I think a job candidate is lying about his work experience

A reader writes:

Someone has applied for a position with me. In looking at his LinkedIn profile, he claims to have worked on a project with which I am intimately familiar (at a previous company), and I don’t recall his involvement. Should I interview this person? There is a possibility that I simply do not remember him, so should I reach out to people at the previous company and ask whether they remember him?

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  •  How do I make thinking like a manager second nature?
  • How to screen for candidates who can put up with internal bureaucracy
  • Asking “general knowledge” questions in job interviews

{ 108 comments… read them below }

    1. autumnal*

      Agreed. If he otherwise merits an interview, don’t exclude him on the basis of what you know – ask him.

    2. Hippo-nony-potomus*

      Misremembering or doesn’t know how part of the project was handled in a different department, or it was a different year, or something like that.

      1. Certaintroublemaker*

        Or, we have seen enough people on this site report that their boss took credit for all the work they did. There are so many possibilities other than “lying.”

    3. Elle by the sea*

      Yes. And please don’t bring any bias to the interview. Something similar happened to me once and I was in this candidate’s shoes. Someone interviewed me and kept insisting that they were intimately involved in the project and I didn’t make those contributions. I most definitely did, but they somehow decided that o lied about my contributions.

      1. KHB*

        Which is all the more reason for OP to check into this before the interview. Because if she goes into the interview with any of her brain space taken up with thoughts of “I’m here to gather information to figure out whether Fergus is lying,” that’s brain space she can’t use to fairly assess Fergus’s qualifications for the job.

      2. Susan Ivanova*

        I had a joint project where, if you asked my managers, I didn’t do much and they had to get personally involved to pull in people on other teams. If you asked the people I worked with, they’d say that we were all working on it from the start and they thought it odd that the managers stopped by once to tell them to do what they were already doing.

    4. Emilia Bedelia*

      I think it’s worthwhile for OP to mention that they were involved with the project just to get better, more detailed information from the candidate. There are several projects that I’ve been involved with that are very detailed and specific to my company; for someone who isn’t familiar with our systems, I can explain at a high level, but if I know that someone has been involved with the project I could get a lot more detailed with what I did, as I know they have the company-specific knowledge to get it.

      Doing at least a phone screen to get more information from the candidate would not be a bad idea.

  1. KHB*

    The answer to Q1 is very strange (apart from the mismatched pronouns). The question is “Should I interview this person?” and the answer starts out with “Start by asking the candidate about it when you interview [him].”

    If the candidate’s account of his work history is suspicious enough to make you question whether you want to interview him, I think it does make sense to check in with your contacts at the other company first. If it’s clear from what they say that he’s BSing you, then you don’t have to waste your (and his) time with an interview, and you can give that interview slot to someone else.

    1. KHB*

      …and on the other hand, if your contacts say “Oh yeah, of course I remember Fergus’s work on that project,” then you don’t have to start off your interview with Fergus on such an adversarial note, which will be fairer to him.

      1. tamarack & fireweed*

        You can just … choose to be not be adversarial. You don’t need to breach confidentiality and telling third parties that this candidate applied for a job with you.

      2. Amaranth*

        But if they don’t remember, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Fergus is lying. Maybe the contact is thinking of a different project, or didn’t realize Fergus was even part of the Llama Therapy Workgroup because the only person to come to the meetings was Fiona. If Fergus is otherwise qualified, then I’d call him for an interview and during the initial screening ask about his experience on the project and see if the response makes sense.

    2. I'm just here for the cats!*

      It’s probably just an error. And I think Alison is correct that the OP should talk to the candidate first because then they can go to their contacts with specific questions like “Do you remember how Arnold worked on X on the project?

      1. KHB*

        I don’t think we have enough information to say what’s probable. And if OP has contacts at the other company who can clear this up right away (as sounds like is the case), I guess I don’t see why she wouldn’t just check in with them first.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep, the pronoun is an error that’s being fixed. (I removed an increasingly lengthy discussion about it — the “report typo” link just above the commenting box is the best way to report that stuff!)

    4. mw*

      The OP didn’t make any mention of said project being completed while they were there. I’m not seeing anything in the letter that suggests there were more concerns over the work history, other than “I had work on that project and I don’t remember them.”

