Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Stay in your own lane!

Perhaps I’m a bit naïve, but I believe that a job interview, like highway driving, is a two-way street. It should be less about an interrogation of the candidate and more like a dialogue of potential team mates.

But like I said, that could be just my simplistic perception.

Not long ago, I was in an interview, fielding the standard questions from a potential employer. Actually, at this point, I’d been through a telephone interview with the recruiter, another phone interview with the HR Manager and filled out the employment application. I had already granted permission for a background check and supplied them with my references. I’d been told they had narrowed their search to the three candidates and I was the first of the “final three” to be interviewed by the Hiring Manager. (Visions of American Idol rushed to my imagination!) In my understanding, this was the last of the interviews before a hiring decision was to be made. I was now talking with the person I would report to once (if) I was hired.

She was very pleasant and personable. We looked at my extensive (and impressive ) portfolio of writing samples. We talked about the various organizations I’d worked for, the kinds of projects I’d been involved with and the accomplishments of my career as well as some of the challenges. I even felt I had been able to effectively communicate why some of my past positions had not been long-term. (e.g., Sometimes, working for charity will satisfy the soul, but not pay the bills! and Because I value my family, consistently working 70-80 hours every week is not something I wanted to continue.) I was feeling very good about how it was going.

Suddenly, she looked at her watch and then launched into verbiage which experience had taught me meant the interview was winding down. “Thank you so much for coming in. I’ve enjoyed getting to know more about you and your background. We will be making our decision very soon. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get back in touch with us.” She stood to shake my hand.

I could tell by her hurried delivery that the last sentence was not an invitation. “Actually, I do have some questions," I responded. "Is there a time we can continue our discussion?”

She sighed audibly. (Yeah, that made me feel comfortable!) “Well I do have another appointment in a few minutes. What kind of questions do you have?” Her tone was clearly agitated.

I wanted to be polite and respectful of her calendar, even though I wasn’t sure why a decision this important to the company (not to mention ME) was sandwiched in between other appointments.

“You’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about me," I said. "I would like to have the chance to learn more about and your team. Since we all might be working together, I want to make sure this is a good fit for me and the team.”

She sat back down and invited me to ask my questions. (I felt rushed, to be sure.) They were standard questions I’d acquired from the traditional job boards like Monster or CareerBuilder. (e.g., How would you describe your management style? What are the biggest strengths of your current team? What are some weakness? Was there someone internally who wanted this position? Why was the decision made to hire from outside?) More than that, they were questions that I wanted answered. It was information I felt I needed to know.

At one point during our ensuing discussion, she glared at me and said, “You’re very intrusive.”

I was stunned. That certainly was not my intention. But I firmly believe that our work situation is a major relationship in our life. We spend more time with the folks at work than just about any of our other relationships. Compatibility is essential. Open communication is non-optional. No relationship (marriage, friendship, employment, etc.) can flourish without those elements.

The irony to me was obvious. This position was for Communications Director…for a Corporate Communications department. If I wasn't free to have this kind of discussion prior to employment, what does that say about the environment “inside” the organization.

I offered a perfunctory apology. I thanked her for her time and said I looked forward to their decision.

In my heart though I knew: there would be no call back…and I would not be unhappy about that outcome.

Both predictions proved true!

Do you have an interview story to share?

What do you think about my insistance on dialogue in the interview process?

Please give us YOUR thoughts.


  1. Intrusive are you? Hmmm... what was the tone of your voice? Because your questions sounded interesting.

  2. Excellent question! I felt I was very polite. It seems like a "no brainer" that I would be allowed to ask questions, as well. Doesn't it? I've gone over and over in my head (that's my typical M.O.) and all I can assume is that she just wasn't accustomed to this form of interview. Perhaps "old school" where it's all about what the candidate can provide to the company. [shrug] Wish I were more of a mind-reader so I could know.


  3. Those were all good questions. I agree that she probably wasn't used to being asked questions and may have been an unexperienced interviewer. BTW...great blog! I look forward to following your job search story. Hopefully it will be a short one with a happy ending!

  4. From an employee perspective, I think your questions had real merit. I'd be curious to hear a professional recruiter weigh in on this one. HR people - what do you think?

  5. Bill, still going strong and still interesting! I hope when you get the right job you will continue this blob for the others that are still looking.
    Keep up the good work and your chin! :)