I remember my first interview as clear as it was yesterday. I was called in on a Friday morning. So I was really looking forward to doing this well and getting it behind me so I could make some weekend plans. I remember being asked to wait in the sitting area until I was called in. It turned out that I happened to be sitting right next to the very room I was going to be interviewed in. I could hear everything going on inside. There were a couple of voices, discussing the previous night’s cricket game rather animatedly. There was loud laughing and the group genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves. Then I heard the laughter die down and a voice (who I could only assume was the boss) asked if everyone was ready to do the interview. After some low mumbles the door opened and one of them stepped out and beckoned me inside. I got up and followed him, thinking to myself that this should probably go well given that they seemed to be in a really good mood. After all they were just laughing their heads off just a few seconds ago, right? WRONG. I stepped inside to what felt like a completely different planet.
They were all seated in leather chairs, in a semi-circle, behind a big mahogany desk with glasses of cold water on it. Right opposite them was one solitary plastic chair (for me) and nothing to drink beside it, might I add. It was a ‘power-setup’. The faces were solemn and you could cut the tension in the air with a knife. Were these the same men I heard losing their guts a few minutes ago? Was I in the right building? Wait, did I really need this job? The next 40 minutes would rank as one of the top five most nerve-racking moments of my life. It didn’t feel like an interview but more like an interrogation. I could have sworn I felt like security was going to walk in and put handcuffs on me! Not one of them broke a smile and the only time they maintained eye contact with me was when I was asked a question. It didn’t matter that I had the experience. It didn’t matter why I thought I was fit for the job. It didn’t matter what my five year plans were. The intangible yet powerful vibe coming from behind the desk was that I needed to prove myself to them. The problem though was that I felt like I didn’t have a chance! There was no way around this ‘stonewall’. I remembered breathing a sigh of relief and feeling my shoulders and jaw relax when I stepped out to head home. Talk about terrible interviewing skills!
In the aftermath, many questions came to mind – why the animosity? Was it necessary to display that level of power tripping? Were they trying to intimidate me to gauge my mental tenacity? I didn’t know. And maybe I would not have felt that way if I hadn’t heard them laughing away before the interview. In any case I did get the job. And 5 years later found myself in a manager’s position within the same company. I remembered waiting to interview my first candidate, thinking through how to refine my interviewing skills. I remembered my own experience. And I decided things would be different:
- Respect – I was going to treat this candidate with the respect he deserved and would give him the chance to make his case with me instead of survive my case for him.
- Genuine Interest – I was genuinely interested in his skill sets and what he had to offer. I wasn’t going to treat him like he was guilty until proven innocent.
- Appropriate Representation – I understood the significance of being, at least in that moment, the ‘face’ of the company to him. And I wanted to make sure that I represented the values of the company in the way I conducted myself with him.
And finally, there was no reason to show him who was ‘boss’. After all I wasn’t his boss YET. I realized that proper interviewing skills go a long ways in being able to accurately gauge a person’s competence for the job. Treating a person with dignity, acknowledging their skills and realizing their potential for the company is more important than making them cower in the hot seat. Some companies do this well. And others still have a long ways to go when it comes to professionalism and courtesy. Interviewing skills training for managers is one of the most significant areas of training that a company can invest in when it comes to human resources.
Read our blog ‘Good Interviews Leave Great Impressions About the Organisation‘ which deals with 4 common mistakes that even seasoned interviewers struggle with.