      1. KHB*

        OK, but I’m taking OP’s question in good faith that she had reasonable cause to want to at least ask for advice on this. She acknowledges the possibility that she’s misremembering, but she was “intimately familiar” with the project, and she has reason to think that if she doesn’t recall someone’s involvement, they might not have been involved.

        “But what if the project lasted long after you left and had scores of people working on it that you never met?” is an awfully uncharitable interpretation of the question.

        1. mw*

          The OP is concerned about not remembering that person working on the project. But there’s no mention of the candidate working at the same company. The candidate could have worked for a the company on the other side of the project. The OP’s first contact should be with the candidate.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Please could we stop judging everyone’s comments? I’m not even sure that there’s anything uncharitable about mw’s comment, more like it’s a bit of a stretch to think the project may have continued long after OP finished her part of it. But then again, a weird turn of events with this project suddenly being tied in with another to fulfil a new aim, after OP finished her part, is still within the realms of possibility, especially if OP had left the firm at that point, thinking the project was cut and dried. We can’t know for sure.

      2. Fierce Jindo*

        If I were asked an arithmetic problem or random political trivia in a job interview, and everyone else acted like that was normal, I would NOT take that job.

    5. Public Sector Manager*

      I would always go to the candidate first. Sure, the OP might have concerns that warrant further discussions. But what’s most fair to the applicant is to ask the applicant first.

      What if the reason the candidate is leaving is that the candidate did, in fact, play the role they said they did in the project but the OP’s contact, or the person reporting to OP’s contact, took all the credit for the candidate’s work. Or maybe the candidate is leaving because of reporting harassment and removing credit from the project is a form of retaliation. And yes, it could be that the applicant is overstating their role in the project.

      When you’re a manager, the first thing you learn is to never assume you have all the facts. That’s why you’re going to the applicant first. They may very well have information you don’t.

    6. Prefer my pets*

      Don’t do this.

      If you don’t talk to the candidate first, you also just outed their job search to their employer which is a super sucky move. Especially on big projects, it could be absolutely anything…different time periods, different areas of responsibility, he used to go by his middle name because there were three “Davids” in his division already, he got married & took his spouse’s last name, he’s completed transitioning since you worked with him as “Sue”…who knows.

      1. KHB*

        OP calls it “a previous company,” which I took to mean that it’s not the candidate’s current employer. Obviously, if it is the candidate’s current employer, that changes things.

        1. Sarah*

          I thought OP said previous company in reference to OP’s own job experience. OP was on the project at OP’s former employer.

          1. mw*

            That’s how I took it was well. Also weird that the OP never mentioned about them working at the same company.

            At a previous job, I had a similar situation. I was working on a project for one company. The project was a partnership with another company. The work I was doing was being sent intercompany and someone higher up was doing all of the communicating with the other company. The other company would have no idea who I was.

    7. Essess*

      However, you could be putting the candidate’s current job at risk if you suddenly ‘out’ their job searching to coworkers at their current job unless the candidate used them as references or unless you could guarantee your sources wouldn’t blab to the candidate’s supervisor.

  2. I'm just here for the cats!*

    #4 in regards to the general knowledge interview questions. I think this is an excellent reason why you all should have the interview questions preplanned out and have the same questions for each candidate, and review the questions before interviewing . This way when your coworker puts the question about who the governor is you could ask him what his thoughts are and what he’s trying to get. He probably just doesn’t know what to ask, especially if the others have asked all the other questions.

    1. highbury house*

      On the other hand, I would be charmed by the Q/A of ‘what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?’ There would be delicious tension to see who gets tossed off the Bridge of Death!

      1. KaciHall*

        I used to work for a bank and my branch was having IT difficulties one day. I was getting very used to the verification questions each time I called in so I was barely waiting for the quotation to finish. One tech decided to be cute and asked for the meaning of life after the last question, and it took me five minutes to try and explain why I answered ’42’ as quickly as I answered all the other verification questions.

        1. I'm A Little Teapot*

          The tech was being cute and doesn’t get the reference? What else were they expecting to hear? It’s a pretty well known reference, especially since its based on computers.

          1. KaciHall*

            He had never heard of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Maybe it’s because our T1 IT calls were outsourced to another country? I don’t know how he didn’t get it. He genuinely tried to explain that he was asking as a joke and didn’t understand why I had an answer down pat.

            1. Beeblebrox4Prez*

              Is this the right time to mention that 42 isn’t the answer, it’s the answer to the ultimate question…?

