What Just Happened? Decoding the Job Interview

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

There is plenty of advice out there concerning what to say (and do) during an employment interview. However, there is little written about how to sort out the jumbled mess of emotions and observations that you are left with.  Even with the best of intentions and lists of smartly designed questions — interviewing is not (and never will be) a perfect process.

In some situations, you are not really sure what has actually transpired. In fact, you may leave feeling you know less about your potential future there, than when you began.

Over the years, I’ve sat in many job interviews. Interestingly, even with my background, I was a poor bet to predict the outcome. However, looking back I could have nailed down the “gestalt” of the interview. This might have offered a clue as to what was about to transpire next.

To be blunt, many organizations still do not have a clear structured interview process — and even if they do — the conversation could ramble “off the grid”. Paying close attention to these moments may offer needed clarity. I’m like to share a few of my interview experiences; including what was said and how I felt after initially reflecting on the interview. I’ll also let you know if I landed the role.

#1 – The Interview as a “Call for Help”
In many situations, organizations are not really sure what they need. You may have responded to a specific job posting, however when you arrive it’s clear the situation is quite fluid. Ultimately, their actual needs become cloudier as the conversation continues. My read: They are in flux — but at the same time the prospect of challenge and growth increases. Truth: If the interview smacks of this, inquire about what they likely need to accomplish right now. Size up whether or not you fill that need — and if you’d still like to pursue the relationship. Assess alignment and evaluate your chances from there. My scorecard with this scenario: Interviews 2; Adequate fit 0; Job Offers 0. (Quite satisfied with this outcome.)

#2 – Playing Close to the Cuff
Many interviewers present as so professional, it is difficult to get a read on them as a “human-being”. There is little feedback or emotion and you have absolutely no idea where you stand. My read: This a no-nonsense interaction. Chances are you wouldn’t be there if you were not qualified. If this is your potential boss, you’ll likely need to be a self-starter. Truth: You won’t know, until you know. (I left the interview thinking this, “I’m never going to step foot in here again.”) My scorecard with this scenario: Interviews 1; Job Offers 1. (Surprise.)

#3 – The Passive Aggressive Interview
These interviews feel like a boxing match. The interviewer seems determined to show you every “wart” of the organization and wait to see if you will call their bluff. It’s almost as if you are running a race — and with each successive hurdle you sustain an injury. Truth: I feel the interviewer(s) want you to be willing to endure, what they have endured. My read: The organization is likely unhealthy — so figure this into any decision. My scorecard: Interviews 3; Invitations to return for follow-up interviews 2 (Both respectfully declined.); Job Offers 0.

#4 – The “Non-Interview”
This is really an endorsement for considering shorter-term projects, that may set you up nicely to land a longer-term role. There have been times during my path that could have been described as either “in transition”, tied to a particular geographic location or faced with a job market that was simply very challenging. My read: Part-time or project-based roles are great realistic job previews for you and the employer. Every workplace situation is essentially an interview, so gather as much information as possible. Truth: Your built network is vital to finding these gems. My scorecard: “Interviews” 3 ; Job Offers 2 (Both a great fit).

What scenarios have you encountered? What were your strategies to “decode” the interview? Share them here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Organizational Development at Allied Talent. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her posts on workplace topics have also appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, US News & World Report and The World Economic Forum.


6 thoughts on “What Just Happened? Decoding the Job Interview

  1. I can remember recently where I applied for a park ranger position. With 300 apps to go through, then they narrowed it down to 30. And out of the last four on the list to be hired, I was overlooked. When I checked on why. Human resources, apparently didn’t even bother to read, where I directed traffic ect..
    And that was a prerequisite. So, even though I’m a security manager. I was overlooked.


  2. I’ve experienced most of these types of interviews but I’ve actually interviewed more people (for roles within the company) than been interviewed so here are a few observations.

    Sometimes a company has a very specific skill set that is required for the position. You may be exceedingly qualified in every other way but without that skill, you won’t move forward.

    I’ve seen interviews where all the interviewers but one thought the candidate was perfect, but the one holdout had the power so the candidate didn’t proceed. The power player’s reasoning could be valid or not, but regardless it stopped the process.

    Likability and connection can trump knowledge. If two candidates are vying for a position, it usually comes down to who the hiring manager likes best. I’ve seen this time and time again. The more qualified candidate did nothing wrong, in fact they’ve generally done everything right. But ultimately people want to work with people they like and connect with.

    I take all these factors into consideration when I’m interviewing for a job, with the knowledge that I did my best regardless of the outcome.


  3. Reblogged this on FJWilson Talent and commented:
    Anthony Haynes writes: I’m reblogging this post from Dr Marla Gottschalk’s Office Blend blog, not so much for the specific content as for:
    1. the tone — after a job interview, it’s important somehow to get emotional control of the event. Dr Gottschalk’s blend of directness and lighthearted-ness (the informal categorisation, for example) seems a good way to do so. Her tone says, ‘Reflect – but don’t wallow’.
    2. the mindset that says, when you reflect on an interview, cut through the superficial details and ask (as in the the ‘My read’ sentences), ‘What was going on really?’.


  4. I have a hard time with the phone screening interview. I usually fail them and I’m not sure why. I may come off as too wordy. My last “screening interview,” I felt I was prepared and knowledgeable about the company and I felt I answered all the questions well, and I still did not get a face to face interview. Its very frustrating trying to get past all the gatekeepers in order to the coveted face to face interview.


  5. Thank you for this very informative read. I am not a pro at interviews. There are so many different types, like panel, mass/crowd, see 5 people in one interview, different rooms, but exact same questions, and the one on one interview. I have studied the questions asked, and try to figure out what they are actually asking me. Sometimes, that is hard, because it is nothing like the question asked. I have looked at the interview as “They are looking for help, BUT you have to fit into the “kind” of group they personally are. HOW they can judge that in 1 hour is beyond me. Maybe a word you say, I don’t know.


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