Interviewing for everyone
by Philippe Barbe
16 Sep 2021
I’ve interviewed a fair number of candidates over the years and have been interviewed several times.
What did I learn that applies to both the interviewer and the interviewee?
There is no point hiding difficulties.
If there are issues with the work you have done or if you’re the interviewer and there are issues with your company, you may as well say it.
I enjoyed most the jobs that came with no surprise, where I knew what to expect and got it. I enjoyed more working with colleagues who had set expectations as candidates and delivered.
Those who say things that make sense, answering questions with a certain amount of detail and precision inspire trust. Interviewers and candidates hiding everything behind “it’s confidential” raise questions.
This is oft-repeated and bears repeating again: the company interviews the candidate, and the candidate interviews the company. Companies that do not let candidates ask questions are simply hiring a body with a skill-set to execute, but not a brain to think.
Hiring is fundamentally a decision by a group of people to co-opt another individual. Beyond the need for money, accepting a position is agreeing that the collective endeavor represented by the company is worth one’s time and efforts.
As a hiring manager, if it does not feel right, say no to a candidate. You do not want to have a person to interact with every day who you do not trust, and yet have to entrust that person with work that will be part of your own performance: you may as well be comfortable with whoever you hire.
As a candidate, if the company does not feel right just say “no”. You will spend at least 40 hours a week working, you may as well be in a place that feels right and find some enjoyment there.
This one is complicated.
Doing a job requires skills that are an integral part of who you are, and to some extent define you professionally. Thus, this is all about yourself.
However, you will inhabit a function which has nothing to do with you. Thus this is all but about yourself.
It is unfortunate that so few professions have kept using titles: Mr. President to the President, your honor to a judge, doctor to a medical doctor, colonel, captain, sergeant… such titles make it clear that it is all about what you do, that it is all about your role within the organization and therefore about the organization, and that you represent one instance of an ability to fulfill the function.
Unfortunately, Philippe makes it personal and all about me! Yet I need to convey whoever I am talking to in an interview that this is not the case: either I will inhabit the function I am applying for, or I am representing the company who happens to need to hire and entrust that mission to the function I am embodying. There is nothing personal about the role itself.
Hopefully you are financially and emotionally strong enough that not getting the job, not getting the candidate, will not be a major disaster. Interviews are stressful when that’s not the case. You may as well be very upfront about it as most people have empathy and want to do some good by helping you.
Besides, if either side deem it’s not a good fit, that is a decision in a specific point in time… this moment. Next year is another year… maybe a month from now something will have changed.
I have called and hired previously rejected candidates years later and have had companies call me for a different position months after rejecting me.
Jobs, and applicants, grow on trees… there are plenty of both. Miss one and there will soon be another. Be persistent and you will find your match. Manage your search like a major project with many steps and you will succeed.
If you are a candidate, remember that the stakes are higher for the company: you can quit with ease at any time, but firing someone is not a process that many managers want to go through. Hiring is the most important task that managers do as the quality of their hiring directly impacts the success of the mission.
Sure, interviewing wearing a swimming suit is creative! But that won’t get you very far if the role is not life guard.
Telling a story that makes the other party tell a story is smarter, and if you find an interesting twist to highlight, it becomes creative.
Interviewing in a straight line from A to B may not be the most revealing. Ask questions, less for their strict answers than what the formulation of the answer says on the other party. For example, asking “What’s the company’s culture?” is neither creative nor a smart way to actually learn about it, however asking that question may be smart and creative if you want to know about something other than the culture, such as if the person has really thought about what culture is!
Of course, it you follow this recipe, you are not creative!
In the next year, you will spend more time in the company and the company will spend more time with you than you will with your domestic partner.
You can’t interview for months but if it takes 10 hours to get a true understanding of the situation or person, spend the time.
I have seen candidates rejected in the 15th hour of interviewing because it took that long for an issue to surface. I have seen candidates withdraw from the process at the 15th hour too.
Yes, it would have been better if all that interview time could have been saved, but far better for both parties that no hire was made rather than one that didn’t work out.
As a candidate you should feel free to ask for more meetings if you are unsure.
No one is perfect! You won’t be able to hide your imperfections for years so you may as well make others aware of them. If they mind your flaws, your relationship with them will suffer as will your performance.
All organizations are dysfunctional. Some more than others. You may as well be explicit about it, about what works and what does not. In the same way that you like to manage expectations, manage expectations for others.