How Not To Suck At Interviewing People

See this? Our website? I just want it to suck less. Can you make it suck less? I have a big bag of money for someone that can make it suck less for me. ” – a CTO who shall remain nameless, during a business meeting circa 1999

You know what sucks more than anything else about looking for a job?

No, it’s not the anxiety about not having a job.  No, it’s not getting someone to reply to your emails or phone calls.  It’s not even the bouncing back and forth negotiating dates, times and locations for when an interview can take place.  And will it be in person?  By phone?  Skype?

Those all suck, for sure…but none of them suck as much as dealing with someone who sucks at conducting interviews…

no_suckAbout ten years ago, a headhunter had me on track for a pretty cool gig.  The money was right, the location was right.  The timing was right.  Everything was right.

Everything went great through the initial interview.  I was even still upbeat and cool with the second and third interviews.  After all, this was a management gig, a key role for the company, and so I knew there would be a couple rounds of checking each other out…and so I even kept it together during the fourth interview.

But when the headhunter called me and said “Hey, they’d like you to come in again and talk with…”

“No,” I said.

I could tell she was taken aback, as she was quiet and asked “What do you mean…no?”

“I mean exactly what I said,” I told her, “No.  There is absolutely no reason for me to go back there again.  Besides, I told you – I’m leaving town in two days to go on a much needed two week vacation.  We’re getting away, and I need this, and so no, I’m not delaying it.  We need to get away.”

“But this really is…well, it has to be, I guess…the last one.  It’s with the CIO and the President of the company.  They just want to chat with you themselves before the decision gets made.  If I can get it setup in the next two days…will you go?”

“Fine.  We’re leaving at 2pm on Friday.  If it works, great.  If not, it clearly isn’t meant to be.”

Well, the interview happened, and as it turned out, I knew the CIO from a prior life elsewhere.  We laughed, we joked, the interview went really well…and then the shoe dropped as he said “This was great, Dave…we might have just one more group we want you to…”

“No,” I said.

They’re clearly not the kind of people who are used to hearing “no”.  They sat back, looked at me, looked at each other, and then he leaned forward and said “What do you mean…no?  Why not?”

“Simply put,” I explained, “I have now been here five times.  Five.  I have met everyone who would be reporting to me on day one.  I have met everyone I would be reporting to.  I have met people I might randomly pass in the hallway once a month.  I have even met people that you and I both know that I will never speak to again if I stay here for thirty years…and so, I’m sorry, but it’s no.  I like this gig.  I like this opportunity.  I like what the position has to offer me.  I’d even like working with you again.  But if you haven’t figured out by now that I’m the person you need for this job…well, then I don’t want it.  Besides, I’m leaving on vacation this afternoon, and I’m gone for the next two weeks.  If it doesn’t work out, that sucks, because I think this could be really great, and if nothing else, I appreciate the time and information I’ve gotten during the process.”

And I shook their hands and walked out.

I meant every word of it, too.  I really did want that job.  And I really did think it would be a great thing…but you can’t keep people dangling around forever while you’re trying to make up your collective mind.  So with that in mind, here are a few tips about how not to suck at interviewing people:

  • Set expectations right up front.  Don’t blindside people with a ten person panel interview when they think they’re just coming in to talk with a hiring manager or someone in HR.  Yes, we all understand you read something somewhere that it’s important to see how people react under pressure situations like that.  Here’s a hint – while they’re outwardly smiling and shaking hands, they are plotting the deaths of everyone involved in the interview.
  • hntsintBe prepared.  For every complaint that I’ve seen from the hiring side of the table about unprepared candidates, I’ve seen / heard an equal number from the candidate’s side as well.  Have their resume.  Please have read their resume.  Know who they are, what their skills are, and the job(s) for which you’re specifically interviewing them.
  • Loose lips sink ships…and careers.  It’s great that you’ve held an open casting call for talent.  It’s nice that you’re trying to simplify your own process by creating a single email to let all of the candidates moving on to the next round of interviews.  How about you use the BCC: field instead of the CC: field so that some of those candidates don’t start getting questions about if they’re leaving their current job, or why they’re leaving their current job, or hey, that’s cool, someone forwarded it to that person’s current boss because they’re a friend…
  • Lay out the process.  Is this the only interview?  Will there be one more?  Two more?  Five more?  Knowing that in advance will help people figure out if this is for them or not.  And again, we get it – “culture” is important to you…but people’s time is important to them as well.  Four interviews to get down to group that still has at least three more interviews to go…and they didn’t know that ahead of time?  Guess who’s dead to a lot of people and gets a bad rep around town for wasting huge amounts of people’s time?  You are.
  • Be positive.  You know how you’re always telling us to tell candidates to be positive?  Guess what, Skippy?  If you’re in a rotten mood and/or having a bad day at work, and this is the candidate’s only exposure to the company…well, culture matters on the other side of the interviewing table too.

Oh…and just for the record, that company?  The headhunter called me the next day, day one of our vacation, with a job offer.  I ignored all of my instincts and I took it.  It didn’t work out.  Always trust your instincts, folks – if something sucks, steer clear.

That’s all for this time.  Go read something else.