So go on, Impress me…

May 21, 2015 Chris Pearse

A client of mine recently told me about his friend who had been interviewed for a senior public sector appointment: a place on the board as a non-executive director. On stepping into the room, she was confronted by an interview panel of 20 people – that’s right, 20. Apparently she got the job, though why anyone would want a job with an organisation that behaves like that, was beyond both of us.

This anecdote reminded me of another, possibly apocryphal interview story: A woman goes for interview and is greeted by a man, feet on desk, behind a newspaper that he is reading.

“Go on then, Impress me” he says.

So she takes out a cigarette lighter and sets fire to the paper.

I never heard if she got the job.

Anyhow, I’ve been on both sides of the interview table over the years. Here are a few things that I’ve learnt:

  1. Interviews are necessary but not sufficient – you’ll only find out if the candidate and employer are well-suited to each other once employment has started. Good interviewing will mitigate the risk for both.
  2. Interviews are unique opportunities to assess attitude and energy which can’t be done on paper. Don’t waste (too much) time on skills and experience.
  3. Do everything possible to ensure that the environment and interview is as relaxed as possible. You’ll learn more about the interviewee if they are calm – they are more likely to let the mask slip (see below).
  4. The best candidates will be cherry-picking from several job offers. This makes the interview a 2-way street – both parties have to impress.
  5. Don’t think in terms of good and bad candidates – assess the match. Everyone is good for something.
  6. The interview should be an engaging, learning experience for all concerned – if it’s hard work and draining, think again.

A few years ago I interviewed someone for a job to manage a technical service facility. He had all the right skills and experience and plenty of self-confidence and ambition. Ideal for the job – but there was something wrong that I couldn’t put my finger on. All the tangibles said he was right but I had a feeling that he wasn’t.

At the end of the interview we were waiting for his cab and just to fill time I asked him how many worked at his previous employer in southern Africa. “Ah” he replied, “Ten people and five natives”. At which point the penny dropped and I realised why I hadn’t felt comfortable about employing him.

He didn’t get the job.

Tags: , ,