          2. Pennyworth*

            Sound like the tech was a bit slow – 42 is an answer you would either know in a nanosecond or not at all.

      2. 30 Years in the Biz*

        Great Monty Python reference! This letter also brings to mind, “I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition”.

      3. MBK*

        While I would love to get that question in an interview, I can imagine it would confuse a candidate who didn’t get the reference and make them even more nervous at a time when they’re probably already really nervous.

        I’ve read a lot recently about the use of pop culture references to try to gauge a particular candidate’s “fit with the team/culture” and how it can end up inadvertently acting as a proxy for race, gender, age, national origin, or even in some cases religion.

        You might not consciously think of hiring based on protected class attributes, but if you find yourself thinking, “Yeah, these two candidates are basically equal in every way, but Fergus was much more at ease and laughed at our jokes,” there might be some unfortunate bias creeping into your decision making process.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Which is why “fit” should only be used to check that the vacancy to be filled fits in with the candidate’s career goals, temperament, availability etc. All too often it’s taken to mean how well the candidate will fit into the team, which all too often boils down to how much of a bro they are, or, if it’s a woman joining an all-male team, how well she’ll take being ragged over the size of her breasts.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      I’ve seen a lot of pushback against the idea of scripted interview questions, which is what we have to do in my government agency. I actually like it, because seeing the variations in the answers when it’s the exact same questions is really helpful. And setting the questions is a useful process, as you say, since you have to talk with other panel members about what sorts of answers you’re hoping to hear or what you’re aiming to learn from each question.

      You do need the flexibility to ask follow ups and probe a bit – companies that prevent interviewers from saying anything that’s not in the script are really limiting themselves. But it does keep oddball questions out, and also keeps the interview from getting lost in some shared connection with the hiring manager that isn’t really relevant to the job and which can be problematic from a diversity perspective (“oh, we went to the same prep school – is the lacrosse coach still there?”).

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        We tend to have scripted questions we can choose from to get at specific core competencies that are relevant to the position. (E.g., for a competency of communication, “tell me about a time when you had to push back on a request from a client. How did you handle that?” We can reword them to sound more natural, but they are good starting points to make sure we’re asking each candidate the same questions and are asking questions that will really help us determine whether someone is a good candidate for the role. But we usually have other, non-scripted questions that we ask everyone just to get a better overall picture. (E.g., “What do you like best about the work you’re doing in your current position?”)

      2. ophelia*

        Yes, we do this, too (government contractor) – the questions themselves are tailored to specific positions, but it really helps us to compare candidates against not only the job description, but against each other.

      3. Environmental Compliance*

        The pushback we have for our process is that the scripted questions are not varied between positions, and the scripted questions HR has given us are often irrelevant to the position itself, or so, so very generic that you may as well ask about the weather, especially since we aren’t supposed to vary from those questions *at all*.

        If the scripted questions are well thought out, specific still to the position, then they can be very useful.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yikes – that totally deserves pushback!

          In our process the hiring manager/panel come up with 5-8 scripted questions for that position/hiring round, and have to write notes on the answers to each in the interviews themselves. In practice, we can follow up, ask variations, ask other questions at the end, etc. It seems to work pretty well – we usually have one that amounts to “tell me about yourself” but we can also ask a couple about “tell me about a time when”, usually an “if you were asked to do X project, talk through how you’d approach it” one, and in some roles a technical question or two, all customized to the position.

          I think we have to get HR to approve the questions we write, but as long as they’re basically relevant and not clearly aimed at favoring a specific internal candidate or anything we don’t usually have any trouble.

          I like it – we can’t really go by the general sense we get from the candidate since we have to score each answer, and looking back at my notes about what different candidates actually say for the same question can really point out where someone who came across well in some ways (like being composed and confident) didn’t actually have the best answer. I think it helps me consciously address my own unconscious biases.

        2. PT*

          Yes, I worked somewhere where this was the case, as well. The scripted questions were the same for all positions. Well, we had WILDLY varying positions. The questions weren’t relevant for half the jobs- and they prevented you from asking relevant questions regarding those jobs.

          If I’m hiring a llama care technician, I need them to have a background in basic animal and veterinary care of llamas, but I am stuck interviewing them about how they would integrate the company’s core values in their day to day work and what their experience is in creating measurable growth targets for finances and budgets. When I need them to clean out stalls, feed llamas, identify if llamas are sick, and give llamas medication and basic first aid for injuries. I should be making them retake the American Llama Association Llama First Aid written test, or demonstrate llama CPR on a llama dummy, for example, not asking them about how they’d use Myers-Briggs insights in their day to day llama care.

