Talent Acquisition

Candidates: LinkedIn or Lucked-In?

When you’ve got a dozen viable candidates, but only four interview slots available, it’s time for a cull. Unfortunately, selecting the ‘best’ four from what is already a shortlist by comparing CVs and applications to each other is hopelessly inadequate to judge likely in-post performance.

By way of example, consider the anonymised case of Francis. He laid claim to a network of several hundred or so key industry contacts. What he neglected to mention was that at least 50% of them hated his guts and would give their first-born for ten minutes alone in a cage with him. That’s not the sort of guy you want anywhere inside your organisation, let alone in a senior customer-facing role. Sadly, someone had already employed him. They were swayed by his apparent track record, big-company background and a couple of pet references. Almost overnight, his presence transformed a respected and happy medium-sized company into a political hotbed of bile-spitting, back-stabbing and bloodletting, from which there was no way back.

In each of his previous positions, within a variety of well-known brands and globally operating companies, he appeared to have been highly successful. Each product line or division he’d been involved with or managed had an excellent track record of growth, market share and profitability. Once you’ve convinced yourself that you want such a guy, re-reading his CV is only going to reinforce your view. It will never provide you with an objective assessment of his likely worth to your organisation, in your environment.

Clearly, the interview process should do that, but even then there are problems. Firstly, in Francis’ case, the achievements with previous employers were a matter of visible public record and beyond dispute, and therefore quite seductive. Secondly, a candidate already perceived as a stellar catch will leave you looking for reasons to put them through, rather than to reject them.

Shortening your shortlist

You need some basis for a more objective assessment to at least keep you sharp and get you asking the right questions during the interview. It’s time to reach for LinkedIn. Used in the right way, it’s extremely useful for developing a deeper insight. These are the things to consider, in rising order of importance:

  • Recommendations and endorsements. Put them aside. You’ll never read an even vaguely critical recommendation, so there is zero objectivity to be had from them. If you consider them, you’re again in danger of simply using them to reinforce the mental leanings you’ve already got.
  • Connections. Forget the number, it has no relevance whatsoever. Instead, look at the level of seniority of connections and their range of roles. Does it seem that the candidate is appropriately connected, for their career and industry, or are they just a serial-collector of random people and trying to look impressive?
  • One-liner commentaries. That’s fine for older roles, and it makes for concise summaries and fast reading. On more recent roles, such commentary isn’t giving you what you need and that may be because a LinkedIn profile is publicly available and roles, responsibilities, and achievements can be exposed if they’re exaggerated, or even complete fantasy.
  • Contributions. Consider whether the candidate is actively engaged with their role, company and industry. What are their postings and thoughts (or lack, thereof) telling you about their view of the future? If their contributions haven’t continued to develop in recent times, it may be that their career peaked a while ago.
  • Journey. Step back and look at the candidate’s story to see how their career-journey has led them to be applying for this next role. A few bumps on the road are okay, but a career that’s bounced around like a pinball may not make for an ideal candidate if there’s no rational narrative running through their trek to your door.
  • Motivation. From the candidate’s progressive history of achievement, you want to see that this next position would be a stretching and motivating, but rational and achievable, step up for them. Have-a-go heroes don’t make for predictable results.
  • Initiative. This is a fundamentally crucial property of any candidate, at any level. If they have basic skills, any idiot can achieve an objective they’ve been given by someone else, at least to some degree of success. Within the scope of a role, what you want is someone who can identify objectives for themselves, gather support for them, marshal resources and then make things happen so that the result is delivered.
  • Chutzpah. Look for evidence of someone audacious, cheeky even, who is not afraid to challenge and push in unexpected directions. Out of such people can come fresh ideas and valuable disruption. However, if you get a sense that arrogance or ego is the candidate’s main driving force behind this, consider introducing them to your competitors.

Francis would have crashed and burned at stage 7, if the interviewer had thoroughly examined his achievements in the context of the environments within which he’d worked. The bus was already traveling whenever he’d jumped aboard. Francis was not an ideas man, and certainly not a leader. He was politically astute and an adept sycophant, but ultimately a grunt. An enforcer, if you will.

Surf’s up …

People who inherently show initiative, in whatever roles they’ve held, are inevitably successful and are your leaders of tomorrow. The rest is a dead weight, clinging on to the coat-tails of your organisation, looking cool and surfing the wave that someone else has created. They have their uses in the right situation, but is that the sort of person you’re looking for?

About the author: Jon Gregory an experienced management consultant, re-organisation specialist and recruitment professional. He currently works with both organisations and individuals, helping to get the right people working effectively in the right jobs.. He’s also the editor of

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