Since I published my Catfished by a Candidate blog post a couple of weeks ago, it became the number one most viewed post on our site from the last few months. Plus, it has a 700 comment thread on Hacker News and a podcast on Hacker Daily.
I expected it to get some pickup—I mean, the title “I Got Catfished By a Candidate: The True Story and How to Keep It From Happening to You” is certainly catchy, but I definitely didn’t expect it to be quite so popular. However, in reading through the comments and listening to the podcast, I think that the topic really hit on some controversial issues around business ethics and more. Everyone was asking: should we have actually hired this guy even though he lied?
The internet certainly had some opinions—many of them valid. Was this dedication or deceit? Was he just responding to the unfair advantage that certain candidates get because of where they work in Silicon Valley? Doesn’t everyone lie…just a little bit?
I really enjoyed reading the comments and wanted to jump in and give a little more insight into my thought process, why we made the decision we did, and my response to some of your burning questions.
He Passed the Interview Test. Why Not Hire Him Anyway?
One of the hottest debate topics on Hacker News was whether or not we should have hired our Catfish Candidate anyway—despite his dishonesty. This candidate clearly passed our interview tests and exhibited a real understanding of the sales process and our product. He was scrappy, and clearly wanted the job. Plus, is a resume or interview really an indicator of whether or not a candidate does well onsite in the role?
I will certainly admit, one of the first things that went through my mind after hearing the truth was, Should I hire him anyway? Clearly this guy did a great job of selling himself to me and the people on my team. It showed scrappiness and even ingenuity to get so far into the process without being found out. And isn’t sales all about the sale anyways? I mean, what is the worst thing that could happen?
While there was certainly the possibility that he could have been a top performer, at the end of the day, I just couldn’t take that chance. The most unsettling thing to me was the length that he went to in order to craft his story—fake LinkedIn profile, a whole story around why he was leaving the job, fake references. This wasn’t a small, harmless lie about not hitting his quota last month—his story was much deeper than that. In the end, the fear that this could be an indicator of dishonest behavior in the future overcame any bit of admiration I had for the guy’s chutzpah. How could I be sure that he wouldn’t lie about something else? Something much bigger? As a company leader and someone who has hired many good and bad employees, I just couldn’t take that chance. It becomes an ethical and moral issue—what type of person tells an extensive lie like that? Where does it end? The chance that the reward would outweigh the risk was just too small in this case.
It’s Hard Out There for an Account Executive
Another interesting discussion coming from the post has been around the hiring practices, particularly in the Bay Area, that increase the pressure on candidates to lie in order to get a job. While I personally have an ethical problem with a candidate doing what my Catfish did, I definitely understand the argument. And, in fact, I believe that it is this very argument that caused my candidate to become a Catfish in the first place.
Here in the Bay Area (and probably most places) it is sometimes difficult to get “in” if you aren’t already part of the “in crowd”. In other words, for people breaking into tech, it’s difficult to even get noticed if they don’t have that relevant experience or the right company on their resumes.
As a hiring manager, if I am only looking for people with Salesforce, Google, Marketo, or Oracle on their resume, why would I pay attention to someone who doesn’t possess that experience? Even if that person is truly perfect for my role, I would already be biased based on the resume. Plus, many hiring managers use those companies as keywords to quickly scan through the mountain of resumes that come inbound.
For many people, this type of pressure can cause and even help justify the lie. In fact, with my Catfish Candidate, I did find out later on that he lied on his resume because he didn’t feel like he was getting any traction with his real work history. So because he wasn’t getting attention from the companies he wanted to work for, he felt he needed to make up a fake work history to try and creatively get past the situation that Bay Area employers have created. Is this insolence or ingenuity? I don’t know…could be (and probably is) both.
The truth is, as much as I would like to say that I am completely unbiased when it comes to resumes and will consider candidates with all different work histories, if I did that, I would be doing phone screens 24 hours a day. There needs to some some level of filtering before I hop on the phone and spend my time with someone.
Well, Everyone Lies During Hiring Anyway…Don’t They?
No, not everyone lies. Not trying to take the moral high ground here, but I haven’t lied about my skill-sets during an interview or on my resume. I am pretty upfront about what I can and can’t do—no harm in having enough self awareness to be honest with the hiring manager. It’s less about “can I do it today?” and more about “can I do it tomorrow?”. If you are confident in your skill and ability to learn, there is no need for dishonesty. For instance, I always tell a prospective employer that I am a very strong demand gen marketer, but I am definitely weaker when it comes to product marketing and PR.
The bottom line is that a good candidate doesn’t have to lie. She will be able to tell you what she can and can’t do. And hopefully, she can be coached in the areas that she is weaker. I certainly don’t have much insight into the true skills of my Catfish Candidate, but I would have much preferred honesty around true strengths and weaknesses. Because as an employer, I don’t want to hear “my biggest weakness is I work too hard”, I want to understand the actual weaknesses so I can assess a) whether or not that can work for the culture and job, and b) so I know what to coach on from the beginning.
Back-Door References Just Aren’t Cool
I was expecting this debate. A lot of people just don’t like the idea of doing a back-door reference check. For those of you who don’t know what these are, back-door reference checks are when you reach out to folks in your network who know or have worked with your candidate, even if they are not the approved references your candidate provides.
OK, I totally get why people would think this was an iffy practice. I mean, you are only supposed to use the references that your candidate provides, right? Well, by relying on candidate references only, you run the risk of not getting the real story—since sometimes these are rehearsed references, or in my Catfish’s case, fake references. You know from your own job search history—would you provide a reference that wasn’t going to say positive things about you? Of course not.
The key to doing back-door reference checks well is to remember to never ever (and I mean never) contact anyone at the candidate’s current job. That is an absolute no-no. Contacting references from a candidate’s current role can cause them to get fired—that is definitely crossing a line. However, I do routinely contact people in my network that may have worked with a candidate in a past role. To me, getting feedback from someone who is not a rehearsed reference, that I know and trust, and who can provide me with detail I may not have otherwise known is priceless. Certainly most back-door reference checks don’t end with finding out your candidate is a Catfish, but these references will provide you with some valuable feedback on how to work with and manage your candidate.
OK, there you have it. Those are my opinions on the many topics of conversation that have come up around my blog post. I hope that helps clarify a few details and, as always, keep the conversation going!