How to Avoid Te’oing When Hiring For Your Startup

By now you’ve probably at least heard of, if not been completely sucked into, the Manti Te’o saga. It’s one of the strangest stories in the world of sports and like any good trainwreck, it’s hard to look away.

But just in case you’ve been living under a rock, here is the Te’o saga in a nutshell: University of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o became one of the top inspirational stories in college sports when he played through the death of both his girlfriend Lennay Kekua, who was revealed by Deadspin to be a hoax.

Between Lance Armstrong’s sit down with Oprah to admit his past with performance enhancing drugs and the strange Te’o tale, sports stories have been shining a particularly bright light on the importance of honesty. For every great story about how the Internet and social media bring us together, there is a tale like Te’o’s which proves you still have to be careful.

What does this have to do with startups?
Startup companies can be easy targets for Te’o-style hoaxes, because startups are looking to fill important positions fast. You don’t have the time and resources of a Fortune 500 company when it comes to hiring, which leaves your startup vulnerable to those looking to take advantage. Lies in the hiring process will always be a problem. Don’t think it can’t happen to your company, because even corporate giants like Yahoo! can still be duped.

Te’o spoofs might abound, from SNL to a new ‘invisible friend’ meme on the Internet, but his story can actually help your company from making a similar mistake. If you’re shaking your head thinking it can’t happen to you, remember all those people on MTV’s reality hit Catfish who think they’re in relationships with models. We all have our blind spots.

For startups looking to hire great people fast, it’s easy to ignore the warning signs in favor of the talent right in front of your face. Sure, they might sound a little too good to be true, but you need great people…right? For startups looking to establish an attractive corporate culture and move the company forward, one dishonest employee really can spoil everything you’ve worked so hard to create.

So what are some lessons your startup can learn from the Manti Te’o drama and apply to hiring great workers?

Always connect personally
Te’o was pulled into a hoax because he never met his supposed “girlfriend’ in person–or even saw her on the other side of a webcam. We now know this is because she never existed, but it’s surprisingly easy to let impersonal technology tools come between you and the person you need to connect with. You might trust a resume, an email, or even a phone conversation, but the only way to judge a candidate’s honesty (or existence) is face-to-face interaction.

The best people for don’t always live around the corner (much like Te’o’s girlfriend). However, sometimes cash-strapped startups might not possess the resources to fly out a great candidate for an in-person meeting. But don’t give up on meeting face-to-face just because your talent lives in another area code.

Instead, utilize video interviews to connect with the talent you need while keeping more cash in your company coffers. Using a live video interview you can evaluate important body language cues and ask probing follow-up questions to make sure the candidate is everything advertised.

Use social media…but don’t trust it
Social media is making it easy to find great people and connect with top-tier candidates. This is probably why 92 percent of recruiters used social media to find talent last year. Like any other tool, however, it’s important to understand social media can have a dark side.

Don’t trust everything you read on a candidate’s LinkedIn profile or Twitter stream. It might even be a good idea to cross check a candidate’s resume with their social media profiles. Considering 46 percent of resumes contain some form of false information, you might be able to spot a dishonest candidate just by noticing online inconsistencies. For instance, maybe the year-long stint on their resume was actually only a few months long according to their social media accounts.

Social profiles can be used to lie and deceive, but ironically they can also force job seekers to be more honest about their experiences. After all, a public profile makes it harder for candidates to tell big lies and get away with it. It makes them accountable to the other people in their life, including past employers, who know their real story and can undermine their tall tales.

Do your homework
This tip is obvious but must be stated: always do your homework. If any of the reporters who breathlessly repeated the heartwarming story of Te’o had done even cursory research into the tale, they would have found it didn’t add up. It’s what the writers of the Deadspin piece did and how the hoax was eventually uncovered.

Those references on a traditional paper resume, cover letter, or video resume exist for a reason. It might be time-consuming, but pick up the phone and give those references a call. Take some time and run your candidate’s name and credentials through a search engine to make sure they check out. Doing your homework is the best way to hire someone great and avoid the embarrassment of being duped.

Your company might not be operating on the national stage like football player Manti Te’o, but you still can’t afford a dishonest hire. Use the tools at your disposal (along with some old-fashioned sleuthing) to make sure your candidate will make a great hire, instead of a dramatic story.

What are some lessons about hiring you’ve learned from the Manti Te’o saga? Share in the comments!

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