              The closest I have to a discussion of a conversational decision tree is here:

              https://captainawkward.com/2015/01/23/652-operation-how-do-i-people/
              (It’s in the comments and I don’t know how to link so it jumps to my comment but if you Cntl+F “AthenaC” you should find it right away. Also it’s more social than professional in focus)

              I did have a couple posts on how to talk to clients:

              https://athenasantics.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/how-to-talk-to-clients/
              https://athenasantics.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/how-to-talk-to-clients-intermediate/

              And a bit of silliness on how to talk to gay people:

              https://athenasantics.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/how-to-talk-to-gay-people-a-primer/

              Hope those help! I will put conversational decision trees on my blogging to-do list.

              Reply
              1. Cassie

                I like how you stress asking questions in a blame-neutral way. I have some coworkers who approve transactions like orders and travel reimbursements and they tend to address issues in an aggressive, blame-y way. They would have just said “you can’t buy alcohol”. To me, this is super annoying because a) they may be wrong / there could be exceptions (for us, no alcohol on state funds; okay on non-state funds) and b) they automatically assume that the words “Jack Daniels” can only mean the alcohol and there isn’t a different plausible explanation.

                So even though the person might be able to say “oh, that’s actually the name of the contractor and here’s the approved contract”, that’s no consolation for feeling like you’re always getting attacked for issues that can be easily cleared up.

                Reply
                1. AthenaC

                  Yes! I have definitely been surprised more than once with what I thought was a smoking gun, only to have the ultimate resolution be totally benign. In those cases I was so grateful I didn’t walk in with guns blazing.

          1. fposte

            Building a little on Carol Dweck’s _Mindset_, I think there’s a real split right now between people who feel like they way people are is unchangeable and people who believe behavior is highly mutable. So if you’re in the first category, you assume everybody who’s a good networker, good speaker, etc. was born that way and has a completely different personality from people who aren’t.

            And I’m very much in the “highly mutable” belief camp, because like you I painstakingly learned most of that stuff. (And I join with videogameprincess in saying that if you’ve got something to share on the decision tree, that would be great!)

            Reply
            1. Bibliovore

              For one on one…asking questions and really , really listening for how that connects to me…
              What brought you here today ? how did you know about this event, meeting, author …etc?
              I go into every public event and hone in on the person standing or sitting alone.
              I put out my hand and say Hi , I am Bibliovore , I love this author, this museum, this organization….

              Or this is my first time at…this event, hearing this author, etc…
              Can you tell me what to expect?

              I actually had a cognitive therapist coach me through various scenarios and I practiced.

              I used to get physically ill at the thought of getting in front of people to talk. I had a professor in graduate school who insisted we present every other week as our profession demanded advocacy and public speaking. If we were going to continue, she said that we just had to do it. I took a storytelling class . That helped me find my “voice.”
              For public speaking…recently I read a book called TED talks the official guide. I found it very helpful.

              And I am not kidding , for every fifteen minutes that I talk I probably gave eight hours practice not including the making the slides.

              For meetings…I have an agenda, I ask for time keeper and a note taker. I always plan 15 minutes so people can catch up at the end or if we run over the agenda no one feels likes the time got away.

              Reply
              1. Kalli

                Hopefully you have a way to check that that person standing alone wants contact. Sometimes people are alone because they want to be alone.

                Reply
                1. Estelle

                  Yeah, this. Please do NOT assume that the person standing alone wants you to swoop in like this! Or is OK being your crutch. When I’m alone at events it’s because that’s how I get through things, and having someone force themselves into my space and demand conversation is hugely stressful and upsetting.

                  Please don’t assume that my being alone in public means I’m an open target.

    4. Kalli

      I get this too. My answer is usually something like:
      “Well, you’re sitting right there, how loud do you need me to be? I can assure you, if I need to raise my voice or stand my ground, people will remember it, but otherwise I prefer to focus my energy on my work.”
      Then I give an example relating to dealing with a well-known loud pushy boss person, and bring up that I was the only person able to deal with him because I was soft-spoken and he had seen me assert myself and I had earned his respect. If the question is, instead, “How did you deal with well-known loud pushy boss person?” I skip to the example and then say that I didn’t have a problem dealing with him.

