Archive for June, 2012

No Two Interviewers Are Alike

June 28, 2012

There is no greater inconsistency in life than job interviewers.  OK, maybe there is, but I can’t think of any at the moment.  It seems that everyone has their own modus operandi and even then, many interviewers couldn’t even explain theirs to you.  In addition, I’ve seen the same interviewer conduct interviews differently from candidate to candidate, almost as if each candidate somehow influences the resulting interview style.

What is fueling this strange, unsettling phenomenon?  We need to look at several angles to understand it.  First, let’s delve into the educational aspect of interviewers.  No, I don’t mean their higher education pedigree.  I’m talking about the guidance and training hiring managers undertake to learn the fine art of interviewing.  For some inexplicable reason, when someone is promoted to Manager, they are suddenly deemed capable of conducting effective interviews.  Thus, without any formal training, they are set loose as if they are fully equipped to interview candidates, complete with a game plan that corresponds to an interviewing objective.

Unfortunately, nearly all hiring managers have had no formal training or guidance on interviewing best practices.  As a result, they do what most managers do:  Google “interviewing questions,” formulate a boiled down list of these questions, and then in the interview, ask these questions.  And regardless of the candidate’s answers, the next step is to ask the next question.  Foolproof…if you’re interviewing robots.

In other cases, hiring managers shy away from rapid fire questions altogether and instead, turn the event into a conversation – sort of like having coffee with a friend.  If they come away with a good feeling about you (and the coffee), then you’re hired.  Nothing like hiring based purely on feelings and gut.

Eventually, many managers learn through years of trial and error, that effective interviewing does indeed involve the interrogation component, yet must include specific nuanced tactics, such as behavioral interviewing techniques (e.g., situational questions) and asking those highly sophisticated tricky open-ended follow-up questions (my favorite is “Why?”).  Managers soon discover that along with hiring for aptitude, they need to cover attitude as well.  This leads them to incorporate rapport-building and chemistry angles into the interview as well.

Finally, managers learn that interviews are not just about how candidates answer questions, but also what questions candidates bring to the table for the interviewer to answer.  As a hiring executive, when assessing candidates in the interview, I put just as much stock into the quality, poignancy, and thoughtfulness of the questions candidates fired at me.

Clearly, interviewing prowess runs the gamut.  And this isn’t limited to first-time managers.  Many CEOs are sufficiently clueless as well.  Putting interviewing expertise aside for a moment, there is another big reason for inconsistency in interviewers:  Purpose.

Purpose refers to the interviewer’s objective, aim, or endgame.  How could this differ?  After all, interviewers are trying to hire people, right?  In theory, yes.  However, each interviewer’s mindset around interviewing may be different.

For example, many interviewers ask questions, knowing that they’re looking for very specific “right” answers from candidates.  Anything other than those “right” answers are considered red flags.  I remember many years ago, I was interviewing for a Sales Manager role at a growing software company.  The interview seemed to be going well, until I was asked how I would best coach the team on effective selling.  So naturally, I talked about assessing each sales rep’s sales acumen, conducting regular team and individual training, phone monitoring, tracking progress, etc.  The Director agreed with my points, but said, “And you will also…”  Hmmm.  Suddenly, I was expected to be a mind reader.  Too bad my antenna wasn’t picking up her brain waves.  When I didn’t answer her prompt to her liking, the Director disclosed the right answer:  “…get on the phones yourself and learn how to sell the product.”  Well, of course I would.  But too bad for me, I didn’t give the right answer before the buzzer sounded, and thus, didn’t win the game show I suddenly found myself playing.

Hiring managers who assess candidates solely on giving the “right” answers just don’t get it.  Similarly, I’ve seen countless managers compare candidates purely on how “well” they interviewed.  Unfortunately, there are many highly qualified candidates who are not expert interviewees.  One of my sagely recruiting mentors pointed out that ideally, hiring managers should aim to hire people who can do the job vs. those who can get the job.

Finally, some interviewers are looking at each candidate with the thought of hiring them, visualizing how well they’d fit in the role and culture.  Compare that to other interviewers, who start from a position of looking at why each candidate shouldn’t be hired.  One wears the rose colored glasses, trying each candidate on for size while the other is a gun toting vigilante, shooting holes for the sake of shooting holes.

With all these variances in interviewing styles, perspectives, and purposes, it’s easy to see why so many good, qualified candidates don’t make the cut.  They’re stepping onto a minefield while blindfolded — no knowledge of where the explosives are located and what type of explosives exist.  Moreover, many candidates assess the opportunity by their interviewing experience.  A company that exhibits poor interviewing skills will reflect poorly and likely decrease top candidates’ interest in the company.

So what is a candidate to do?  The best approach is to gain as much intelligence ahead of time as possible.  Take steps to ask trusted colleagues or network connections about the interviewers.  What are they like?  What are their hot buttons?  What is their communication style?  How do they conduct interviews?  Do the foibles they exhibit in the interview setting carry over into day-to-day interactions?

As a hiring manager, have you noticed how certain other hiring managers have a penchant for consistently hiring top performers who fit in culturally and thrive?  I would seek them out for interviewing mentoring.  In addition, since hiring managers rely on others in the organization to interview their candidates, bear in mind that these folks on your interview team may have differing interviewing methods and objectives.  It would be best to gain alignment on these, or at the very least, understand what those differences are so that you can put their feedback into perspective.

Interviewing inconsistencies are pervasive and won’t go away anytime soon.  Getting a handle on these differing tendencies by identifying them, understanding their assets and liabilities, and seeking out knowledge on interviewing best practices, is a career-long venture.  And with that awareness, you are indeed setting yourself apart from most others.


Action Items:

1.  Most qualified managers are highly unqualified as interviewers and don’t even realize it.  Organizations with inconsistent and ineffective interviewing skills are inherently at a competitive disadvantage in terms of attracting, hiring, and retaining top talent.  For the sake of the organization’s health and well-being, it is critical to develop interviewing acumen.

2.  What kind of interviewer are you?  Seek feedback and mentoring on your style, perspective, and purpose so that you can develop into a more effective, well-rounded, and objective interviewer.

3.  As a candidate, understand that there is no established industry template for interviewing.  Thus, be prepared for different styles and try to gain as much intelligence on the interviewers ahead of time.