December 16 , 2017

When Hiring for Attitude — Catch ‘Attitude Fraud’ Because Candidates Fake It

“Attitude fraud” – when candidates with an undesirable attitude, purposely deceive and act as if they have a great one to get hired. Even though it is a major problem, few in recruiting make any attempt to detect or avoid it. Most interviewers think that they can accurately spot deception. Unfortunately they are wrong because data reveals that even sophisticated and highly trained individuals at the FBI, the CIA and psychiatrists can’t detect deceptions better than a random guess. Google research found that “Many managers, recruiters, and HR staffers think they have a special ability to sniff out talent. They’re wrong. Candidates know that they need to act with a great attitude because by including it in your job description you undoubtedly alerted them.

In addition, because candidates often get the interview questions (including those questions covering attitude) in advance from Internet sites like Glassdoor.com, they know to prepare for the question. And because they know that attitude is important, during the interview, I estimate that as many as 40% of candidates use some combination of acting or lying to purposely deceive (and incidentally I find that most don’t consider this deception to be unethical). And there is also “nervous deception”, a high level of candidate nervousness may cause interviewees to display attitudes and behaviors that don’t accurately reflect how they would act in the workplace. And consequently, I find that attitude fraud is one of the primary reasons why 46% of all new-hires fail within 18 months.

A Few Firms Have Made Identifying “Attitude Fraud” A Standard Practice

A few firms that absolutely require a great attitude have made identifying “attitude fraud” standard practice. Southwest Air has a corporate recruiting strategy where they “hire for attitude, and train for skills.” And because accurately assessing attitude is so critical to them, years ago Southwest developed a formal process that encouraged their employees to assess the attitude and behaviors of candidates. That assessment could occur anytime during travel to the interview on their planes and informal interactions outside of the interview process. The Internet retailer Zappos designated their shuttle driver that drives interviewees to and from the Vegas airport to make the same type of informal “when they’re not looking” assessment of attitude. If the candidate treats the driver poorly, they are simply not hired. The CEO of Charles Schwab uses an innovative approach for some jobs where he arranges to meet a candidate for a breakfast interview. He gets there early and arranges for the restaurant manager to, purposely, mess up the breakfast order of his guest. He then assesses how the candidate responds to the frustrating situation.

Consider Adding These “Attitude Fraud Reduction Approaches”

If you are one of the many recruiters or hiring managers that absolutely require a positive attitude or strong customer service skills among new-hires, you need to take proactive action. The first step in combating this “attitude fraud” is to automatically assume that the attitude that you witness during the interview probably isn’t fully accurate. And then you need to modify your hiring process so that it better identifies “attitude fakers”. Fortunately, in my research, I have found that there are numerous ways that you can cut through the faking and discover the real attitude of a candidate. The most effective approaches can be put into four categories: 1) catch them when they are off guard, 2) increase their contacts with employees, 3) ask them to force rank their skills and 4) put them in pressure situations. Unfortunately, because every firm is different, there is no single magic bullet approach. However, there are a wide variety of “already tried” approaches that you should consider.

The top 10 most practical approaches to consider

  1. Assess candidates when they’re not expecting it – give candidates a badge to wear when they are on-site that quickly identifies them to all as possible hires. And then encourage all employees to interact with them when their guard is likely to be down. Especially rely on those classes of employees that they are most likely to interact with including receptionists, secretaries, recruiting coordinators, café workers, service workers, security guards, etc. And then have these employees assess and immediately report their attitude assessments. Having a designated cab/Uber driver give them a ride after the interview can be especially revealing. If you put candidates up in a designated hotel, you can ask hotel staff to report any with a bad attitude.
  2. Purposely insert activities that increase interaction – Zappos purposely designs their hiring process so that after the interview, there is an opportunity for an extended facility tour or employee shadowing opportunities. These extended interactions expand opportunities to catch those that are acting. After the interview, Toyota manufacturing has even made candidates work on the assembly line with the team for the rest of the day. And surprisingly many of the candidates themselves realized that after that hands-on experience, that they don’t have the attitude or stamina for the job.
  3. Hold peer interviews – consider supplementing regular interviews with peer interviews. The interviewees are exclusively peer coworkers. These types of interviews are effective because, without a manager present, the candidate is more likely to let their guard down. In addition, it turns out that because coworkers realize that they will need to work alongside this individual, they are more diligent in identifying any signs of a bad attitude and poor customer service skills.
  4. Hold on-site events to assess – as previously noted, Zappos considers new-hire attitude and shared values to be critical to the success of their firm. Therefore they make it a practice to hold what they call “the social test”. They invite candidates to informal departmental or company events where they can interact with many employees. They also encourage interviewees to meet with employees over coffee.
  5. Ask candidates to force rank their soft skills – you can, of course, ask candidates directly during the interview if they have a positive attitude or strong customer service skills. But you are unlikely to get a completely honest answer. Instead before or during the interview, give the candidate a list of soft skills and ask them to rank the ones that they have, from the strongest to the weakest. This forced ranked list can quickly reveal at least which of the soft skills that they assess themselves to be the strongest in. Of course, if they rank a positive attitude or any essential customer service skill towards the bottom of the list, you should be concerned.
  6. Have references force rank a candidate’s soft skills – references, obviously, know the attitude of an individual, but they’re not always forthcoming about it because many are trying to help the candidate. As a result, asking references if the candidate has a specific attitude or soft skill almost always gets a “yes answer.” So instead give the reference a list of soft and customer service skills and ask them to force rank the ones that best reflect the candidate. It also makes sense to ask the reference to give an example of how they have seen the candidate exercise their positive attitude. If you’re especially concerned about a candidate’s attitude, make it a point to call a handful of individuals that they did not provide as a reference. You should also ask your employees that have worked with the candidate at other firms to provide an attitude assessment.
  7. Ask candidates which soft skills will be required on-the-job – ask the candidate to list (from most important to least important) the top specific soft skills that they know will be required to excel in the job. If they don’t know which soft skills will be required, or if they list attitude and customer service skills low on the list, you should be concerned.
  8. Give candidates a problem that requires customer service skills – before or during the interview, give, the candidate a real customer service problem situation at your firm. And then ask them to walk you through the steps on how they would solve it. If they leave out key customer service actions, including consulting with the customer, putting the customer first, avoiding a negative public scene, etc. you should be concerned.
  9. Hold an informal off-site event – some firms have used outside meetings over coffee, restaurant meals or meeting over drinks to further assess a candidate’s attitude in an informal setting where they are more likely to let their guard down. The alcohol component can be effective, but at the same time, it is, obviously, problematic.
  10. Online attitude assessment tests – there are a variety of attitude assessment tests available from vendors. However, I would be suspicious of any assessment test until you applied the test to your current employees. Give the test to a handful of your current employees and make sure that your employees with the best attitudes score much higher on these tests than your employees with an okay attitude.