      Having that go-to example, with a person everyone knew to be difficult, was really helpful.

      Reply
  8. Lemon Zinger

    I WISH hiring managers would ask references about candidate personalities. Interviews make me feel nervous, so I tend to be extremely formal and almost robot-like when interviewed. By calling my references, hiring managers could get a better sense of what I’m like day-to-day. Someone’s personality isn’t always reflected accurately in their interview.

    Reply
    1. CC

      I feel this. I also think that some interpersonal skills and strengths can happen on a less than formal level, especially rapport building, and I think that can be hard to gauge in an interview.

      Reply
  9. Sketchee

    I tend to be very confident in interviews and work well with people. At the same time, I prefer to do work that doesn’t involve constant social interaction. Planned meetings, weekly meeting with clients, directing photo shoots, and presentations are fine. Most of my day to day activity I’d still prefer doing deeper solo creative work.

    So even if a personality seems like a fit, it’s still a great idea to be very open and transparent about the social atmosphere and expectations. Even someone with the personality you’re looking for might not be a match based purely on preferences.

    I once had an interview where this was not discussed by the employer or the job description. It was my first experience with an interviewer that was not forthcoming. The position when I started was very different than expected. Mostly administrative and not very creative – which was the entire focus of the interview and my previous experience. I learned from that why it’s important as a candidate to deep dive into those questions.

    Reply
  10. Jaguar

    I can’t help feel bad for (hypothetical) Mary, who apparently was an outstanding candidate but appeared tense in an interview and was rejected.

    I tend to perform really well in interviews, and I suspect most of the jobs I’ve been offered are on the basis of being confident, casual, and otherwise socially adjusted in an interview setting. The idea that I outperform other people of equal (or possibly even better) qualifications on the basis that they have some social ticks strikes me as really unfair.

    (Admittedly, this job seems customer-facing, and none of my jobs have really been that, but I still get the same feeling)

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      But it’s not just about social stuff — in the OP’s letter, it’s about specific needs of the job. It’s an actual qualification. Lots of jobs require you to have certain traits to excel at them — whether it’s being outgoing and quick to build rapport, or being unflappable in the face of stress, or all sorts of other things.

      Reply
      1. Jaguar

        Yeah, that’s why I added the disclaimer at the end. I can understand disqualifying someone with a thick accent or a stutter from, like, an ESL teacher position. It makes perfect sense logically, but my emotional side reaches for the pitchfork.

        Reply
    2. BlurBlur

      If it makes you feel better the OP updated up thread about the work history not being up to par and that it wouldn’t have been a good fit because they’ve never actually held a full time job, it was many volunteer positions.

      Reply
      1. Torrance

        It seems a bit harsh to judge a person on a history of volunteer positions when the organisation itself employs volunteers (‘working with kids, adults, volunteers, stakeholders, etc’). If the organisation doesn’t perceive volunteering as real ‘work’, why are they utilising it?

        Reply
        1. Anon for this

          Volunteering isn’t employment, and this applicant tried to portray it that way. How does that mean that the organization doesn’t value its volunteers?

          Reply
          1. Torrance

            “I think it’s fine to lump the the volunteer work in with the paid work.”
            “Your accomplishments are your accomplishments. It’s no one’s business how much you got paid for them, even if that amount is zero.”
            – Alison, “listing volunteer work on a resume”

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I think I’ve changed my stance on that a little bit since that post (back in 2008). I think it can be fine in some cases but it depends on context. If it’s misleading people about things like the intensity of the work (e.g. it was three hours a week but looks like full-time) or the level of responsibility/accountability, that would concern me. Because of that, I think it’s important that volunteer work listed in your main experience section of your resume needs to focus on accomplishments, not just duties, and provide enough context that it’s truly useful in evaluating the scope of the experience.

              All that said, though, the OP didn’t say she rejected the applicant for portraying anything inaccurately. It sounds like she just assumed she had more experience than it turned that she actually did. (“She’s in her 30s, but turned out to not have any full time jobs on her resume, as some of the experiences she referred to simply as ‘work’ turned out to have been volunteer.”)

              Reply
            2. OP

              Don’t know if anyone is still reading, but yes to what “Anon for this” is saying. As a volunteer coordinator, I absolutely see the value of volunteering! But the way this candidate tried to pretend it was full time paid work felt shady to me, and cast doubts on her integrity, which was a real dealbreaker.

