There is an iconic urban myth about interviewing for a role at IBM.
The story goes something like this: You are taken to lunch. Present at this lunch are you — and of course a couple of powerful hiring managers. You all chat, you order lunch, it arrives. What are the managers attending to during this interview? Your skill set? Your previous experience? No. They are observing whether or not you salt your food before you take the first bite. What might this tell them about you and your future at their venerable organization? That you are open to experience? That you possess an “open-mind”? That you are a perfect fit for their team? Uh — not so fast.
I’m all in for an easily grasped explanation, but sometimes we go a bit too far. As a psychologist, my work focuses upon understanding workplace experiences — and I’m certain that the K.I.S.S. was originally coined to describe systems, not human behavior. However, there has always been a powerful “push-pull” operating. Human behavior is stubbornly complicated — but, we would like to make it appear simple. (As the legendary job interview illustrates.) Instead we might consider erring on the side of complexity, but concentrate on communicating the expanded theory effectively. We shouldn’t fear complexity. It doesn’t have to be viewed as the threshold of our “undoing”.
It is, in fact, the “secret sauce”.
There is no single behavior or question to accurately predict future workplace performance during an employment interview. (An “elevator pitch”, is a fantastic staple — yet it’s brevity does not always suffice.) As such, a reasonable balance of structured exploration is likely more preferable. Ultimately, we have to be willing to take that “deeper dive” into certain challenges — and look beyond the hype and “buzz words”.
Where human behavior is concerned — oversimplification can be dangerous. If you are solving a challenge (for example, high turnover in one job category, difficulty recruiting), be sure to embrace a broad perspective of the issue. Take the extra time to look beyond the obvious. Include those nuances, even if they slow you down temporarily.
However, here is the start of a brief guide. (Please share your thoughts, as well.):
Capture the relevant variables. When all is said and done, be sure that all of the important elements are at least considered. Workplace issues are often multifaceted. That’s OK. Treat them as such.
Consider what (and when) to share. Communicating a concept is critical step — and what you share can make or break its power to change opinion. Take note of what an audience is likely to absorb at one sitting, but push the envelope and keep the essence of the concept intact. Focus on inspiring both thought and action.
Indulge your curiosity. Taking a deeper look at an issue, is often worth the investment. If you have an indication that something is “off” or appears unexplained, take that side path to fully explore it. There is likely more under the surface.
Many of us have serious reservations about job interviews. I assure you, that I do as well. My reasons for concern may be a bit more complicated than yours. (For example, they can serve as an excruciatingly poor selection tool if implemented unwisely). However, your reasons for hating interviews are every bit as valid. I’ll venture to say, that you probably dislike interviews because of how the interview — or the interview process — makes you feel. You are not alone.
I am extremely sympathetic. However, let’s go out on that proverbial limb and face your concerns (and your emotions). I’d like to challenge your mindset, and train you to approach the entire experience differently. You see, the funny thing is, as much as I have always questioned the true merit of employment interviews — I’ve never hated being interviewed. I’m convinced that my lack of hatred has everything to do with how I view the process. More specifically, accepting the things that probably will not change about interviews and re-categorizing the experience as one tremendous opportunity.
Here is what I mean:
Embrace being “judged”. Bring it on. While being interviewed, people will certainly form opinions concerning your skills, abilities and even your personal demeanor. Tell yourself that is just fine — remembering that when people cross your path you do exactly the same thing. During the course of your career, managers and coworkers will make judgments about you on a daily basis. So what? Convince yourself to view each of these judgments as a challenge to effectively build your unique “brand”.
Be astute and “try on” the organization. Remember — this may be the company with which you develop a long-term relationship. Consider that point carefully. Be thankful you have the chance to gather as much information as possible. Take the opportunity to size up leadership and where the organization is really headed. What is your impression? Do you see yourself working there? Getting a bad vibe? Explore this — as it may be the only forewarning you’ll receive.
