Friday, August 26, 2016

Recent Advice for Employment Interviewers and Interviewees: Some Good, Some Bad, All Worth Knowing

As always, there is new information out there on job interviews.  Some is pitched to job-seekers and some to hirers, but both should keep up with all.  Here is what the past seven months have offered.

Liz Ryan of Forbes might be the best current job-seeking-process writer going.  She frames her pieces as advice columns, taking questions about how to interpret and deal with situations her readers face while trying to find work.  She consistently lands between being too rude and too deferent. 

Earlier this week, Ryan fielded a sequence of events from an employment candidate who got negative reactions from questions they asked.  She assured them they had done the right thing, and suggested that the answers could even be posted on an enlightened company’s website.  However, many personnel people convey to jobseekers that it is they who have all the cards, and this was the case here.  When the applicant asked the first one, a reversal of a common interviewer’s query, “Why should I take this job, if you offer it to me, over other opportunities I’m considering?”, the evaluator said she would not discuss that unless they made an offer.  When this jobseeker actually did get one, he or she declined it in favor of one dealing better with that question.

The other three probes were equally incisive and appropriate.  The second, the least controversial, Ryan framed as “What is the story of this job – was there a person in this role before, or is it a new position?  If there was someone in the job, where are they now?  If it’s a new position, why was it created?”  That is only a more comprehensive version of something all career-job applicants should use.  Third, designed to head off problems caused by differences inherent to both employees and employers, was “What is your expectation regarding “a good day’s work?”  When does your workday start and end, and what are your expectations around communications or extra work outside of working hours?”  Fourth, especially valuable if the hired people need to relocate or have other opportunities, is “What is your company’s layoff history, if any?”  All are well worthwhile. 

Another Forbes article by Ryan, May 5th’s “No, I Will Not Show You My Pay Slip,” covered not only the issue of companies wanting current salary documentation but some related issues.  Her views on any “skills shortage” were the same as mine:  “If I go to T.J. Maxx hoping to find a vintage mother-of-pearl bracelet on sale for $29.95 and I don’t find one, there is no affordable-vintage-bracelet shortage.  There is only one deluded shopper who needs to snap out of it.”  She also urged job-seekers to refuse to fill out online applications and to work with hiring managers instead – a good idea when you have their names, which is not always the case.  Not offering income information, as she suggests, is powerful but risky, especially when human resources people manage the hiring process.  Since the main reason they request that to maintain chances of getting previously underpaid people for bargain rates, it may even be better for applicants to look cooperative while stacking the deck in their favor by tendering pay information after adding, maybe, 10% or 20%.     

Moving to other authors and publications, one problem jobseekers face happens when interviewers follow rigid patterns, which can lead to their subjective judgments winning out over any analysis of strengths and experience.  In July 14th’s Harvard Business Review piece “Why You Should Always Go Off-Script in a Job Interview,” Tanya Menon and Leigh Thompson discussed how interviewees can not only avoid this issue but prevent themselves from coming off as rehearsed or even robotic by interrupting question sequences with such things as “let me tell you what’s not on my resume.”  Their other valuable suggestions were making a personal connection either through small talk about the likes of in-office photos or by asking interviewers how they felt about their own specific achievements, reversing an unfavorable conversation by discussing what they could do for this person and their company, and to “call out the elephant in the room” by directly addressing probable concerns both unmentioned and potentially detrimental. 

Two pieces from earlier this year, “7 Rules for Job Interview Questions That Result in Great Hires” (John Sullivan, Harvard Business Review, February 10) and “5 Interview Tips to Find the Long-Term Employee” (Tom Gimbel, The Wall Street Journal, May 5) provided opportunity for job-seekers to be forewarned and thus forearmed by learning what their adversaries may be planning.  Sullivan’s seven procedures, all good and fair, were “avoid easy-to-practice questions,” “be wary of historical questions” which may reveal successes irrelevant to current problems, “assess their ability to solve a problem” by asking for feedback on a current one, “evaluate whether they’re forward-looking” either in their jobs or in the industry as a whole, “assess a candidate’s ability to learn, adapt, and innovate” by examining what methods the interviewee uses for those things, “avoid duplication” of content previously covered in the hiring process, and “allocate time for selling,” by asking the jobseeker how he or she would evaluate an offer and then responding to what they say. 

The five methods Gimbel put forth include, as I see it, four stinkers:  “try the airplane test” by accepting or rejecting someone on how much you enjoy their social company; “ask, “what do your best friends do for a living”” and seem snobbish while taking familiarity of this basic information as a proxy for knowing clients; “arrange random interruptions” to simulate client meetings, as if job interviews were not known by all to be inherently artificial; and “observe their emotional intelligence” by requesting personal insights into others the interviewee met at that company and assume such responses to be honest.  The author’s lone good idea, “ask, “When did you not get what you want?”” is worthwhile, but might be handled it well by a candidate’s simply not admitting to doing the equivalent of throwing a hissy fit. 

In any event, be prepared for all dozen of these if you are trying to be hired, and consider using eight of them if you are across the desk.  The opposite goes for Ryan’s suggestions.  As long as there are job interviews, they will be a game of cat-and-mouse – that means the more tactics you know, the better.              

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