Only weeks after the last batch, more stories about the latest in employment interviews crossed my computer. Unlike those from December and earlier in January, not all are favorable for both potential workers and their employers. What are they?
The first was from The Wall Street Journal on January 20th. Titled “The Six-Month Job Interview” by Sue Shellenbarger, it essentially lamented the past few years’ lengthening of the hiring process. Some reasons are more and more phone screenings, group interviews, and formal testing, but Shellenberger implied the real cause is that “employers are trying to avoid costly mistakes,” so may be making up their minds more slowly than ever. The piece was directed at applicants, and recommended appropriate ways of defending their interests, such as by requesting that in-person sessions be consolidated into fewer days, and maintaining internal and external composure when, for example, the first employer’s contact was in June and success is still unknown when snow falls. More than anything else the article conveyed that hiring decisions are taking much longer than they did only a few years ago, and reinforced that applicants should be prepared – meaning, as always, not stopping or even slowing down job searches before they have accepted a formal offer.
Second was a February 19th piece in the Harvard Business Review, “Interview Techniques That Get Beyond Canned Responses,” by Alicia Bassuk and Jodi Glickman. The idea of organizations working to look behind planned and rehearsed speaking, or writing for that matter, is of course as old as job interviews themselves, and what is here is ultimately more review than breaking news. The techniques Bassuk and Glickman, writing from the interviewers’ perspective, advocated, are “on-the-spot-coaching” or more properly rephrasing questions to get to the same information, group interviewing which also provides insight into social interaction between candidates, and “cultural fit dialogue” or turning interviewees’ questions about organizational culture back on them by asking what, for example, “entrepreneurial” specifically means to them, and probing the ways in which the applicant fits the culture as it actually is. These are all good ideas, and those looking for business positions should not only be aware of them but give the right responses.
That idea of the right responses is exactly what is wrong with what is described in the third article, in Yahoo Finance. This February 19th Jacquelyn Smith report described a technique used by Charles Schwab’s CEO Walt Bettinger – at breakfast interviews, he prearranges with the restaurant for the client’s food order to be bungled, so he can “see how the person responds.” The article said that is because Bettinger “wants to know the type of person you are,” and went on to suggest that an interviewees’ choice not to mention the mistakes “may tell the interviewer that (they) are timid, pay little attention to detail, or are not willing to right a wrong.”
What’s off base here? That ploy exemplifies the worst of the hiring process. Bettinger may have a clear idea of what response he considers correct, but he is erroneous in taking that further. For one thing, it shows nothing about how the perpetratee would react to something logistically failing in their work life, in personal life, or anywhere else – the breakfast is part of an artificial setting, a job interview, and they know it. Such a meeting is not about the food, but is focused on the potential employee’s perceived suitability for employment. It is both proper and appropriate, if, for example, the restaurant brings the wrong kind of omelet for the applicant not to mention it, which would reflect only job-interview behavior judgment, not on workplace timidity, attention to detail, or correcting errors in others. For these reasons, another evaluator could give highest marks to those who keep quiet. That means a response to this situation is guesswork, which causes unnecessary stress in candidates and, considering the validity of alternative responses, helps employers not at all.
Stunts such as the last are nothing new, on either side. The same goes for efforts to dig deeper, which can take the equally valuable form of interviewees asking the pointed questions. (I once asked an interviewer, who had just said that his company considered their employees their most valuable assets, how they showed that – he couldn’t give me an answer.) As always, it is crucial for those trying for work to realize that all contacts with anyone from the company are part of the hiring process. That ties these three articles together – and will never change.