August 26, 2009

Why job interviews suck

Filed under: For Managers, Interviewing, Stuff I worry about

And people ask me what’s wrong with America’s Employment System. One of the biggest problems is that most job interviews suck.

There’s a book called 501+ Great Interview Questions for Employers and the Best Answers for Prospective Employees. And just today Cheezhead re-published Monster.com’s “list of 100 interview questions that candidates should always be prepared to answer.”

Might as well give a frustrated, angry, desperate job hunter a loaded gun.

But I also have a kinder, gentler, more pointed perspective. In my interview fantasy, you walk into a job interview. You smile broadly at the interviewer, shake hands, and sit down in the interview chair.

You lean forward and say, “Look, we both know why we’re here. You have questions you want to ask me. And you will judge me based on my answers.”

This is where you drop that baby — that big fat book full of Q&A’s — on the interviewer’s desk.

“So let’s cut the crap. Let’s save one another a whole lot of time.”

Slide that sucker across the manager’s desk. “Here you go. Your questions and my answers.”

Smile again. “You can waste your time and mine. Or do you want to talk about the work you need done and how I can improve your bottom line?”

.

9 Comments on “Why job interviews suck”
By Jason
August 27, 2009 at 9:16 am

Nick,

I don’t think its all bad. I found at least a dozen questions in the 100 that could be turned around into telling them how you’d do the job. Even some of the tell me about your last job questions could be turned around to provide anecdotes about how you’ll do the same kind of thing for them. Of course, “Why is there fuzz on a tennis ball?” is an utterly ridiculous question no matter what.

By Bob
August 27, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Well if we follow your strategy, Nick, as much fun as it would be, we’d never get past the ‘crap’ and we’d be out the door. Just think how someone would feel if a person slid pre-canned answers across the desk. They’d be mad.
Revenge fantasies are fun but using them in real life gets you a smack on the head.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 27, 2009 at 12:56 pm

@Bob: Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone slide that book across the interview table… which is why I couched it as a fantasy. My point is that the rules need to be changed, and it’s up to the candidate to change them. (While I address managers on Ask The Headhunter, too, I’m talking to job applicants here. You can’t wait for the other guy to make your interview more relevant.)

So, if you think that getting past the canned Q&A is a good idea, how would YOU do it, right there in the interview?

I’ll give you my idea, but I suggest you come up with one of your own before you look at it: http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/crocs3mostimportantq.htm

Point taken, but I wasn’t trying to be literal.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 27, 2009 at 1:15 pm

@Jason: Yup, lots of canned questions can be used to talk shop. But doesn’t it say a lot that among 100 questions — 100 — not a single one is, Hey, would you please show me how you’d do this job?

No one thinks to ask that? The mindset behind job interviews reveals a massive clusterf*ck in the business world.

By Susan
August 28, 2009 at 1:03 am

I agree with Nick about the canned and useless interview questions. I’ve only been on a few interviews where the hiring manager actually asked questions relevant to the job or asked me to show what I can do. Funny enough, almost all of my interviews for secondary education positions were based upon what I could do for the school and how I would do things. Most of my interviews outside of the education field consisted of questions that had nothing to do with the positions for which I was interviewed.

On my last interview outside of the education field, I was actually told by the hiring manager that we could not discuss the position. He actually gave me a job offer, which I turned down. I took that as a very bad sign to run away from that offer. I knew what the job was about, but the manager I was to work for didn’t even want to discuss the position despite my persistent questions. I wondered if working in his department would end up like an endless guessing game where I was to always guess at what it was I should to accomplish. I’m not a mind reader, and I can’t do an engineering job if I have no idea of the end goal. If we never discussed the position and what the company needs done to make money, how did the manager even know I could deliver what is needed? Duh!

By Bob
August 28, 2009 at 10:06 am

Nick, I would take your suggestion in your url literally and ask what can I do to make your business more profitable in 6 months or tell them so. However, I’ve been reading your columns and blogs a long time. I’ve noticed your frustration. And I think it is overcoming your message.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 28, 2009 at 10:14 am

@Susan: That’s really interesting, that in education you get questions about how you’d do the work! But in biz, it’s the opposite. My compliments for turning down the job that wasn’t explained.

@Bob: I’m not sure I follow you. You think my columns run up against my message? How?

By Bob
August 28, 2009 at 11:21 am

I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear.
Positive communication in general is a better way to get to know people and make a good impression. When communicating with blogs and newsletters, the authors should try to keep it positive because the author doesn’t know if the reader is new or not.

Your advice to ask or show profitability is a positive device which applicants and employers can use to make a mutual decision to work together. That is very positive advice.

When I read this fantasy (it was clearly a fantasy) I thought it showed your frustration with the hiring process and did not promote your positive message.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 28, 2009 at 12:05 pm

@Bob: Thanks for the clarification. In general I agree that we should be positive. But that approach to communication is heavily promoted by “communication consultants” who over-generalize. Focusing on the positive all the time is a fool’s errand.

Calling a spade a spade is still important in public discourse. We all like to think that everything should be good and that our “presentation” should always be positive. But there’s crap in the world. Pretending there isn’t just promotes and aids it.

People approach job hunting with a good attitude. Then they encounter a lot of crap – advertising and “advice” that tells them to keep wasting time and money so that schlock companies (some are very big ones) can profit at their expense.

Yet people are also afraid to buck the “trend” – they submit to the crap. They waste their time. They fear the system. I think it’s important that fraud and crap be exposed for what it is – and that we talk about it. I’m sorry there’s so much of it out there. The career industry has become one of the biggest rackets going.

I a big fan of something Marcus Aurelius wrote: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit.” (I think that’s in keeping with your desire to be positive, and I agree with you.) But then he adds, “The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

If we don’t also follow the second rule, we become chumps. Once we know things for what they are, it’s not smart to hide that. I expect even new readers examine my writing enough to see the context in which I put my critiques. If they look through my writing enough, I think they find the positive “how-to” suggestions. But I think they also appreciate finding candor in my work.

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