Vetting through driving

Much has been made the last week or so about John McCain’s choice of Vice President and whether or not he and his staff properly vetted Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.  This is a specific instance of the broader problem of how far do you go in order to determine you are hiring the right person?

My uncle made a career in the printing business and served as an executive for several companies in that industry.  Last year, I remarked to him that I was having trouble finding someone to fill a particular position.  I was finding plenty of candidates that had the right skills on paper, but having been burned on team chemistry in the past I was struggling to find a good personality fit.  He then shared with me his #1 hiring tip:

Have the candidate drive to lunch.

In his words:

It would always come down to two or three candidates as far as qualifications and years of experience so I always planned a lunch with each candidate asking them to drive and I always picked a the place to eat that was at least a 20 minute drive. The way he/she handled themselves in traffic told me things that wouldn’t be on their resume. Were they relaxed or constantly changing lanes? Did they drive the speed limit?  What condition inside was the car we were driving in such as a back seat that was used for trash or was the inside neat and tidy? Were papers thrown up on the dash? I had a score sheet that I used when everything else was equal the person with the highest score got the job. In twenty years of using this method I never hired the wrong employee.

That’s not to say that John and Sarah should have made a cross-country drive together, but it points to the fact that you get to know more about a person if you get them in out of an “interview” situation and into a “real world” situation. You can find out a lot more about someone during the lunch than you can during the rapid fire Q&A.

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