      4. Koalafied*

        When I interview candidates, there’s usually a set of generally applicable questions that I do ask everyone, and then a set of questions that are specifically prompted by something in the candidate’s resume or cover letter that I want to ask more about. For instance, I’m going to have different questions for someone applying to work at my issue advocacy organization if their background is 1) at an advocacy org in a similar or adjacent issue are 2) at an advocacy org for a wildly different issue 3) at an agency where they served multiple clients, etc. If my hands were tied I could certainly ask the same questions of all three, but it would be a poor use of time to probe the people who have worked only directly for organizations to ensure they have reasonable expectations around what working for a single org instead of an agency will be like for their day to day.

    3. CBB*

      When I interviewed for my current job, before the interview I was given a written test with simple math, logic and physics problems. That seems like a better way to determine if someone knows the square root of 16.

      Last time someone asked me who the governor was, it was to check the severity of recent blow to the head. I’m told I answered “Ronal Reagan.”

      1. calonkat*

        I learned after fainting in the doctor’s office once and trying to take out the corner of a desk on my way down, that doctors have no sense of humor when trying to ascertain your mental state. If they ask if you know where you are, “Sol 3” is not the answer they are looking for.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I’m sorry but I LOLed at that.
          I remember passing out in the waiting room as a teenager. I slumped onto the shoulder of the guy next to me, and just remember hearing him say “hey are you alright?” and thinking “I wouldn’t be here if I was in good health” before blacking out entirely.

          … I came round to find the doctor trying to take my blood pressure, the first thing I heard being “Nurse, her blood pressure is 0, how come she’s still alive?”
          Luckily, the nurse replied “Doctor, you put it on wrong. Turn it round and you’ll find she is alive after all”;

    4. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      I agree with Alison’s advice that questions like that should not be asked unless they are relevant to the job you’re hiring for. If an interviewer asks general knowledge questions, good candidates will probably wonder where the interviewer got the ridiculous idea to ask questions like that, decide to go elsewhere, and the company might miss out on a potentially great employee.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Also, general knowledge questions have the potential to enable discrimination – you ask someone the length of an average football field, for example, and you bias to only considering (probably male) football fans. Sounds obvious, but a lot of IQ tests have had to be rewritten in order to avoid assumptions of what is actually very biased expectations of knowledge as the basis for questions.

        Not to mention that anyone who asks these kinds of questions sounds like they don’t know what the heck they are doing (because they don’t). That’s not going to reflect well on the company or give highly qualified candidates a good impression of the role or the management.

    5. WantonSeedStitch*

      You’re more generous than I am in your hypothesis about why he’s asking those questions. My immediate thought was that if asked why he’s asking them, his response would likely be “I don’t want to hire an idiot.” He’s probably someone who would actually LIKE it if someone listed their IQ on their résumé.

      1. Jack(ie) Straw from Wichita*

        Yes! I thought the same exact thing!

        Random—I’m in a leadership masters program and the two people I reference most in my papers are Alison and Kelli Finglass. lol

    6. LW #4*

      The question for AAM about general knowledge questions is actually from a few years ago. I was on the panel (of three people total), but didn’t lead it. The other two have since left the company, and the company is good about training in general, but not with training on how to interview. It actually turns out the coworker never asked those questions again. These were questions where our supervisor would say to us, “Does anyone have any other questions?” and then my coworker would go into questions like “Who is the governor?” He already asked job-relevant questions and could have skipped these. I never asked him about it, but I think he saw it used in interviews somewhere else and then probably a combination of my coworker didn’t know what it was supposed to measure / the original interviewer wasn’t using them correctly (or, you could argue, shouldn’t be using them at all). As to the purpose, and I’m just completely guessing, maybe it was to measure how well the interviewee handles the unexpected? Not a good way to gauge that, of course, but I’m really grasping at explanations.

  3. staceyizme*

    I’d think that maybe an “x” plus “y” approach would help with LW1. Is there anything else that is “off” in the resume? (And it is otherwise an appealing potential match for the position?) If nothing else is “off” and everything else places them near the top of the pool insofar as known factors, interview. If there are questions on other aspects of stated experience or expression in the resume, then “pass” and go to the next candidate(s).

