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Interviewing 201: Who's in Charge here?

Interviewing 201: Who’s In charge Here?

 Who’s in charge in the employment interview? All too often it’s the hiring manager, who has had little or no training in how to hire, and would rather be having a tooth pulled than be in a hiring situation.

Steven Aitchison gives some excellent tips about taking charge of an interview here: I’d like to take the concept deeper.

This is an abnormally long post. Beware of getting deep cracks in your attention span when reading this. But it is one of the most important you will see, so it’s worth taking the risk of losing you in order to get all this information in one place.

All hiring is done to solve problems. You cannot be the answer to the hiring manager’s problem unless you know what it is, so, giving the hiring manager control of the interview is not in your best interest, because you will not find out what the problem is by answering the manager’s questions.

You must become the consultant and control the interview. The consultant asks questions and probes to determine the issues; doesn’t tell you how great he/she is until he/she knows the problem. In order to find the problem, you must control the interview.

There is a very specific sequence of tactics to achieve the strategy of controlling the interview. I think of these as a series of fallbacks. Keep in mind that there are three factors in the mind of the hiring manager that guide interview success: chemistry: i.e., how well do we get along; ability: i.e., do I believe you have the skills to do the job; and experience: i.e., have you done the job. Of these, chemistry is the most important, because if I don’t like you, I won’t hire you.

So immediately hammering the hiring manager with, “So, what’s your problem,” probably will not give you what you want.

Bullfighters do not win by trying to overpower the bull. They win by taking advantage of the bull’s bulk and inability to change course quickly. So it is here.

When you enter the hiring manager’s office, you are the guest, the hiring manager is in charge. How will you change this?

Most interviews start with the hiring manager asking, “Tell me about yourself.” The answer to this question is what I call the sound bite, a three-part statement about who you are, which I will discuss in another post. Let’s get the process down first.

So, you respond to, “Tell me about yourself,” with the sound bite. Now who’s in charge? As the candidate, you have left me the freedom to ask whatever I want. “I’d like to know your mortgage interest divided by your shoe size.” Obviously, I’m still in charge, and I’ll bet when you were preparing for the interview (another post), you didn’t calculate your mortgage divided by your shoe size. You are now at my mercy.

So, don’t stop talking after the sound bite! Ask a question! “You know, if you could give me a better sense of the kinds of challenges I’d face in this job, and what success would look like, I could do a more thorough job of telling you about myself. What do you expect of the person you hire?”

Now it’s my turn to talk, and I’ve been asked a question. I may answer it. If I do, now you’re in charge. Ask another question! And keep asking them until you know what the issues are.

Unfortunately for you, you’re interviewing with me. “No problem, we’ll get to that. First I’d like to find a little more about you.” Now I’m in charge again.

First fallback: answer a question with a question. My next question is likely to be behavioral. “Tell me about a time when . . . .” I bet you’re glad you read “The Employment Interview Part !!: How to Prepare for the Interview,” and have appropriate answers lined up and ready to go!

“Actually, I had a situation that was very much like that. The situation was this, I did blah, blah blah, and I got this result. Now, help me. How does the situation I just described relate to your situation here?”

Never ask, “Does it relate . . .?” I can respond with yes or no and keep going, and you’re in trouble. Admittedly, it doesn’t take a great deal more brain power to say, “It doesn’t,” but it does take a little more. This is not a game of hours, minutes, or seconds. It’s a game of hundredths of a second, as we politely duel with each other.

Again, sadly, you’re interviewing with me. “I just told you. We’ll get to that.”

Next fallback: stop the interview.

“You know, I’d be happy to answer your questions, but I’m trying to do that in just about total ignorance of what your situation is here, and of what success looks like in this job. In that kind of ignorance, I could leave out critical information, and then we both lose.”

Time out. This is important. What goes through the mind of the hiring manager as he or she approaches the interview? “This could be win-win. I win, because I’m the hiring manager. I’m gonna win! I win because I hire somebody smart. You win because you’re the smart person I hire. Or it could be win-lose. I win. I win because I don’t. hire a dummy. You lose, because you’re a dummy. And by definition, anyone I don’t hire is a dummy. It isn’t going to be lose-win or lose-lose, because I’m not losing!”

This is the conscious, or more likely, unconscious thought of just about every hiring manager in America walking into an interview.

Now you’ve just politely pointed out that if we keep going in this direction, I could lose. I don’t want to lose! At this point the hiring manager starts talking. If not, he/she becomes a jerk. A hiring manager once said to a client of mine at this point in the interview, “I understand that. What you need to understand is that this is my interview and we’ll do this my way!”

Last fallback: terminate the interview. The hiring manager has just revealed him- or herself to be a buffoon. You don’t want to work for this twit. Besides, the chemistry, or rather the lack of it, has just reached bottom.

Most people that I talk to see this process as being really aggressive, but you must understand that the hiring manager most likely has no idea what’s going on. If you politely do what I’ve discussed, they don’t even realize you’re hijacking the interview. In more than 20 years of coaching thousands of clients, I know of only one hiring manager who resisted. What usually happens is that the interview becomes a technical discussion between peers, the chemistry builds, the ability shows, and the candidate wins!

Once you know what the problem(s) is/are, you will know whether or not you’re the right person for the job. If you are, you will respond with, “I think I can help you. Let me explain why.” You will say this because all consultants say, “I think I can help you.” Why? Because upon hearing that, the potential client feels relief! Think what that does for the chemistry!

If you are not the right person for the job, don’t pretend that you are! Say, “You know, I think I’m probably not the person you want for this job. Let me explain what I’m looking for and maybe you could refer me to someone who could help.” You have just earned the hiring manager’s undying gratitude. No one has said that to him before. They were all too busy trying to prove they were the right person! The hiring manager is grateful for your honesty and will move heaven and earth to help. Well, maybe not, but he or she sure will like you better, and may help. That’s better than losing the interview or being hired for a job you shouldn’t take.

So, there you have it—how to control the interview. It is not difficult to do, but it requires a solid knowledge of where you want to take the interview, and lots of practice.