"Character is doing what's right when nobody's looking." ~ J.C. Watts
I agree with Judy that I see people on the road quite frequently whom I would never hire because of their inability to handle stress in a civil manor, their rude behavior and their lack of concern for fellow human beings. Although we can't observe candidates on the road (usually), we can get brief glimpses of them in other situations.
One thing I do on a regular basis is ask our receptionists about candidates. How a candidate treats a receptionist can tell you how they treat people in general, and specifically, how they treat people they may see as unimportant, beneath them, or generally un-influential. Please note that I do not see receptionist this way. On the contrary, I think that they are HUGELY important to how a company is perceived and to vital day to day operations which is precisely why I ask for their help in screening candidates.
- Did they engage with the receptionist as a human being or as a cog in the wheel?
- Did they say please and thank you when they were offered a beverage?
- Did they clean up after themselves, or did they leave the coffee cup in the lobby assuming that "someone" would clean it up for them?
- Did they attempt to engage in conversation while waiting, or did they ignore the person at the front desk?
- Did they thank the receptionist for his/her help before they left?
A couple of times the candidate's behavior towards the receptionist was so bad that I didn't even take into consideration what went on in the interview. It was THAT bad. I would much rather find that kind of stuff out BEFORE I hire someone, rather than afterwards.
"Back door" references can give you some of that same information. If you are luck enough to be able to talk to someone that has worked with the candidate, but isn't one of their stated references, you can get some great insight into someones work habits, style and character.
Do you have any other suggestions on how to observe peoples' behavior when they think that nobody is looking?