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Interviews can be really weird

As the recruiter, it was painful to watch. He put a phone in the interview room and told me to leave the candidate alone in there for 15 minutes. Then he, the hiring manager, would call the phone to see if the candidate picked up. If the candidate picked up the phone he would pretend to be the client with an emergency and see how the candidate handled the situation. This was his approach to finding a project manager. It was impossible to assess the outcomes and if the candidates were "good" or not. It was deceitful improv at best and I cringe thinking about it now.

The first 15+ years of my career were mostly spent in the recruiting space. I learned how hard it is for companies to make good choices about hiring talent. I saw how deranged both candidates and companies can be. Companies heave an arsenal of hoops for candidates to jump through before ever speaking to a human. From technical tests, personality assessments, project examples, video introductions, etc. If candidates get past the online barriers and talk to a human, then who knows how many exhausting conversations will follow. Even with near impossible interview processes there is no guarantee that a company is hiring the "right" person for the job. There are too many variables in the hiring process to ever be able to guarantee that the person you hire will accomplish what you need them to. There is no guarantee that they will even still be employed 1, 3 or 6 months from now.

For many candidates it's even more difficult to know if a company is a good fit for them from the interview process. How to know if you will like the job? How to know if the team will be a fit? How to know will be happy? Truth is, you don't know. But here is an important reminder: the interview process, no matter how long and painful, can be a way to get ultra clear on what you want (and don't want)from your next gig.

Here are 3 ways to use interviews to clarify your career goals:

Approach the interview process with curiosity. Your desire to work at an organization is a hypothesis. Test your hypothesis by asking questions that will give you data that matters to you. Candidates are told by the internet to prepare to answer behavioral interview questions from interviewers. Okay, fine. The internet also recommends candidates prepare questions that really just showcase their interest in the job. Why not ask questions that matter? Why not turn the table and ask behavioral interview questions of your potential boss? "Tell me about a time when you had to fire someone or give tough feedback to an employee". Their answer will give you important insight into how they operate as a human.

Stop selling yourself. "What?!" you say, "aren't interviews when I need to sell myself to get the job?" If you are selling yourself to a company then you are probably too focused on making a great impression or standing out and being the best. You might have blinders on to red flags or you may not be listening. I recommend preparing your career narrative against the job description and knowing where your weak spots are. From there, focus on the conversation and volley back and forth of information. Yes, know your accomplishments and be prepared to tell the interviewers how you overcame obstacles and accomplished all the things, but balance that with listening and watching for signs that the company is a match for you (or not).

Pay attention to your thoughts. You may be the perfect candidate with the perfect resume and still not get the job. That's a fact. Knowing this, it might be easier to approach the interview with more ease and less stress. What if instead of thinking, "I am so nervous about my interview. What if they ask a question and I don't know the answer?" you thought, "I can't wait to make a new connection at a company I'm interested in. I look forward to learning their approach to see if it matches my career path." Immediately you are taking the pressure off of yourself to be perfect and just be yourself which increases your ability to make a good job choice.

Interviews are an important and imperfect part of the hiring process. While we can't know what the future holds, candidates can take some control back by focusing on what matters to them during the interview stage.

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