              Reply
  11. SittingDuck

    What if a company will only give ‘confirmation of dates employed’ type references? My current employer has a policy to only confirm dates employed – but not give any type of ‘reference’ which I feel is becoming more common these days. I’m not sure of the reason? Fear of being sued for defamation?

    So if my longest running, only office job, that could speak to my office skills, won’t provide a reference of my personality, or work ethic – would I be removed from the running for a position that puts a lot of emphasis on personality and interpersonal skills? (Which is actually the case in the industry I hope to work in one day)

    Does a employer stating ‘we only confirm dates of employment’ end up making the candidate look bad – like the company is trying to hide something?

    Reply
    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Well, that’s when you look for references that aren’t official to the company. For example, do you have former managers/supervisors/team leads who have since moved on to other positions? If your current manager knows you’re looking, is she willing to have prospective employers contact her directly instead of going through HR?

      Reply
    2. Leatherwings

      That’s annoying and I encourage you to speak to your direct manager about giving you a reference. My old job did this, but my manager bent the rule. If they refuse, then you should try to find previous supervisors or managers who will speak to your skills. I’d also try to push back on this policy a bit – they’re preventing people from moving on because of an (extremely) outside risk of a lawsuit. That’s silly.

      Here are a couple of AAMs posts that may help you out:
      http://www.askamanager.org/2013/02/are-your-job-references-in-order.html
      http://www.askamanager.org/2009/10/employer-wont-give-job-references.html

      Reply
    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      would I be removed from the running for a position that puts a lot of emphasis on personality and interpersonal skills?

      Well, no — you’d want to make a point of demonstrating them in the interview so they can see them first-hand.

      But you also need to find references who will actually speak to your work, as the commenter above says. Because there are lots of reasons other than personality than they’ll want to talk to references.

      (Also, often those policies are adhered to by HR but not by a manager who loves you.)

      Reply
    4. hayling

      My last employer had that “policy” but I had no problem getting former managers to provide references.

      Reply
    5. Mando Diao

      If you’re not too far out of school, and as long as your list isn’t loaded down with non-work-related names, it’s often acceptable to list an academic advisor.

      On the other side of things, I’ve worked for places that did the “will only confirm dates of employment” thing, and I was rather relieved that no one there would be tasked with speaking about my personality, since those were the places where I had to make reports about sexual and general harassment. They didn’t like me, and I don’t trust them to correctly navigate the difference between “describe Mando’s personality in a neutral way,” and “but like, did you think she was a cool, fun lady?”

      Reply
    6. Episkey

      Heh, the last time I had an interviewer call references, one of my previous jobs refused to even confirm or deny I worked there. It was a very small company and I think the woman “in charge of HR” really didn’t understand and had incorrect & unfortunate beliefs about giving references…namely that the company could & would be sued.

      I don’t know what her end game was as I could certainly prove I had worked there previously from pay stubs, but it was super weird….after she got the call asking for the reference, she emailed me to say they “had heard I was looking for a job” and would I like to come back to the company? I nearly fell out of my chair laughing….that was a big giant NOOOOOPE.

      Reply
      1. Mando Diao

        I think it’s something that happens a lot at small businesses, where a lot of the people involved don’t have a lot of traditional work experience or education. And yes, they’re worried about being sued, partly because they’re not called as references all that often so they don’t really know norms.

        Reply
    7. calonkat

      I used to do reference checks for a small temp agency. While most companies would verify dates of employment (or correct them [rolls eyes]) and say if they’d rehire an applicant, the HR departments/office staff wouldn’t give any detailed info. When applicants would give me the name of their supervisor, I could often reach that person directly (just by calling and asking for them), and the supervisor would generally be happy to speak about the applicant’s qualifications or lack thereof. (My favorite was “He’s a really good worker when he shows up sober!”)

      Reply
  12. Blue Anne

    This is why when we get to the part where I can ask questions at the end of an interview, I always ask “Do you have any concerns about my candidacy right now? Anything I can try to address for you?”

