Employer Services

TIP TUESDAY: Take on an Investigator’s Mindset When Interviewing Applicants

by Tadd Downs for SHRM online

As a career criminal investigator, my job for the past 25 years has been to put bad guys in jail. Yes, I know this has nothing to do with human resources, and I am sure you are asking, “Why is a criminal investigator writing an article for an HR publication?” It’s simple: An investigator and an HR professional have more in common than you may think.

The more I speak to HR folks, the more I am convinced they could benefit from what I call an “investigator’s mindset.”

In essence, both sets of professionals conduct investigations. The law enforcement investigator does so to solve crimes, while the HR professional investigates applicants and candidates before hiring them. This can be challenging and frustrating. If the HR investigation is done right, a qualified employee is hired. If it’s done wrong, the employer ends up with a problem employee. However, avoiding a bad hire is easier said than done.

During a candidate interview, the HR professional ideally tries to have an open and honest conversation with the applicant so that the former can make an informed business decision. However, scientific studies show that applicants often lie in interviews to obtain a job. In addition, applicants may go to great lengths to try to impress the interviewer.

In my research, I’ve found that interviewers are often poorly prepared to detect a job seeker’s misleading statements. Here is where using the investigator’s mindset can help the HR professional.

Criminal investigators are experts at what I call creating a “psychologically safe” environment. When an HR professional uses an investigator’s mindset for hiring, he or she needs to:

  • Become a student of nonverbal communication.
  • Recognize the seven universal emotions.
  • Properly prepare.
  • Lower the cognitive load.
  • Listen aggressively.

Become a Student of Nonverbal Communication

Investigators know that they can’t rely on “gut instinct” but on facts. One way to do this is by becoming a student of nonverbal communication. By becoming a student of nonverbal communication, the HR professional can look beyond any impression an applicant tries to make. An excellent and easy-to-observe example of this is when an applicant answers a question verbally with “no,” but their nonverbal display—nodding their head—indicates “yes.”

Understand the Seven Universal Emotions

There are seven universal emotions shared by cultures throughout the world, according to a series of experiments by Dr. Paul Ekman, a professor emeritus in psychology at the University of California.

These emotions are anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Recognizing these emotions can allow the interviewer to determine whether what a candidate says coincides with what he or she is feeling. For example, an interviewer can ask, “How well did you get along with your previous supervisor?” If the applicant displays emotions such as contempt, disgust or anger, yet indicates they had a “great relationship,” the applicant’s emotions do not support his or her words. However, if the interviewer sees happiness during the applicant’s answer to the same question, the emotions and the verbal response are congruent.

Properly Prepare for the Interview

Interviewing takes preparation and practice. Setting aside time to prepare allows the interviewer to:

  • Avoid confirmation bias, which is a tendency to look for information that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses about a candidate, while neglecting information that might contradict that bias.
  • Avoid truth bias, which is the tendency for interviewers to want to believe others, despite evidence to the contrary.
  • Avoid overconfidence bias, which is the tendency for an interviewer to believe that his or her ability to interview is better than it actually is.

Lower Your Cognitive Load

Cognitive load refers to the amount of mental effort being used in one’s working memory. When your cognitive load is great, it impairs your ability to assess what it is you’re seeing and hearing. In layman’s terms, if too much is going on in your mind, you’re not able to conduct a successful interview. Your cognitive load will place a “road block” in the way of adequately interviewing your applicants.

The primary way an interviewer can reduce cognitive load is by recording the interview. This will replace the need to take notes.

Aggressive Listening

The late Stephen Covey said it best in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People (Free Press, 1989). “Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand.” Thumb-twiddling, rubbing of the legs or hands, and self-hand-holding are a few examples. Maintaining eye contact is one way to listen aggressively to an applicant. Eye contact shows interest in what the candidate is saying, and scientific studies have shown that by maintaining eye contact, you are better able to recall what has been communicated.

The Power of Silence

Lastly, use the power of silence—your silence. After all, if you are talking, you are not listening.

Tadd Downs has over 25 years experience conducting interviews and investigations with the Virginia State Police, then 21 years as a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service. He is the author of Using the Investigator’s Mindset: How HR Professionals Can Interview Like an Investigator to Avoid Bad Hires, (self-published, 2017) in which he takes an in-depth look at the applicant interviewing process.

WEDNESDAY WORKFACT: Onboarding Employees for Success

{by Christine Marino at http://blog.clickboarding.com/employee-engagement-onboarding-impacts-performance}


Employee engagement is a perpetual hot-button topic for employers as research have shown that as many as 70% of employees are disengaged at work. This means less productivity for employees and endless frustration for you and your management team. The best way to create a culture that is engaged and happy is by engaging your employees as soon as possible — during the onboarding process.

Use Culture to Propel Employee Engagement

There’s more to early onboarding than having legal paperwork completed by their first day. Almost 50% of potential employees explore company materials (like their careers website) to get a feel for the company’s values and cultural fit. For employers, this means “cultural onboarding” needs to start well before an employee starts working. Provide your new hires with digital information as part of their onboarding material. Be sure to explain what your company is about and contextualize their job within its larger vision. This gives your hire a better idea of the company they’re about to work for, easing them into the job.

