Interviewers rarely get a chance to hear much from the people they’ve been interrogating. But that does not mean that interviewers have it right or that a bad interview is always the interviewee’s fault. There is plenty of room for job interview help on the employer’s side of the interview equation.
For the interviewee, success is all about preparation, but the same holds true for the interviewer. There are interviewers who know little about the job they’re trying to fill, about the qualities that might make a person right for that job or about the company’s approach to the job. At the extreme, there are reports of confused interviewers asking questions about the wrong position and raising topics irrelevant to the person in front of them.
Yes, interviewers can be gently reminded of the reason you’re here in the first place, but it’s far better if they take the time to get things in order before the fact.
Interviewees put a lot of effort into the process, and it can be a psychological trial for many. With all that’s on the line, you’d think that interviewers would display some level of interest in what’s happening in front of them. Sadly, that’s not always the case. There are some interviewers whose other pursuits are of such overwhelming importance that an interview becomes a series of interruptions, replete with phone calls, knocks on the door and notices of incoming messages too urgent to be ignored.
It might be tolerable if these phenomena were part of some kind of stress test for the applicant: “See if you can keep your train of thought while I take this very important call.” That’s rarely, if ever, the explanation for this kind of behavior, and the problem gets worse when it seems that our phones are more interesting than the people in front of us.
Are interviewees wrong to ask for undivided attention?
The Terminally Late
Interviewees are willing to believe that you are incredibly busy, that you have 175 other candidates to interview today and that you may even be doing your best. They adopt these beliefs, however, in the bitter knowledge that they have no choice but to be patient and understanding. Their only recourse is to walk out, and then, of course, you’ll simply move on to the next victim.
Common courtesy dictates that you make every effort to honor the schedule that you devised, or that, at the very least, you acknowledge what you’ve put the applicant through. The worst offenders here are the phone interviewers. They’ve given you a window of time in which they promised to call. The phone never rings. Often, there is no explanation.
Even if you can’t be on time, a simple acknowledgement would be a blessing.
Job applicants, by and large, are a thick-skinned, hardy lot. They send out armloads of resumes in the sure and certain knowledge that most of those resumes will disappear into a black hole, never to be heard from again. They’re used to that, and they’ve learned to cope with silence at that stage of the process.
An interview is a different matter. If you thought enough of the candidate to bring her in and spend some time in person, the candidate may just be foolish enough to expect some response. Too many interviewers see this as an optional part of the exercise. It should be compulsory.
Perhaps you’ve heard about those cool questions asked by companies like Google, questions that have no obvious relevance to the job itself. Such as: Why are manhole covers round? How many piano tuners are there in the world? How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?
An interviewer may have latched on to these questions without much sense of their purpose. Perhaps the questions are there at the behest of management, on the theory that if Google does it, it must be pretty good. In reality, these questions, especially in the wrong hands, belong in the theater of the absurd. At best, they are an utter waste of time, and it would be just as useful to ask why that famous chicken crossed the road.
Interviewers who are still under the spell of “Google questions” should know that Google itself has reportedly broken free of that very spell. Asking pointless questions is not part of a good interviewing strategy.
The Golden Rule
Almost every complaint that interviewees have about interviewers would be resolved if interviewers treated their subjects as they would want to be treated themselves. Admittedly, an interview is an artificial situation that entails a great deal of stress, but a little respect can go a long way.
If interviewers can force themselves to remember that they are talking to a human being, even if it takes a heroic effort to reach that state of mind, interviewees would have few complaints. That kind of treatment is all they really ask.
Paul Freiberger is the author of When Can You Start? How to Ace the Interview and Win the Job (Career Upshift Productions, 2013). He is also the President of Shimmering Resumes, a career counseling and professional resume writing company in Northern California.