I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the interview process over the past few years and I don’t think this is because the people who interview me or are interviewed by me are getting worse. I think, for one, it is a natural result of a maturing career and some poor interview experiences along with some bad positions. But it is also a product of occasionally hiring the wrong person and asking myself, “Why didn’t you see that red flag in the interview process?” In the past few years, I’ve had consistently negative experiences from both sides of the interview table.
I admit most of my negative experiences in the interview process are as the interviewee. I have truly been through some horrendous interviews. Some people don’t have a choice when it comes to finding a job. Fortunately, I work in an industry where I do and there is no lack of gainful employment. Regardless of where you stand, here are some of the top markers of a bad or questionable position…at least from where I sit.
Lacking Basic Etiquette: Having been through countless interviews over the past 10 years, it has become increasingly obvious at how many hiring managers simply don’t know how to screen for the right talent and in some cases are not only blatantly incompetent, but lack basic etiquette. Consider one interview I had in recent years where the hiring manager walks out – late I might add – with a laptop in one hand, holds her other hand out, says hello and pauses while she looks back to her laptop to a retrieve my name from her Outlook calendar. Not a good sign for someone who would have potentially been my boss. Why would anyone think that is ok? She apparently did because she didn’t even bother to apologize. You should not only know my name before you walk out to meet me, but you should also make the person feel welcome and not as though they are one person on a hiring assembly line that you must process as quickly as possible. You should also know a little about the person you are interviewing, which brings me to the next point.
Do Your Homework: “Tell me about yourself.” I think hiring managers ask this question because they are lazy – too lazy to do their homework when it comes to researching a potential employee. One of the top pieces of interview advice you’ll often get as an interviewee is ensure you do your research and know a little bit about the company before you show up for your scheduled interview. Why then aren’t employers expected to do the same? I’m not talking about a background check either (which is only done usually after an offer has been extended). I’ve been through interviews where it is clear the hiring manager has not looked at my resume until I am sitting in front of them. Why not try a new twist on this? How about if you tell me what you know about me and what interested you in me and I’ll tell you a little about your organization? Hiring managers should do their homework. Don’t just know my name. Know a little more than that.
Change Your Perspective: “Why do you want to work here?” The largest part of the problem here – and with this question – is perspective. This gets to the root of how companies and corporations see the hiring process and how they view their prospective employees. It’s as though I am there begging for a position with nothing to offer. Let’s turn this one around and suppose I was interviewing for a new UX position today. Here is my thinking: I have a good paying job with a great organization doing some new and exciting things. Tell me why I would want to leave that? It’s your job, as a hiring manager, to convince me to leave my position for something newer and more exciting just like it is my job to convince you I am worthy of the tasks you will present in this new position. Companies in America need to change the way they think about hiring. Hiring is a sale where I have a service to offer in exchange for your cash. The interviewer and hiring manager should mutually explore that potential relationship as equals.
Not MVP. MVS! Agile Design often focuses on an MVP – a Minimally Viable Product that meets the most basic specifications. I think hiring managers should take this same approach with job candidates except they should focus on the MVS – the minimally viable skills needed for the position. Too many times, I have seen managers get wrapped up in the requirements of a position and pass over good candidates because they don’t hold a black belt in Photoshop or some other skill. Peter Capelli writes of this in his book, Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs. He writes of how your resume goes through a computer scan in many organizations so the hiring manager and HR can more easily manage applicants. Don’t have the right keywords? Sorry. But consider this: If an employee is perfectly qualified for the position, why would they want it? Wouldn’t it be a bit boring to not pick up some new skills or learn a few new tricks? A surefire way to end up with a bored employee and an open position in 6 months is to hire someone who is qualified or overqualified for the position you have. I’m perfectly clear in interviews and often tell the manager I don’t want a job I am completely qualified for. Often, I am interviewing because I have become completely qualified at a current job and am seeking new growth potential somewhere else. Consider this when seeking out new positions.
Know The Job: While I did just discount the laundry list of skills and qualifications they often put on job descriptions, it is important the hiring manager actually know what is on that list and understand what the job will entail. Let me phrase this in the form of a question…sort of like Jeopardy! How many of you out there work for someone who doesn’t really know or understand what you do? If this was one of my classes, I bet I’d see a lot of hands raise. At any rate, I have been on many interviews where it is clear the hiring manager not only doesn’t know anything about me, but they often don’t know much about the position either. I have even had instances where I would ask about a specific skill in the job description and the hiring manager knew nothing about it. This is often a sign the position is not very well defined or the description is little more than a template.
Drop The Lame Questions: What is your greatest strength (or superpower for the really lame)? If you were on an island and could only bring three things, what would you bring? If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why? Let’s get real and talk about what matters in the interview. I’m not a box of cereal, but rather a UX Designer who will be working in your firm and will most certainly face a different environment and set of challenges than in positions before this one. So, the focus should be how I will perform in your organization and culture. The above questions solve nothing except making you and I look extremely stupid. In addition, avoid the canned questions asked in every interview. Reserve those for the most inexperienced positions you hire for instead.
Employees Are Your Best or Worst Investments: American companies need to realize the employees are not cattle. I once had a friend describe to me how labor was one of the highest costs an organization could incur. That’s the wrong way of looking at it. Describing your employees as a “labor cost” is the wrong way to think about them. They aren’t cattle. They are investments. Get the wrong person for the job and you are going to lose money. The right person can make you a fortune – especially if you can keep and promote them to other, more influential positions. Change the way you see the employee/candidate and you will automatically change the way you approach the interview.
This is the short list and it doesn’t even consider the problems seen from the employer’s perspective in the interview process. There are longer lists for problems with the interview process like this one:
It is with morbid fascination I have participated in interviewing and being interviewed over the years. I also teach a course on knowledge management, which covers this as a topic. So I have a keen interest in it. But everyone should. It’s in your best interest to understand the snags and weaknesses in the interview process so you can not only capitalize from them, but hopefully avoid a bad match.
I’ve worked with some really good people and some really bad ones over the years. Most of them were hired through luck – good or bad. The interview process was, many times, completely ineffective at helping us get the right person and often instrumental in helping us hire the wrong person. Worse yet, you could be the right person and end up working with a lot of the wrong people due to poor hiring. And while I don’t think corporate hiring practices will change anytime soon, I am convinced simply being aware of the dysfunction is a half step forward.