Beware Of Hiring Candidates Who Say 'Always' And 'Never' In Job Interviews

This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ

If the job candidate you’re interviewing says “always” and “never” a lot, it may be a signal that you’re talking to a low performer. How do we know this? My Hiring for Attitude research team asked about 1,400 professionals a series of open-ended job interview questions such as, ” Could you tell me about a time you got tough feedback from the boss?”

We then classified all the answers according to potentially good and potentially bad hires, and finally, we performed a textual analysis to see how high and low performer answers varied. (Basically, we used software to analyze the grammar, content, word forms, etc. of all the answers.) Amongst our findings, we learned that low performers use absolutes, such as “ always” and “never,” 103% more than high performers.

There aren’t too many things in life are “always” or “never” much of anything. High performers know this. Plus, the best candidates have all kinds of high performer experience to draw from that they can’t wait to share with you. So, for example, if you ask a high performer, “Could you tell me about a time you faced a tough challenge at work?” it just doesn’t serve them to say, “Oh yeah, that always/never happened to me.”

Instead, a high performer will tell you, usually in detail, about any number of times they faced a tough challenge at work. For example, “It required a lot of courage for me to stand behind my idea. But I was able to do it because I was confident that I had covered all my bases and that this was the very best solution for both the organization and the client.”

Low performers, on the other hand, don’t have those high performer experiences to draw from. Peppering their language with absolutes to try and sound like a high performer is one way low performers try and hide that fact. For example, a low performer might say, “I’ve never faced a tough challenge I couldn’t beat” or “I was always faced with tough challenges at my last job.”

Research also shows that low performers tend to engage in black and white thinking and they often evidence a lack of intellectual flexibility, insecurity and a need to show off, all of which also play out in the use of absolutes. What you often won’t hear from low performers are all the delightful details about what they actually did in this situation that high performers are so eager to share.


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Let’s take a look at some more examples from our study, using the interview question “Could you tell me about a time you got tough feedback from the boss?” Here are some classically bad answers with lots of absolutes:

Unless the criticism is unfounded and not constructive, I would never react in a negative manner. Any feedback is good feedback. Without feedback, positive or negative, you will never be able to gauge how the work you do impacts the users.

I’ve never really had this experience. I’ve had positive feedback, but never anything that was hard to hear. That’s because if I’m not sure about something, I always check with the boss before I proceed, so there are never any misunderstandings or reasons for critical feedback.

Oh, I always accept all feedback with a positive attitude.

Now let’s look at some better answers to the same interview question “Could you tell me about a time you got tough feedback from the boss?”

I reported to a new director and had a lower evaluation score than I was used to receiving. I took the initiative to speak to my new director and we came to an understanding of the changes he wanted me to make so I could improve my scores, which I did.

I put out a report without checking it and I sent out false information. My boss called me on it. I was in a hurry and I skipped a critical step. He was right to talk to me about it. No matter what kind of deadline, it’s better to do the job correctly than to give incorrect information.

Notice how the better answers avoid absolutes like always, never, impossible, unquestionably, etc.? Notice the specificity in those answers?

In addition to practice, all it takes to do this kind of textual analysis during your own candidate interviews is to listen, really listen. And that means that when the candidate is talking, you’re not talking, or interrupting, or interjecting. Your lips are zipped and your ears are wide open. In this way you can listen to a candidate’s language with an awareness of how often they say “always” or ”never” or some other absolute. This starts to give you a good feel about whether they’re headed toward the high or low performer camps.

Does this mean that every person who says “always” or “never” in an interview is an automatic low performer? Of course it doesn’t. Textual analysis is a gold mine when it comes to assessing attitude, but it’s just one part of the Hiring for Attitude process. The most successful hiring managers recognize the signals that a candidate may be faking attitude and then probe deeper to get to the truth.


Posted by Mark Murphy on 21 July, 2016 Behavioral Interview Questions, Forbes, Hiring for Attitude | 0 comments
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