    I’ve gotten good feedback from interviewers about asking that, and people do honestly bring things up. One person, it turned out, had mis-read my resume as graduating in 2007 instead of starting in 2007, and thought I had a 4 year gap on my resume with no explanation. Don’t know why he hadn’t mentioned it until then, but I’m glad I gave him the opportunity.

    Reply
  13. Katie

    Interviews make me nervous like nothing else- I don’t have the same mannerisms as Mary, but I have gotten feedback that I seemed nervous in interviews. You should definitely ask- the way someone seems in an interview may be only because of the circumstances.

    Reply
  14. Rex

    This seems like something that might make sense to field-test? In this case, maybe have the applicant do a 30 minute activity with some kids, and see how they do?

    Reply
    1. videogameprincess

      I think you have to get a background test before you work with kids though. Seems like there might be some legal issues associated with this.

      Reply
      1. Rex

        Well, under close supervision, obviously. But I don’t know the ins and outs of the legalities here.

        Reply
        1. Temperance

          In my state, you need to have 3 different background checks to work with children in any capacity. I’m in PA, and there was a lot of knee-jerk legislation post-Jerry Sandusky. (I’m calling it knee-jerk because it won’t actually protect most children … Sandusky would have passed all these clearances back when he was abusing children.)

          I quit a volunteer tutoring program because I didn’t feel comfortable authorizing my workplace to do such background checks on me, even though they’re clear.

          Reply
    2. Mando Diao

      Parents wouldn’t be happy if their kids were used as test subjects for candidates whose references hadn’t even been called yet. Parents send their kids to these programs under the assumption that the staffers are vetted and have met strict hiring requirements. Plus you’d probably have to pay the candidates a half-hour’s wage. Working with kids isn’t easy and definitely shouldn’t ever be done for free outside of volunteer roles.

      Reply
      1. designbot

        +1 to this. It’s not the same as having someone do a skills test, because there are other people involved who don’t have any reason to want to participate.

        Reply
  15. KR

    I am great with customers – I can handle stressful situations, customers being horrible with me, whatever, but I am a nervous wreck in interviews. I would be acting similarly as your interviewee. It’s definitely worth asking references about.

    Reply
  16. Gene

    You just don’t want to get overly broad and reject someone for being shy or offbeat or quirky or otherwise different from the rest of you when it really won’t matter

    Though my immediate supervisor wanted to hire me, I wasn’t hired the first time I interviewed for my current job (25-year anniversary this month) because his manager didn’t like my 3-D sterling frog tie tack and thought I had “funny” hair. It was the late 80s and I had a perm – truly not a good look for me, in hindsight. The person his manager loved turned out to be a management nightmare and I was hired 15 months later when it became obvious when wasn’t up to the job.

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      Did ANYONE have great hair in the 80s? I think that was my period of truly hideous permed curls as well. What were we thinking? The cat loved it though.

      Reply
      1. videogameprincess

        I have often heard that I have great 80s hair. Not really sure what people are trying to tell me . . .

        Reply
  17. Anonamee

    Hand clasping could be an effort to not wave her hands about when she talks. I have to do this in similar situations just because interviews bring out my nerves and for me, that translates to hand movement. Was it actual rocking or fidgeting, because if more the latter that could be connected to trying not to hand wave.
    That said, please do ask references re personality, it helps those of us whose nerves mean we don’t show our true selves in interviews.

    Reply
  18. Jayden

    Would really appreciate anyone’s help with my current situation.

    I am a freelance professional with around 5 years of experience in my field. As the freelance world goes, my income varies from year to year. Last year, I made around $35,000. This year, it will be more like $67,000. I enjoy my ability to be untethered and work with new clients every year. However, of late, the desire to settle down and have more stability from year to year has grown to be a stronger feeling.

    That brings me to my current dilemma. I’ve been offered a job in my field of work in a town I don’t mind working in. The offer is for $45,000. Their posted range was $42,000 to $55,000. Thanks to public records, I know that the person leaving the job was paid $47,000. The institution that offered me the job has people who hold comparable titles in another department, who were hired within the last 2 years, who have seen their salaries increase from $60,000 to $65,000 in that short span.

    From everything I can read, these other positions and mine have the same profile/responsibilities but happen to serve two different departments of the same institution. They, however, have a prefix ‘Senior’ before their position title while I don’t. I don’t think that’s significant because they don’t have anyone under them without the prefix and I don’t have anyone over me who’s a ‘Senior’ in that same role.