  4. tiny*

    My company has several projects that have the same casual name – because if you want to describe them succinctly, the same string of words is the best fit for both. It’s sorta cringey but it happens. I think there is a non-negligible chance this is a misunderstanding.

    1. Meep*

      We have a manager who constantly calls things whatever she pleases, which can lead to a lot of confusion no matter how many times you correct her. She, for example, calls everything relating to animals aardvarks. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about elephants, lions, or giraffes, she will refer to them as aardvarks. For about a solid year now, we have been developing the Rainbow Swirl Graphical User Interface. She keeps asking about the status Chocolate GUI that was completed two years ago and keeps referring to the Rainbow Swirl GUI as the Chocolate GUI even with clients. Does not matter how many times you correct this woman, it is in one ear and out the other because she refuses to LISTEN.

      I wonder if maybe he had a manager like that, and legitimately thought he was working on Project 123 when he was working on Project 234 instead, because his manager is as much as an idiot as ours is.

    2. Dona Florinda*

      I’ve been working on a project for over a year now, and so far the name has been changed three times. Coworkers who left have no idea about the most recents names, new ones don’t know that the name wasn’t always what it is now… I think that are many possible explanations other than ‘he must be lying’.

    3. Hannah Lee*

      Good point!

      It’s also possible that applicant changed the name of the project in his resume to make it something more generic and accidently landed on the name of another project.

      For example, when I’d updated my resume after working on an ERP implementation, instead of using my employer’s project name or the vendors’ project codewords, I said something bland like ERP Implementation blah blah blah. Because the exact name of the project wasn’t important, the nature of the work, the accomplishments, results were.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I had a job title like that– my official job title was LLLAMA Project Officer, where LLLAMA was an acronym for an internal project called Living, Laughing, Loving, Ask Me Anything, but on my CV I usually switch it to Wellbeing Project Officer because what the heck.

  5. autumnal*

    What’s with the reality orientation questions? If someone asked me who the gov of my state is at a job interview, I’d have sincere reservations about working for a company that would approve such questions. A load of nonsense.

    1. introverted af*

      Yeah that’s really weird. I know people used to say you need to know stuff because you won’t have a calculator/dictionary/etc. in your back pocket always but we usually do nowadays because of our phones, let alone the actual computers so many of us work on. I would hope that the OP asked some very pointed questions that either got very specific answers about why this is relevant, or more hopefully put a stop to it.

    2. TiffIf*

      My company is across multiple states and countries. My current manager lives on the other side of the country. If she had asked who the current governor was I would have to clarify if she meant where I live and where she lives. I know the governor in my state, don’t know off the top of my head who it is in her state!

      This is such a weird question to ask in an interview.

    3. A Girl Named Fred*

      I like to think that I’d be composed enough to take a brief pause and respond something along the lines of, “Can you help me understand how that question is relevant to my fit for this position?” but I think it’s more likely I’d gape at them like a fish for a second before answering and then mentally put it in the list of potential flags, especially if neither of the other interviewers reacted to it as being at all out of place. Maybe not a full red flag, but something I’d consider as part of the overall impression I got.

    4. Charlotte Lucas*

      I work for a state agency, I’m definitely not paying attention if I don’t know the name of the governor!

      I did once get current events questions during an interview, but that was for a copy-editing position, so it made sense.

      And when I worked in retail, basic math tests were common, because sometimes systems go down. (Don’t think it’s as common anymore. But the best cashiers usually are pretty decent at basic math.)

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Our jam doughnuts were 7 1/2p a piece. I knew my 7 1/2 times table off pat, because those doughnuts sold like hot cakes.

    5. avoid politics*

      As a non resident at time of interview, I would have no idea who the governor was. As an non citizen who can’t vote and therefore isn’t interested politics, I didn’t know who the governor was in my state for many years after moving. I also don’t see how knowing the current governors name would affect how well I can do the job.

    6. Matt*

      These are some of the worst interview questions I’ve been asked over the years (in no particular order)…

      1) If you could sing any song on American Idol, which one would it be?
      2) If you could bring three things to a deserted island, what would they be?
      3) What kind of candy bar would you be?