Say “thank you” to organizations behaving badly. Has the organization not acted as you would have expected? Unprofessional? No follow-up? Don’t let these behaviors derail you. Welcome this type of behavior as a clear and present warning. If an organization doesn’t seem to show concern for you from the start, this is most likely a glimpse into your future. I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s discussion with Oprah, where she explained, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” The same premise extends to an organization. Unless there is some remarkable explanation as to why they have not bothered to contact you (for a month), be grateful for the realistic preview and run in the opposite direction.
Accept ambiguity. Even though there was an ever-present possibility that the outcome wouldn’t go in my favor, I tried to embrace the opportunity to be interviewed. Unfortunately, “not knowing” is simply part of the process. But to be completely honest, the world of work is full of ambiguity. It is best to adjust to it and attempt to remain positive while you are waiting. Nothing is set in stone after you complete an interview — but at the same time, this makes the possibilities endless.
If you change your view of employment interviews, you may have an easier time processing the accompanying negative emotions. I’d like to guarantee that the experience will be easier for you to handle in the future. However, that is at least partially up to you.
I recently finished reading “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell — a very clever book which poses the theory that we don’t need to process the entire story to actually grasp the “gestalt” of that story. Of course, the real skill lies in knowing what information to consider and what information to ignore. While reading, I couldn’t help but think of how this concept of making decisions on thinner “slices” of behavior or information could apply to workplace practices.
Is less information better? Well, in some cases it might be.
Consider the traditional employment interview for a moment. When you think of all the business practices we openly malign (yearly performance reviews for example) employment interviews have really escaped their fair share of deserved criticism. Why is this? One reason is that employment interviews have simply been a fact of work life — an accepted way of doing business. It seems that when you consider the prospect of a new job, an interview is always the first thing you anticipate.
The Down Side
You might think the run of the mill interview does a pretty good job at doing what it was supposed to do. But this is not the case — they are a bit like a living fossil in the world of business practices. In actuality, the predictive validity of the standard interview is quite low, primarily attributed to subjective error. Shocked? As told to me by a professor, “People by nature are hopelessly curious. The idea of making decisions about a candidate without speaking with them in person makes us feel uncomfortable, even at the cost of making our decisions less accurate”. We just seem to want all of the extra information that can run us in the wrong direction – and resist evaluating candidates based upon key qualifications, tests and work history alone. We allow ourselves to think that we “just know” who is right for the job. That’s the first mistake we make.
The Bright Side
Researchers have investigated practices that help improve the “hit rate” of the employment interview as a selection technique. Of course, these practices attempt to keep decision makers on track and help them focus on information critical to the job in question. The practices are designed to limit the subjectivity of the interview process and idiosyncratic interviewer practices. You can read more about that here, if you wish.
Utilize the time with a candidate wisely. Here are some key findings from past research which you can apply within your organization:
Finalize the job description. Be sure it is accurate and up to date. Jobs will evolve and “reshape” over time. Be sure that all of the current tasks and responsibilities are captured.
Utilize the job description to hammer out a set of meaningful questions. I would suggest a set of core questions about the job in question. Use “critical incidents” for the job as a basis for questions. These are behaviors that separate excellent employees from the pack.
Pose the same questions to all the candidates. This allows a comparison of answers after all of the interviews are completed – a fascinating process.
Use behaviorally anchored rating scales to evaluate core areas of skill or knowledge. This process helps make ratings concerning candidates more straight forward. Learn more about that here.
Train interviewers to convey accurate information about the job and the organization. That way a candidate can decide if there is a real fit between person and job. If possible offer an RJP (Realistic Job Preview) before the interview begins.
Have more than one interviewer evaluate a candidate. A panel works well if you have the manpower. More than one view of a candidate can begin an active discussion about a candidate’s qualifications for the job in question.
Pause, digest, then decide. Train interviewers to delay the actual decision until after the interview and all relevant candidate information has been reviewed. A little time and reflection can go a long way — no “gut” feelings allowed.
Interviews aren’t going away, that’s a given. So let’s manage the “information overflow” wisely.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. Contact her practice at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.