    My dilemma now is whether I should make a play for a better offer, and if so, how? Should I mention the salaries of these other jobs (I could present it as either former colleagues from this institution showing me that info, or me finding it out myself)? If bargaining for a trajectory to that amount, what’s the language I should use (“I would be happy to accept this offer provided there is a clear path to $65k in 2 years through performance reviews”)?

    The type of work I do requires good gear and I could work with a lower salary like the one offered if I’m allowed a good budget to update the equipment they currently have. Is that something worth mentioning?

    Lastly, given how much I made this year, I am also having doubts about whether I should instead stick with freelancing. My fear is that the desire for stability will prove to be a mirage with the uninspiring salary, leading me to feel less than joyful with the institutional bureaucracy and rote work that I expect the position will come with.

    Jayden

    P. S. Don’t think this matters, but I was previously rejected for this position once.

    Reply
    1. teclatrans

      Jayden, this comments section isn’t the place to post a question of your own. You are in luck, however, because there will be an open thread post tomorrow where hundreds of people will posting, and I bet you can get some good advice there.

      Reply
  19. The Weirdo

    Meh, I think OP probably did well to not hire Mary. During the recession I had a FT job for about 4 years, very like the one Mary was interviewing for. I did this job only because there was literally no other work for me in my area. I do a very good job of passing for normal in interviews. However, I feel like I had absolutely no business being in this job because of my social shortcomings and because I don’t like kids at all. I was always afraid people would figure out that I don’t like kids and I have absolutely no ability to understand interpersonal politics or drama. I can sometimes fake nuance and tact, but it is very tiring. This is a bit odd because it turned out I was very good at this job, although I couldn’t tell you how or why I was good at it. For obvious reasons I like RULES and find it easy to follow a decision chart in my head, which makes it easy to treat all kids fairly. I can fake not being overly rigid about applying RULES because the ultimate RULE is to always act in the best interest of the child. It is also obvious, even to somebody like me, what the RULES are about how to be appropriate around kids. It is very black and white. I am also good at anticipating anything that can-and will-go wrong and preempting it, which is very much an asset when working with adolescents. Nothing surprises me anymore, I have seen and heard it ALL. Being coldly logical and unflappable are excellent traits when you are dealing with somebody having a seizure, bleeding, fighting, or having a knife, among other emergencies I’ve dealt with. I had some other non-normal skills that were an asset to supporting and developing programs for the kids behind the scenes and I ended up getting to help hire some other people to do the programs with the kids. Those were mostly good hires, although I wouldn’t have known if they were lying, but I could tell they were normal and had good experience working with kids. I always had good reviews, I got a great reference when I left, only 2 parents ever complained about how I dealt with their children in all my years there, and now most of the kids I worked with are in their late teens to mid-20’s, yet they still happily approach me in public to say hello. I don’t really understand why, other than I treated them fairly and acted in their best interests. There is nothing nurturing or maternal about me. Many of their parents do too, so I am quite certain I was good at that job. I’m also pretty good at picking out other people like me, but that may be because I work with a lot of physicists now and we are over-represented in this field, in my opinion. Anyway, since I managed to fool the hiring manager at that Nationally Known Non-Profit, I’ve always had the thought, in the back of my head, that I should develop some training for their hiring managers that would allow them to recognize and weed out candidates like me, you know on a consultant basis. It sounds like the OP wouldn’t need much of that training though, but maybe Mary would have been good at the job like me, but very likely not.

    Reply
    1. CMT

      Yeah, but if you were very good at your job, then you weren’t fooling anybody. I bet your managers wouldn’t have cared *as much* about how much you liked it versus how well you were doing it. And I think you’re projecting a lot on Mary when you try to predict how well she’d do based on your own experiences.

      Reply
    2. Tightrope Walking

      Kids love fairness and people who take care of them, regardless (or in spite) of any crazy dramatics they may be involved with/the cause of. They knew what to expect with you, and that you would be fair and take care of them always. Those are powerful and positive things for any children and more so for children in difficult situations who may not have other sources of that reliability. It sounds like you did a great job, but maybe it was stressful for you. I don’t think weeding you out would have been a good choice.

      Reply

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