      1. Anonymous Today*

        1. I never watch American Idol.

        2. Tom Hanks and any 2 other people who are friends of his.

        3. Kit Kat. In theory, it’s easy to share.

      2. Jen*

        When I was first staring out, years ago, I would have probably tried to give an honest answer. Now, I’d probably think a minute, then go into something scrumptious and lay it on thick with a mix of Food Network and Oprah pop psychology just to play with the interviewer for a while.

        Do companies really still ask foolish questions like this now days?

      3. Nerfmobile*

        Am I going to be stranded on that deserted island, or am I going to bask in luxury for a week there and then be flown home first class? Answers may vary depending on the circumstances.

  6. Hills to Die On*

    #1 has actually happened to me! He worked on it just after I left and from a different department (IT vs Ops). His experience was legit and he was hired. He is a great addition to the company!

  7. Hippo-nony-potomus*

    LW3 and internal bureaucracy: as a new manager, do you have any ability to change this for the role? “BS meetings” and a lot of internal memos sound like time that could be better spent on tasks that move the company forward, and changing the culture means that more people would be successful in the role.

    1. LQ*

      I’m not sure why people think that just because someone is a manager of what is likely one tiny little team in a giant company, that they can change the way the entire company (or government!) works. People have a weird weird sense of what managers can actually do.

      If a company has a lot of internal bureaucracy it’s deeply wildly unheard of for one entry level manager to actually be able to change that company’s level of bureaucracy. Just saying “well change everything about the company and how they function in the world without having any idea of why they are that way (tightly regulated industries for example, government agencies, etc but also because deciding that you’re not going to have processes and structures but are just going to rely on people and their judgement all the time gets you a good ole boys club full of racism and sexism real fast a lot of times and most often one of the ways to pry away from that in a giant corp is to move into having structure aka bureaucracy until they manipulate that too) and then saying that it’s what is required for success in the role is really not that useful to someone.

      A good way to address this is really to be just straightforward, “there are 3-5 meetings a week from HR and other groups that you will be required to attend, you’ll have to fill out everything in triplicate and three times as far in advance as you think is reasonable to get anything purchased, and the required trainings are required even if you never have anything to do with those systems” (maybe slightly less direct than that, but I wouldn’t be much less direct.)

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Agree about a cog likely finding it difficult to change the wheel, but I don’t think i’m going along for “more bureaucracy = less racism/sexism” (unless i’m misunderstanding)

        1. LQ*

          Oh I don’t think it leads to less! I just think sometimes it’s a response. I also don’t think that lack of bureaucracy=less. I just think that rather than address the core of the issue companies will frequently do something like move toward a more bureaucratic structure. Sometimes even with good intentions. We legit have 2-3 bs meetings from HR every week about how equity matters and how to be more inclusive. I know the people who are doing this perceive themselves as champions who are doing a Great Good.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah, people don’t like red tape but environmental agencies, for example, will require firms to prove that they’re not going to poison the air land or water round their factories

      2. Hippo-nony-potomus*

        I did not say to “change everything about the company,” and as an attorney who has worked in compliance for government contractors, I am well aware of compliance reasons for company quirks. In fact, I explicitly asked if it were possible to change. Perhaps you missed the question mark at the end of what I wrote.

        FYI, your second sentence, middle paragraph, is 127 words long and almost impossible to decipher.

        1. Broadway Duchess*

          I read that sentence as an intentional, stream-of-consciousness run-on meant to showcase how little procedure control an entry-level manager would have.

        2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          “FYI, your second sentence, middle paragraph, is 127 words long and almost impossible to decipher.”

          I had no trouble deciphering it, personally. Ymmv, I guess.

          BTW, one of the commenting rules here is “Don’t nitpick people’s spelling, grammar, or word choices.” So, you know, maybe don’t do that?

          *Full commenting rules are here: https://www.askamanager.org/how-to-comment

  8. HS Teacher*

    If someone asked me a trivia question during an interview, I would walk out. And I say that as a trivia nerd. That is not a place I would want to work.
    OP, if you can at all get him to stop doing it, get him to stop doing it. It’s ridiculous and doesn’t provide any information one would need in order to make a hiring decision.

    1. Meep*

      The best I can think of is that it might be to see how they “react” under pressure. It is a pretty cheap blow, though.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Who was the winning pitcher of Game 3 of the 1964 World Series? Your entire future depends on your answer!

