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What’s a Job Interview For? June 27, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Management & leadership.
Tags: , ,

What exactly do we hope to learn from a job interview? Are we trying to determine whether the candidate is being truthful on their resume or application? Put them under stress and observe how they respond? Pose a hypothetical-but-realistic situation to see how they would handle it? Or, do we just want to hear them talk about their background and qualifications in the hope that they’ll say something to help assess their likelihood of success in this role? Are we even sure about what it takes to succeed, or are we over-generalizing from the styles of others who are successful in this role?

I’ve had a lot of time to think about these questions lately, both from the standpoint of the hiring manager and the job applicant. I’ve been interviewed by people who seemed to be completely unprepared, not having read either my resume or the job description. I’ve been asked brain-teaser questions that I assume are supposed to reveal something about my logical thinking and how I would approach a unique situation. I’ve been told that the position I’m being interviewed for is not the same as the position I applied for. I’ve told the story of my career path so many times that I’ve learned to stretch or shrink to fill just about any amount of time that I’ve been given. I’ve got standard answers to just about every question, including the over-used “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

Once you’ve decided to submit yourself to an interview process you don’t have much control over how the interviews will be conducted or what questions will be asked. You pretty much have to roll with it, unless you’ve changed your mind and no longer want to be considered for the job.

You do have a lot of control over the process when you’re the hiring manager. Hiring the wrong person is expensive and wasteful, regardless of how quickly you can correct the mistake. Every new employee requires a learning curve, and because the you were not able to successfully fill the gap in the organization with your first attempt, the organization will continue to operate sub-optimally until you can hire someone who is more effective.

Given all that, what’s the best way to use your time during the interview? It seems to me that you have to make an assessment of three things: (1) skills, (2) cultural fit, and (3) adaptability.

1. Do they have the skills necessary to do the job? This requires some reflection and understanding of what is really required to do the job well, and what this person will actually do from day to day. The candidate should be able to give examples from their work experience to provide a reasonable assessment.

2. Are they going to fit in? Every job requires working with others. It’s not going to work if this person can’t work cooperatively with the existing team. This is harder to assess in the short time that you spend with a single candidate, but this is where there’s value in using a diverse interview team made up of a cross-section of people who will have to work with this person.

3. Have they demonstrated an ability to adapt to new circumstances? Whatever the job description is today, it is almost certainly going to change. How did this person manage the transitions from job to job during their career? Do they seek learning and growth opportunities?

In the end, hiring is still a subjective process, but you have to make the best use of the limited time available to collect information that will be most useful to making the decision, and that means organizing the interviews to find out what you really need to know.



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