We have recently been involved in a recruitment process where a rather novel use of a pretend receptionist was employed in order to root out good prospective employees attending for interview. The firm in question decided on the day of interviews to replace their usual receptionist with one of the partners to see how the prospective job applicants behaved at the reception desk.
Dirt on Shoe
One particular applicant turned up and spoke to the receptionist as if she was dirt on his shoe, and when he went through for interview he was surprised to see the same receptionist waiting to interview him. The receptionist turned out to be the senior partner who advised him that his behaviour towards her as a receptionist had made her feel very uncomfortable, in fact so uncomfortable that there was no way she could possibly employ him and that she was not going to interview him.
Other candidates were absolutely fine with the receptionist – polite, professional and friendly, which is what you would expect from someone you intend to employ and work with for some years to come.
So is this a good way of rooting out potential staff?
Our advice is yes definitely. If you do this then it means you can immediately see the character of someone coming to interview. Some people simply cannot help themselves when they speak to receptionists and display their normal behaviour, whereas others will try and be as polite as possible to everyone within the building and the false receptionist test will not necessarily show their true character. However, it is a quick two minute way of assessing someone and saving you bothering interview them for an hour and considering at all any further if they turn out to be thoroughly vile and rude people who treat receptionists with great disdain.
Technique in Practice
So the best way of doing this is simply to go and sit at the front of reception when you know a potential applicant is due to be coming and give your receptionist a break for a few minutes. Be as polite as possible to the job applicant and observe them closely when they enter the building, and also when they sit down to wait for the interview. You can also gain some good feedback simply by observing someone sitting and waiting. What do they do, do they look nervous, are they on their phone to somebody all the time, what have they brought with them?
In fact, spending a bit of time watching someone before they come in for interview can be quite a useful exercise, because it does give you a reading into their character that you don’t necessarily get in an interview room. You might think someone in the interview room is completely laid back and you are a bit concerned that they may not take a job particularly seriously, whereas in fact the candidate has sat in reception looking very nervous but is able to perform well during interviews and not give off any sign of nervousness.
If you do decide to go down the false receptionist route you do need to be prepared to be honest to the person you are going to interview and explain that you do not want to continue based on your experience.
There are lots of different ways of assessing someone at an interview without just asking them questions and this is just one of them. Other exercises include chair positioning to put the candidate under a bit of stress (The Chair Technique – see our YouTube video!), providing them with a written task, asking them to give a talk for a couple of minutes on a particular subject, or handing them a file and asking them what they would do differently.