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Without looking there’s a decent chance it was Bob Gibson. Great quote from mgr Johnny Keane on why he pitched Gibson on two days rest in Game 7 that yr: “I had a commitment to his heart”

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Good guess, but it was Jim Bouton, this being one of the two years when he was a very good starter, as contrasted with when he was writing his book while a mediocre reliever and complaining to anyone who would listen.

          True confession: I just threw that game out at random. I had to look it up, once you responded.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        If my future depended on the answer to a game I don’t watch from a year before I was born…. I think my future lies elsewhere.

        Unless, “I have no idea, can you explain why it matters?” Is seen as a successful reply.

  9. Green great dragon*

    I am still working on trying to stop and think before replying to questions my reports ask me. Questions like ‘what do you think?’ can buy some time, as well as being a good thing to do and possibly stopping me answering based on half an understanding.

    I have been a manager quite a long time.

  10. Maxie's Mommy*

    “Of all the questions you could ask to get to know me better, or learn how I handle stress, this is what you chose? 4. It’s 4. You want me to show my work?” (this reminds me of Clueless–“Quick, what’s 7 times 7?” “Stuff she knows!!) This person has identified himself as a horse’s patoot.

  11. TD*

    Nothing beats a candidate I interviewed and was going to hire upon passing the background check. His resume was great and he interviewed very well. It was all a lie he had just gotten out of prison (20 years)

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I mean…
      he interviewed very well. (Assuming there was some kind of screening for whether he has the skillset to do the work?)
      he’s done the 20 years.
      he has to work somewhere because he now has bills to pay.
      I am not sure how I feel about all this.

      Admittedly, it is not great that the resume was entirely fabricated. But from my understanding of what the odds are of someone who just got out of prison finding employment*, it’s almost like these people have no other way of supporting themselves, except by going back to prison :( This is slowly changing – there is an upscale restaurant in my area (upscale as in, there is no way I can afford to eat there ever – want to note that it is extremely good and gets the best reviews consistently), that bases its entire business model on hiring and training ex-convicts, who then go on to have careers in the food industry. I think this is fantastic and wish I could support them (they seem to have opened a second, more casual and affordable, location, so I will be looking into that).

      * unless you’re the guy who was the CIO at my first US job. Dude had gotten life in prison for murdering a hitchhiker when he was 17. Got out at 35 for good behavior, and had taken computer classes in prison. Mom and dad, both wealthy lawyers, pulled some strings, and voila, son became my CIO. It was a disaster, I have to add.

  12. Nanani*

    #1 should probably make sure an assessment of the relevant skills is part of the interview.
    Maybe they had a role that just didn’t intersect with LW very much, or maybe memory is at play. Either way an assessment of skills would help.

  13. Three Flowers*

    We recently had a (student) applicant like this, who was claiming in a cover letter to us that he worked for us! Eventually we figured out that he worked on a special project in another office of our institution that we had been invited to offer thoughts on once or twice, and, get this, had been told by the staff person coordinating the project (not us) to say on his resume/LinkedIn/wherever *that he worked for us*. It became a Big Thing (other student workers had been told the same), but it wasn’t the applicant’s fault.

    (Until he applied to work with us again, with the same resume, but that’s a whole other chapter.)

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Ok they’re not supposed to tell other people that they worked for you (are you the CIA or what???) but they’re not even supposed to tell YOU they worked for you?

  14. Sleepless KJ*

    Re #1: could the candidate have been a contract employee that contributed to the project remotely but had no contact or interaction with those that worked on the project within the company? Seems to me it’s worth giving them the benefit of the doubt and asking the question instead of jumping to nefarious intentions.

    Re #4: interview questions that are designed to put the candidate off balance or make them feel uncomfortable are wrong. If I were the one being interviewed I’d be nopjng out of there.

  15. Crap Spackle*

    Is it customary to list former names on one’s LinkedIn profile? My first thought was that this person could have transitioned since working on that project. If it’s not customary to list former names, one could assume the LW might be familiar with the applicant’s dead name instead. He could have informed the prior company that inquiries for his new name should be associated with his work under the former name. If that’s the case, he shouldn’t be beholden to his former name forever. We say Lily and Lana Wachowski are the creators of The Matrix, even though they went by different names when they worked on the project…

  16. Mango Is Not For You*

    I had a similar situation once – someone said that they worked at an organization at the same time as me and our recruiter reached out to me since this person said they knew me and that I could vouch for them. I had absolutely no recollection of this person whatsoever and told the recruiter that. Recruiter came back a day later and said, “apparently they hadn’t started their gender transition or name change at the time, here’s what you might have known them as.” And I did! So, you know, these things can happen.

