What VP Candidates Can Teach Us About Vetting Potential Hires

(By Daniel C. Simmons, CPC)

One of the hottest topics this summer—for both professional talking heads and armchair politicians—is Mitt Romney’s choice of a running mate.  Hopefully, Governor Romney will vet his choice well.  This is a valid concern, since history is full of lousy vice presidential candidates.

Vice President Candidates

This brings to mind the importance of thoroughly vetting the people you hire.  In this article, I’d like to provide examples of vetting (with a vice presidential flavor) that you might want to incorporate into your process.

Can they talk?

When I’m filling a technical support position, candidates are often asked to prepare and conduct a stand-up presentation with a Q&A period as part of their interview.  These professionals need to present highly technical information to both technical and non-technical customers.  This is done to judge their presentation skills, ability to react to questions, and ability to relate to a diverse audience.  I wonder if Dan Quayle would have become a punch line for late-night comics if this had been part of his vetting process as a VP candidate.

Do they read?

When interviewing someone, I often ask them to provide the titles or authors of the books in their self-improvement library.  For example, if I’m interviewing a sales rep, I ask them to tell me about the last book they read on sales.  If they have an immediate answer, I’ll dig in and discuss the book.  If they stumble, I ask when they last read a book on sales.  (Most top sales people continue to study their craft.)  If John McCain had asked Sarah Palin what she read to establish her world view, rather than Katie Couric doing so on primetime network TV, McCain might have endured fewer headaches.

Are they balanced?

Some clients have industrial psychologists interview candidates to analyze how balanced the person is, their thought process, and how they deal with stress.  This might have been a good idea in 1972 for presidential hopeful George McGovern.  He failed to ask the right questions when vetting Senator Tom Eagleton, who eventually resigned the ticket when it was revealed shortly after the party convention that he had been hospitalized on three occasions for depression and had undergone electroshock therapy.

Do they possess integrity?

The most important part of vetting deals with integrity.  In-depth reference checks, including asking questions about integrity, might have changed Richard Nixon’s mind about running with Spiro Agnew, who resigned his office in 1973 after a bribery and corruption probe.  Agnew’s resignation was part of a plea bargain that included pleading no contest to a charge of income tax evasion.

While I doubt any of my readers are planning to run for President, these vetting lessons can be applied to hiring.  As you consider your process, see which ones would benefit your company:

Vetting Your Candidates

  • Personality assessments—To make certain the candidate’s personality matches the job function
  • Social security number tracing—To confirm the person you think you’re hiring is who they claim to be
  • Drug testing—To make certain the person you’re hiring doesn’t have a problem
  • Degree/certification confirmation—Make certain your hire actually earned the education they claim
  • Criminal checks—See Spiro Agnew’s story
  • Financial/credit check—Particularly for those who handle the checkbook
  • Skill tests—To see if they have the skills you desire
  • Stand-up presentations—To judge communication skills and their ability to think on their feet
  • Psychologist interviews—To understand how they think, learn, and deal with stress
  • In-depth reference checks—Ask about how they take/give direction, work with others, meet deadlines, compare with peers, integrity, follow-up skills, and reason for separation from employment

There are additional steps you may want to take, but this article is written in the hopes that you will take a minute and assess your process, making improvements if necessary.  If you’d like to discuss your process, feel free to contact me at (888) 276-6789 or dan@consearch.com.

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