The Interview Rights and Wrongs: Either Too Formal or Too Gimmicky; Ruined by Macho Managers or Garrulous, Ill-Prepared Candidates -- Job Interviews Can Be a Shambles on Both Sides of the Desk. We Can Do Much Better

By Butcher, David | Management Today, April 2002 | Go to article overview

The Interview Rights and Wrongs: Either Too Formal or Too Gimmicky; Ruined by Macho Managers or Garrulous, Ill-Prepared Candidates -- Job Interviews Can Be a Shambles on Both Sides of the Desk. We Can Do Much Better


Butcher, David, Management Today


The job interview remains one of the more bizarrely formal and old-fashioned rituals in an increasingly open-necked, forward-looking business world. Detractors claim that the traditional interview is a poor way of establishing a candidate's ability to do a job, that there are more objective yardsticks than 45 minutes of Q and A. But take a look at some of these alternatives -- everything from handwriting analysis to astrology -- and you can see why the interview still takes pride of place. No matter which side of the table you are on, employer or candidate, the interview is the one technique that allows you to look your prospective colleague in the eye as you weigh each other up.

Interviewing is a tough call whichever of the hot seats you occupy. It might look like the candidates have to make most of the running, but these days employers need to tread carefully, too. Not least because of a new ruling that will give some unsuccessful applicants the right to see their interview notes. So interviewers beware, those casual scribblings in the margin -- What's she wearing?', 'Bound to be pregnant within a fortnight', 'Did he bother to research this company?' -- might land you in court.

Both interviewers and candidates need to buck their ideas up if they are going to keep a firm grip on the greasy pole. Neither the casual 'quick chat' (read 'unprepared interviewer') nor its over-rehearsed, formulaic alternative is a great way of ensuring a harmonious match between potential employer and employee. Confidence is good, but you're unlikely to be at your best if you haven't at least read the CVs or looked at the company web site. And relying too heavily on set technique can lead to an interviewer! interviewee arms race. You may have read the new edition of Ten Great Interview Questions, but what if the candidate has read the sequel, Ten Great Answers to Great Interview Questions?

So how do we defuse the situation? It must, surely, be possible for both sides to get what they want from the process without making it either hateful, a waste of time, or both?

For a start, we could put a stop to bullying in the interview room. Yes, be tough, put the candidate on the spot, challenge their answers if necessary, see how they react under pressure. But don't try to humiliate them: you won't learn much and you'll feel like -- no, wait, you'll be -- a scumbag.

'If your business is made up of people who are very aggressive, you may need to see how a candidate deals with that, but that doesn't mean being aggressive yourself,' says Fiona Sellers of search firm Courtenay. She should know: she recruits HR executives, the people from personnel who have to sit in while macho managers strut their stuff in interviews. People fall into the trap of thinking they've got to be aggressive to be a good interviewer, In fact, you can be demanding in a constructive way: you ask you train managers not to be subjective when they recruit people. For a given position they should have a list of the competencies needed, on which they interrogate the candidates one by one. Don't be swayed by gut instinct about whether the applicant will 'fit in' or not: that just results in cloning' because we tend to warm to people who are like ourselves. Given half a chance we select on the basis of history and sameness and we reduce diversity in the organisation. We also, subconsciously or not, discrim inate on the basis of background, race, gender or accent. A properly codified recruitment process rules all that out.

But is that a good thing? …

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