When you’re hiring a new employee, does what they do when they’re not at work matter? In a recent post, entrepreneur and Shark Tank judge Barbara Corcoran revealed that it’s an important factor for her.
“I like to ask questions about their mother, father, friends, interests, or anything that has nothing do with work,” Corcoran wrote. “These are things that applicants don’t practice, whereas the usual interview questions people can get pretty good at and can use their answers to create a more favorable and less truthful impression. In short, when you talk shop, people’s guards are up, but when you talk family, you’ll usually see the real person.”
I’m not an HR expert, but over the years I’ve learned that the interviewer is really trying to determine two very important things—and Barbara’s advice could be helpful to get there:
1. Does this person have the skills the job requires?
Answering the first question is relatively straightforward. The job applicant’s work experience, track record, work-related accomplishments and work references will likely tell that story. As a hiring manager, I’ve always looked for these skills in correlation to the level of the job. I expect a higher level of competence from someone for a senior role than if I’m hiring for a junior or entry-level position.1.
If I have any concerns or doubts about a candidate’s willingness to talk honestly about their work experience, they quickly wind up on the bottom of the pile—regardless of what it says on their resume. If I like what I see and feel good about the candidate, I follow up on the references they provide, knowing, of course, that these are the people they believe will say good things about them.
2. Will this person be a good fit within my team or company?
This is a challenging question to answer, and in some ways an even more important question than the first.
I say this because, in the nearly 40 years I’ve been in the workplace, I’ve worked with people who made it easy to show up and do my job every day and others who made it difficult—including some bosses. Hiring the wrong fit, even if they have all the skills to do the job, can do some serious harm to the rest of your company if they are toxic to a productive work environment. The last person you want to hire is someone who makes it difficult for others on the team to do their jobs.
Making this determination is largely a matter of instinct, but it’s one of the reasons some hiring managers might want to know more about a potential hire. Some companies go so far as to have a series of interviews with other members of the team to get a feel for how a new hire might fit in. Over the course of my career, I’ve passed on people who had great skills but weren’t a good personality fit. I can’t speak for everyone in that regard, but it mattered to me when I was running my own business.
Does Life Outside of Work Matter?
After reading Barbara Corcoran’s advice, I did a very random and unscientific poll of some of my friends and colleagues I’ve worked with over the years to see if a candidate’s life outside of work mattered to them. I also thought about whether or not it mattered to me. I talked to about a dozen people and the results surprised me. Roughly half said, “Yes, it matters.” The other half said, “No, why would it matter?”
The general consensus among those who thought it mattered was consistent with Barbara Corcoran’s advice above. They felt that asking about a candidate’s personal life offers a chance to learn more about who they are at their core. What motivates them? What are they passionate about? More than one suggested this was an important way to learn more about an entry-level hire or someone looking for their first real job.
One person’s answer pretty much summed up the positive responses: “I want to see that they feel passionate about something.”
In the same way the positive responders were fairly consistent, so were those who didn’t think a candidate’s personal life was relevant. “I care about what they do on the job. That’s what’s important to me,” they said.
One hiring manager I asked suggested that her company even avoided asking questions about someone’s personal life. She didn’t think it was necessarily a bad practice, but rather it was something they just didn’t do.
I was surprised by the fact that it seemed so evenly divided. I once read an article by an oral surgeon who suggested that he was accepted into a very prestigious dental school because he was a fly fisherman and tied his own flies. He felt like that extracurricular activity made him look more appealing to the school. On the other hand, I don’t think my penchant for tooling around the West on a motorcycle makes me a better employee, but my adventures and the things I’ve seen might make me more interesting.
So, when you’re interviewing someone for a position at your company, does what they do outside of work matter to you? It looks like that’s what really matters.