The WTF Interview
I spend a lot of time providing career advice to friends and family. Recently I talked with my friend “Sam” (name changed to protect the innocent) who is a super star candidate. He looks great on paper and is even better face-to-face. Sam is the super star you loaded all the work onto when you laid off half of his department, instead of complaining he worked hard and didn’t complain. Like a lot of people though Sam wasn’t too keen on that situation and is now looking for a job.
Sam was excited to get a call from a large, well respected company about an excellent stretch opportunity. During the phone screen he was told the interview process would be very quick because they needed this position filled quickly. His phone screen was followed by two in-person interviews, each lasting anywhere from 2-4 hours with multiple people, one of which ran right through the lunch hour. After what he thought was the final interview he was contacted for what would be the third and final interview. The recruiter told him the decision was down to two people and that the hiring manager was very close to picking him. Needless to say Sam (and his expectations) were flying high.
Are you getting a hint at where this story goes? It’s not a happy ending. Later that week I called to see how things went, Sam told me he had no idea and was completely at a loss. He said he walked out of the interview thinking to himself “what the f*** was THAT?” Apparently many of the questions during the interview were not (at least as far as Sam could see) related to the job he had been interviewing for in the last three interviews.
After asking some more questions I started to get a feel for how things went wrong so quickly. The problem was on both sides. When Sam sat down for the interview he was thinking this was an easy slam dunk, answer some questions and wait for the phone call with the offer. I’m not sure the hiring manager thought of it in such slam dunk terms. He came in to the interview with some hard hitting questions about different aspects of accounting that Sam was not familiar with. Sam began to get the impression that maybe he wanted something different or had changed his mind. As a result Sam started getting flustered and started doubting himself.
By the time he left, his hopes and expectations were dashed; not to mention his opinion of the company was completely changed. Three days after the interview Sam received a call not offering a job but saying that the company was going back to the drawing board and had decided not to make an offer to any candidate.
Needless to say Sam was upset about the decision. Having been in the HR world for a while I understand how these things go. Most of the time companies don’t really know what they want. Maybe after sitting through multiple interviews the manager was like the dog in UP and kept getting distracted by shiny objects. Maybe the budget changed and they needed to spend less money. Maybe the department was re-organized and the work shifted….it could be anything. A lot of that stuff HR does not have control over.
HR does have control or at least influence over interview timing, and expectation management. Do you know that the cost accounting manager always runs over the allotted interview time? Talk with him/her beforehand and let them know at what point it becomes “not cool” and at what point you will be interrupting to take the candidate to the next interview. Expectation management with candidates should be second nature to seasoned HR pros. I have never and will never tell anyone they are likely to get a job. People change their minds all the time, unless I hear the words “Lets make an offer” I never even hint that they have the job.
I would be remiss if I didn’t add some things that I think Sam could have done better:
- Keep your cool – by his own admission Sam told me he got flustered in the interview. I’m not sure how that came across but always keep your cool and try to deflect the question. Every day you are thrown curve balls. React the same way you would in an interview as you would in life (unless of course you freak out if the crease in your pants isn’t correct, in that case act like you are keeping your cool).
- Never assume you are a “shoe-in” to get the job. If you are told you are the shoe-in or favorite to get the job, immediately forget it and proceed as you would for any other interview.
At the end of the day there are a lot of factors HR doesn’t remotely influence but there are some factors we do influence. Taking the time to manage the influence we do have goes a long way to maintaining our companies brand. This situation left Sam with a sour taste for the company, he was told the process would be short, it wasn’t, he was told interviews would be “short & sweet” they weren’t and finally he was told he was he was favored to get the job and the situation turned out completely different. There isn’t one person or group to blame in this story but there is a lot to learn.