  17. learnedthehardway*

    For OP#1 – I would use the approach of asking the candidate about the project context, what his role was, and then drill down until you get his personal involvement, responsibilities, and accomplishments, where his role ended and other people’s roles began, how many people was he working with, and who did he report to on the project. etc.

    What I find is that there are some people who lie, but a lot more people who GENUINELY believe they did something and that it is their personal accomplishment. You have to get beyond what the candidate believes they did, to what they actually did. And then you have to evaluate whether their accomplishment was the success they think it was, as well.

    For example, I managed someone who was convinced that he had put together a major company conference. In reality, he booked the rooms and ordered food. To hear him tell it, it was a major accomplishment. As his manager, I knew differently. Someone interviewing him would have figured out what his involvement was by asking him what the conference was about, what department sponsored it (not ours), how many people were involved in planning it, who chose the speakers, etc. etc. etc. They would have found that he was a minor player in a minor logistics / administrative role on the project, NOT the leader of the entire initiative, as he genuinely believed he was.

    I have done a lot of interviewing, and I find that there are often just as many issues of people under-claiming accomplishments as there are of people over-claiming them (and the split often falls along gender lines). That’s a broad generalization, so suffice it to say that when someone tells you their key accomplishments in terms of “WE”, you need to drill down there too, to find out who “WE” were – ie. did the person in front of you actually lead the initiative and make the changes happen themselves, and manage the team that did legwork, OR were they a team member on the team that did the project? Big difference. There have been times when I’ve told people that they need to step up and OWN their accomplishments, because they won’t progress their careers if they can’t do that.

  18. Argh*

    OP1, the fact that you don’t remember the candidate’s involvement in the project means nothing. It is also not an invitation for you to go and do some back door reference checks without the candidate’s permission.

    Alison’s advice is very good: interview the candidate anyway, without bringing any biases to the table, and go from there.

  19. fluffy*

    I’m confused about #1. Did the candidate submit his LinkedIn as part of their application? Or did the LW search out the LinkedIn page? My Linked in is many years out of date.

  20. Leela*

    OP 4 I would definitely think twice about accepting an offer from a company that asked me those types of questions in an interview if it wouldn’t be necessary for the job…I want my coworkers to have been chosen because they’re good at their work, not because they knew the square root of 16 and another candidate didn’t offhand or something.

    Did your coworker just google interview questions and came up with stuff like this? I ask because worked in hiring for Large Online Retailer and interviewers there *loved* to ask really weird questions in interviews that had nothing to do with the job, convinced that they could figure out what it said about a candidate, often because they’d googled interview questions without thinking about what the company actually needs to know about someone and they found these: “What type of animal would you say you are?” “How many marbles could you fit in a taxi…don’t worry, you don’t need to get it right! We just want to see how you operate” etc…questions that really only served to make themsevles feel clever, and thoroughly wasted the precious little time you get in an interview to assess a person. Or they’d google and find advice like “ask off the wall questions so you can assess how your candidate acts in off the wall situations at work! Lifehack!” But it’s not a lifehack, because someone dealing with an off the wall situation at work will fall back on policies, workflows, interoffice politics, and whatever else they’ve picked up about their role and the boundaries of it in an off the wall situation. Being asked an off the wall question in an interview where certain norms are expected and the shared context is very limited doesn’t really tell you something unless they refuse to answer or throw a tantrum about it or something.

    I’d shut it down, you don’t want colleagues (or god forbid, reports) who were chosen for this reason, is your coworker worried you haven’t been getting good hires and thinks this is the way to reveal important factors about a person? If you can find out why he thinks this is important, it’s possible there’s an issue he think proceeding like this will resolve (like recent hires have seemed clueless or something?) and maybe there’s an issue with the training or something? It’s also possible he just up and decided to do this, who knows!

    1. bamcheeks*

      There was a big fashion for those kind of questions in the late 90s and 00s, partly led by Silicon Valley, in the belief they tested “critical thinking”. Hiring at Google was particularly associated with them, although I don’t know whether that’s because Google pioneered them or used them more than anyone else or just because Google was The Cool Big Thing That Everyone’s Heard Of in the 00s. If someone mentions them now, it’s a real timewarp.

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