Help Wanted: Unemployed Lessons #2

Continuing our discussion from last week, we’re taking a look at the way potential employers can improve their hiring processes: ensuring they get the top quality candidates for their position, and that potential hires can maximize their search time and receive the same courtesy they are expected to exhibit.

I should note: this series is directed at hiring managers and anyone in a position to interview potential employees. There are more than enough guides out there for how job candidates to behave, dress, speak, write, and otherwise paperclip bend themselves for the benefit of their potential employers. And rightly so. But I purport that these same candidates deserve respectful treatment and some very basic time-saving courtesies for the effort they’re expending on your company’s behalf. This week, I’d like to talk about interviewing.

First, before you ever interview a candidate, educate yourself. You’ll want to brush up on three topics: the position for which you’re hiring, the candidate who has applied, and the laws governing your region’s nondiscrimination practices. On the first, it’s important to your candidate that you are able to describe the position to them clearly and as thoroughly as possible. It’s fairly awful showing up for an interview, having the interviewer speak only of the job in extremely general terms, and be incapable of answering your questions about the position. Remember that interviews are for both parties to determine whether or not the candidate and position fit well; the candidate can’t make that assessment if they hardly know what they’re interviewing for. Next, it ought to be self-explanatory that you need to read the resume of the candidate you’re interviewing before meeting with them. Forcing a candidate endlessly to reiterate her work history for you like an oral examination instead of getting on to the salient points of her thought processes or character. And finally, in most places, it’s inappropriate to ask anything relating to the candidate’s sexual orientation, religious background, race, or other demographic descriptors of the like – this includes anything you might already be able to derive from their resumes, like the presence of a religious university in their education profile or an ethnically-affiliated workplace. Save yourself the legal trouble and just stick to the salient details of their qualifications. So make sure you understand what you are and are not allowed to address.

Second, when it comes to interview questions, the level of ridiculousness in questions even the major companies are asking is getting extravagant – so much so that they are becoming the focus of humor articles on hiring websites. Unless I’ll be working directly with animals, you probably don’t need to know what kind of animal I would be – nor does my answer tell you much about my work habits or thoughts on the position. Brain teasers are a similar pitfall. Is this the kind of mental work I’ll be doing on the job? Probably not. So, instead, armed with your knowledge of my experience and the position for which you’re hiring, try to ask me leading questions that allow me to talk on relevant issues. You might ask how specific elements of my work history or education relate directly to the position for which you’re hiring. You might ask me to provide examples of my problem solving skills or conflict resolution abilities. Perhaps you’ll ask me to walk you step by step through a process I already ought to know how to do. Try to keep in mind that interviews are fact finding missions, not entertainment; you might get a little bored with the standard questions, but your personal boredom is no excuse for diverging down the path of inanity. And for God’s sake, don’t ask me to “tell you a little about myself.” Vague questions don’t help anyone in this scenario. Be specific: do you want a brief, general bio to obtain information about how I communicate in general? Do you want a list of characteristics your candidate associates with herself in order to determine a good personality match? Would you like salient details of the candidate’s work history as relevant to the position, in order to establish that their verbal history and written history match up? Say what you mean.

Finally, ask questions that allow the candidate to talk. Beware of being the interviewer who does all the talking. If all you’ve accomplished at the end of the interview is a lengthy description of the position, your work philosophy, your dreams for the company, and a little about your family pets, forcing the candidate either into an uneasy and unimpressive silence or into the uncomfortable position of rudely interrupting you in order to be heard, then you’re not learning what you need to learn about the candidate. Schedule enough time to get to know the person (half an hour should work well), listen more than talk, and ask pointed and relevant questions. I know this can be challenging at first – surprisingly so – but your awareness on this issue will help you learn quickly how to take a good interview and learn what you need to learn in order to do your hiring well.

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Meghan Young Krogh

Meghan had a number of quality writing mentors over the course of her education, which just goes to show that you can't blame the teacher for the way the student turns out. Team Oxford Comma represent.

10 thoughts on “Help Wanted: Unemployed Lessons #2”

  1. I realize this might be a bit different but I had the worst academic interview earlier this year. It was obvious that the interviewer had not bothered to even skim my resume or application. She started the interview by asking what speciality I was applying for! Really?! And then when she did look at my resume, she saw that I was a double major in college and asked me why I wasn’t applying for a double-degree program at their school! It just wasn’t a relevant question and awkward to tell a professor you aren’t interested in a program at their school. I also got asked a lot of questions that were directly answerable from my resume, which was very frustrating given the short time period of the interview. I ended up getting into the school, but decided to go elsewhere…

  2. The legal one just kills me. SO MANY interviewers ask questions that they aren’t allowed to. Since I frequently interview applicants, I have a pretty comprehensive list of question I pick from, and I screened each and every one to make sure it didn’t touch on any protected-class issues. Plus, there are a whole host of other things you can’t ask that aren’t strictly protected classes, but still illegal.

    You’d be surprised how many people volunteer this information, though, almost always in unrelated questions. I have yet to have a married applicant or a parent not mention those things in their interview, unprompted.

    1. Even though it isn’t supposed to weigh in as an issue, I’ve actually had more success in interviews in which I mention that I’m long-term-tied-to-a-man. Being a young, single woman in professional environments can either lead to extremely unwanted attention, or it can suggest a lack of seriousness (completely out of nowhere). It’s not fair, but that’s how I’ve found it to be.

      Do you mind providing suggestions of topics that aren’t okay to bring up in interview topics?

      1. Off the top of my head, illegal questions include: marital status, whether or not you have kids (or whether or not you plan to), what your childcare arrangements are, religion, political affiliation, disabilities, age (or anything related to age, like when you graduated from high school), if you’re a member of the National Guard or reserve military, umm, what your method of transportation is, and what your nationality is. There’s a ton more, but that’s the bulk of it. There are a whole bunch of sneaky ways to get most of that information without asking illegal questions, but I rarely, if ever, do that, because it’s kind of a shitty thing to do.

  3. Hear, hear! All good points, Rubes.

    And I’ve been faced with the Chatty-Cathy interviewer before. At one point, after having rambled for many minutes, he looked at me like he was surprised I was there and asked “So, why do you want to work here?”

    Uh, how to say politely that I no longer want to work there? Worst interview ever.

    1. Recently I had one telephone interview and two in-person interviews with a potential, all of which were speckled with four separate people from their company gradually decreasing the starting salary, all four of them talking almost nonstop (except for a few incredibly vague questions), and all four of them trying to convince me of how terrible the position was; one of them actually said, “Honestly, I don’t think you’d like it here.” But then, they offered me the position.

      When I turned it down, they wanted to know why, so I was honest. Four people spent three interviews trying to talk me out of taking it, and they succeeded. I mentioned that I didn’t think it was fair to put my family through the kind of stress I was sure I’d be bringing home from a company that didn’t value me and didn’t want me there, and all the guy heard was that I made my decision based on “family issues.” Brother.

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