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How to Catch Cheats on Telephonic Interviews

It is imperative that interviewers are expected to be smart people. They need to have the knack of catching thieves in their knickers. They should be able to look at a candidate’s eyes and expressions and judge the confidence and the truth behind his words. But, what if the candidate is at a remote location and the only means is the low quality voice between the two? This cost cutting world has struck off the word travel, which adds to the challenge.

I recently wrote an article on IT job preparation on Train Signal Training. As I started to read it, an encounter with one of my interviewees flashed in front my mind’s eye.

We were hiring ITIL professionals and I called a candidate who had around 5 years of experience. He worked in my previous company, which is one of the biggest service organizations in the world. We spoke at length about his work and his reporting line in the company. I like to strike up a chord before setting things on fire.

For the level we were hiring, we expected the candidate to have a good understanding of the basics and to have worked in the relevant field for a considerable amount of time. I generally test the understanding in incident management at first and move up the ladder depending on the interviewee’s capability.

My first question was – “what is the objective of incident management?” He replied after thinking about it for a while – “Restore normal operations as quickly as possible with the least possible impact on either the business or the user, at a cost-effective price”. I felt that was good, in fact too good to be true. It didn’t feel like he was recalling from memory but I pressed on. The next question – “what is a standard change?” I could hear him think aloud, and then he blurted – “A change to the infrastructure that follows an established path, is relatively common, and is the accepted solution to a specific requirement or set of requirements.”

At this point, I knew something was not right. I could not hide my inquisitiveness. I asked – “It seems like you are giving text book answers.” He was quick to retort – “I recently passed the ITIL v3 foundation certification”.

The ITIL v3 foundation certification is an objective type exam, where the exam taker has to choose the best answer from the available four possible answers. It does not require you to know the sentences, but a mere understanding of the concepts. I have worked with hundreds of ITIL professionals and have seen a number of my project team members prepare for it, and nobody went to the extent of memorizing the phrases.

I knew that the person who I was interviewing was cheating. He was probably using google to find answers quickly. I had to catch him with his pants down. So, I started asking more text book questions across the ITIL spectrum. I got on-the-money answers after some umming and pauses.

After hitting the jackpot every time, I lauded him at his ITIL knowledge. I paused for a moment and turned around a couple of concepts and phrased a question. To answer my twisted query, one needed to have not more than basic ITIL knowledge. But, the solution to the problem I posed was not google-able, at least with the words I used to frame my question.

“How are incident and availability managements related?” A more straight forward question would be – How is availability management affected due to incident management?

“Hmmm… Let me think…” No audible sound from the other end for a minute or so. “Aah! I don’t seem to recollect the answer”

“You seemed to know everything to the word, what happened? This is simple enough as well.”

“Not sure about the answer. Incident management is …” He blurted out the definitions of both incident and availability managements.

It was my time to react – “Looks like you have all the definitions in front of you. Either you have photo memory or you have answers popping on your screen. What say?”

Silence! More silence! Beep sounds indicating that the call has been disconnected.

I duly patted my own back in appreciation, blacklisted him from my organization’s records and felt pretty good to have spotted a criminal who sat 1000 kilometers away from me. “One less cheap background check for you to do” I told my self .

Things to Note while Interviewing People on Telephone

–          People don’t talk in written language. Any hint of written language getting spoken should be your first hint of trouble.

–          If you suspect, turn the questions around. Cheats may not be able to turn around as quickly as the questions fired at them. Ask the same question from different directions, and that will make them go south.

–          Provide a situation on hand and the true-them will come out in verbatim. No catalysts or external agencies will have a role to play.

–          Give due importance to the pauses they make and the time they take before answering your question.

Google Trouble

Google is a telephonic interviewer’s biggest foe. This search engine can answer any question when provided with the right keywords, and sometimes even with keywords that are a close match to the right ones.

As an interviewer, do some homework with the questions you plan to ask, and also keying your posers on google to find the available keys.

Apart from google, candidates might refer to textbooks and ebooks and the choices available in terms of answers are quite limited. Applying the aforementioned tips should catch the culprits hands down.

Video Interviews the Way Forward

I am a firm believer that video interviews will take over all forms, including the personal rounds. The advent of 3G in mobile telephony will play a significant role by changing the atmosphere, not only with interviews but also cutting short business travel by a great deal. In a way, I feel sorry for the travel industry which may have to discount the business they make from business travelers.

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