Be Proactive and Smile

You’ve told your new hire where their office is and what events go on the company calendar… now what? What do candidates want from their onboarding? According to a recent survey by BambooHR, 23% of new hires who left their jobs within six months of starting wanted clearer guidelines about their responsibilities. 17% felt “a friendly smile or helpful co-worker would have made all the difference.” The message? When it comes to onboarding, a little friendliness goes a long way.

Better Performance Through Extended Onboarding

Research shows that employee onboarding programs increase performance by 11%. Now imagine what you could do if you truly engaged your employees before day one. The more you teach your employees before they get into the on-the-job training, the faster they’ll be able to do their job.

When performance is taken into consideration, every day counts. Even day-one.  Many companies have a probationary period, so understanding an employee’s growth from the first day is a crucial predictor to their performance in the future. The average time for a professional employee to reach full productivity is about 20 weeks. 26 weeks for those at the executive level. So no matter how minor it may be, every little thing you teach an employee through onboarding will cut down on this time, meaning higher performance and better work sooner.

It’s simple: if you want your employees to engage with your company culture, have a better onboarding experience, and grow into their own as employees more quickly, you need to engage with them before and throughout the onboarding process. Even something as simple as a positive attitude can go a long way. If you engage your new hires during onboarding, you’re setting your employees up for better performance and a better experience.


TIP TUESDAY: What is an HR Professional’s Greatest Skill?

Klein Aleard, who writes for the Namely blog, interviewed several HR professionals to get the answer to the above question, and others. To read the rest of the interview, click here to visit the blog.

What would you consider to be the greatest skill an HR professional can possess?

“Empathy. Human resources is in a unique position. They are employees and responsible for an ‘employee’ department. HR has the ability to create an employment experience based on the experience they would love as an employee. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple and other things are involved, but it would be great if HR had the latitude to use empathy and create the ultimate employee experience.” – Sharlyn Lauby, @HRBartender

“The greatest skill an HR pro can have is being able to evaluate talent, then taking that evaluation to the level of development where they can work with hiring managers to better their teams. For me, that starts first with being able to self-evaluate. What is it that you’re really good at, and what is it that you really need to improve?  If you can’t answer that in yourself, I find you probably can’t answer that in other people.”  – Tim Sackett, @TimSackett

“The greatest characteristics for someone in HR are: (1) Be authentic and genuine—employees want someone they can trust and go to, (2) Consistency—model the behavior you expect in others and you’ll see that HR becomes a lot more fluid and less structured and (3) Be connected—HR people tend to work in isolation and they should do their best to be connected to the greater HR community through social media platforms and organizations like SHRM.” – Steve Browne, @Sbrownehr

TIP TUESDAY: How to Demonstrate Respect in the Workplace

{excerpted from the article by the same name at the balance online}

Ask anyone in your workplace what treatment they most want from their bosses and coworkers at work. They will likely top their list with the desire for their employer and coworkers to treat them as if they have dignity and with respect.

Respect is when you feel admiration and deep regard for an individual. You believe that the person is worthy of your regard and admiration because of the good qualities and capabilities that they bring to your workplace.

After feeling the respect and regard, you demonstrate them by acting in ways that show you are aware of your colleagues as people who deserve respect. As such, you recognize that they have rights, opinions, wishes, experience, and competence.

Tips for Demonstrating Respect

You can demonstrate respect with simple, yet powerful actions. These ideas will help you avoid needless, insensitive, unmeant disrespect, too.

  • Treat people with courtesy, politeness, and kindness.
  • Encourage coworkers to express opinions and ideas.
  • Listen to what others have to say before expressing your viewpoint. Never speak over, butt in, or cut off another person.
  • Use people’s ideas to change or improve work. Let employees know you used their idea, or, better yet, encourage the person with the idea to implement the idea.
  • Never insult people, name call, disparage or put down people or their ideas.
  • Do not nit-pick, constantly criticize over little things, belittle, judge, demean or patronize. A series of seemingly trivial actions, added up over time, constitutes bullying.
  • Be aware of your body language, the tone of voice, and your demeanor and expression in all of your interactions at work. People, who are radar machines, are hearing what you’re really saying in addition to listening to your words.
  • Treat people the same no matter their race, religion, gender, size, age, or country of origin. Implement policies and procedures consistently so people feel that they are treated fairly and equally. Treating people differently can constitute harassment or a hostile work environment.
  • Include all coworkers in meetings, discussions, training, and events. While not every person can participate in every activity, do not marginalize, exclude or leave any one person out. Provide an equal opportunity for employees to participate in committees, task forces, or continuous improvement teams. Solicit volunteers and try to involve every volunteer.
  • Praise much more frequently than you criticize. Encourage praise and recognition from employee to employee as well as from the supervisor.
  • The golden rule does apply at work, or, as professional speaker Leslie Charles, says, “Implement the platinum rule: treat others as they wish to be treated.”

WEDNESDAY WORKFACT: 2017 Retention, Engagement and Branding Survey

A new report, the 2017 Retention, Engagement and Branding Survey, explores the state of how this powerful combination is being used by HR organizations. Sponsored by SilkRoad and HR Daily Advisor, the report offers numerous insights from nearly 500 respondents, including:

  • 74% do not have an employment brand program
  • 80% ask for feedback to encourage a personal commitment
  • 51% characterize the experience at their organization as “somewhat positive”

The report is easy to read, made up largely of 10 infographics covering various aspects of employers’ retention, engagement and branding programs, along with comments from some of those employers. See all the results by downloading the report.