These 4 additional approaches are effective, but they may be a stretch for some

  • Use data to identify the most accurate attitude assessors – it turns out that certain individuals are especially accurate at assessing attitude. So to identify who they are, with each new-hire record the attitude assessment score that was provided by each interviewer/assessor and each unique assessment approach. Use the data over time to determine which employees and process steps have routinely accurately predicted the on-the-job attitude of new-hires.
  • Offer top candidates temporary projects – although it’s a little difficult to arrange. By far the most accurate way of assessing attitude is to give candidates an opportunity to work with the team. So when feasible, ask them to work on a night, weekend or short duration remote project with the team. And then ask team members to assess their attitude.
  • Post-hiring continued assessment – once you realize that the best actors can fool you no matter what you do during the hiring process. It makes sense to continue the assessment of a new-hire’s attitude and customer service skills during onboarding and their initial training. And during this continued assessment, if you find individual new-hires that don’t meet the standards, they can either be offered additional training or be released. Zappos even offers new-hires $3000 to quit after their first week of training to get rid of many of their hiring mistakes. You should also continue to assess attitude during the first six month’s performance appraisal and every time that you need to discipline or release a new hire because of their recently discovered “bad attitude.” And if these failures occur frequently, you should have a systematic failure analysis process for identifying how the new-hire managed to disguise their “real attitude” and what new discovery techniques need to be added.
  • Consider the use of neuroscience assessments – even though this might initially sound outrageous, neuroscience assessments can recognize those that deceive. Vendors like HireVue offer a combination of AI technology, deep machine learning, and facial recognition technology to assess taped interviews. This technology allows the assessment to go beyond the actual answers and to assess phrases, facial expressions, voice inflection and even subtle physical movements that humans simply couldn’t catch. As a result, neuroscience approaches can even today accurately detect deceptions that humans cannot.

Be Wary Of These Questionable Deception Identification Approaches

Many hiring managers and recruiters actually believe that they can assess deception during interviews by observation. And as a result, it is quite common for interviewers to use approaches like assessing body language, eye contact, voice inflection, hesitation before answering, extended facial expressions, etc. as an indication of lying. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, even the FBI, the CIA and psychiatrists can’t accurately detect deceptions. And as an interviewer you can’t know if your interviewing techniques are effective because you don’t calculate the connection between high interview scores and high performance on the job.

Final Thoughts

Few even like to talk about it, but deception is unfortunately quite common throughout the hiring process. Data reveals that 46% of resumes contain false information and one study showed that up to 22% of candidates purposely lie during interviews. And even though there is no specific data covering attitude fraud during interviews, I estimate the number to be up to 50% of all candidates. And unfortunately, at over 95% of the firms that I have worked with do nothing to identify and minimize attitude fraud formally. It’s also true that hiring managers and recruiters “stretch the truth” during interviews, so you could call interviewing “liars poker”.

So my final my recommendation (as one of the few experts in the field of attitude fraud) is to try at least one of the mitigation factors listed above. Select an approach that makes sense for your situation. But after you implement it, be sure and use the split sample/control group approach to measure its impact accurately. The split sample control group approach is where you add one or more attitude assessment approaches to the hiring process for half of your candidates for a position with multiple openings. And then do nothing new to the other half of the candidates. After six months on-the-job, see if those hired from the group with the added assessment approach perform better with fewer attitude problems than the control group of new-hires (where nothing new was added).

Author’s Note: If you found that this article stimulated your thinking and that it was actionable, please take a minute to follow or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn

As seen on ERE Media August 14, 2017. 

Image from pixabay

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.