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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interviews - A chance at playing god.

There are a few times where one gets a chance to directly influence the life of another individual substantially. If one is a judge, the statement is considered void and null, as it happens all the time. I am talking about a scenario where an interviewer that interviews a candidate and whose opinion and decision determine whether the candidate is hired or not.

I do interviews some times. I must however admit that I do not feel this as a moment of power by any means. I tend to put myself in an interviewing candidate shoes, here is a person who is either unemployed and desperately trying to find a job or a person who has let go a day of vacationing in the Bahama's in search of a better position for them and their families and I am tasked with providing my extremely valued decision of "Yes or No". As an interviewer, one must do proper justice to the interviewing process as one owes that to the organization on behalf of which they are conducting the interview, while still respecting the individual being interviewed and providing their best judgement.

That said, let me narrate a factual interview that occurred:

Candidate is seated awaiting the interviewer to come pick him up. The candidate is right outside the office of the interviewer. A lady storms out, another candidate interviewing for the same position, tears in her eyes. Clearly the interview did not go as expected. But tears in her eyes, that's quite disconcerting to say the least for our candidate.

Following suit, emerges the interviewer, stern faced, a no-nonsense type of character and beckons the candidate to enter. Candidate is already a bit disturbed by the plight of the previous candidate. The candidate now follows the interviewer into his room and takes a seat. The questioning process starts. Some standard questions and introduction are exchanged, no pleasantries, just formalities, before the meat of the interview starts.

Interviewer: I hope you realize, your CEO is a moron, he has done absolutely nothing for the company since he started.
Candiate: I must disagree with your assessment. It is my understanding that he has achieved all the goals that he set out to do and has in fact increased the revenue of our company by 20% during his tenure.
Interviewer: I still think he is a moron, anyway, lets go on. So tell me why should I hire you ?
Candidate: I have the relevant experience and skill required of this job, I am personable and have the confidence to execute the duties of this position well, I have good contacts, I..
Interviewer (interrupting): Your previous experience is of no value in this job as its a whole new environment. Regarding personality and confidence, my 10 year old son has the same attributes that you mentioned. Maybe I should take him for the position instead?
Candidate: That is your decision to make but I must hold my stance that he lacks the necessary experience that I possess.
Interviewer: I am not convinced, anyway, lets move on. So do you think you look good?
Candidate: I am no Tom Cruise but at the same time I consider myself presentable.
Interviewer: I am of the opinion that you look far better than Tom Cruise.
Candidate: I am flattered by your assessment and am glad that someone feel that way as my wife certainly does not (candidate trying to add some humor here).
Interviewer: If that is the case, I feel that you married the wrong person and you and your wife argue and fight a lot!
Candidate: This is the only topic we really ever fight about (still maintaining composure)
Interviewer: I am not yet convinced and still maintain that you are far better looking than Tom Cruise.
Candidate (Smiling): Thank you once again. If you would be so kind as to mention the same to the wife, it would eliminate our one reason for arguing.
Interviewer (Looking around the room): OK lets move on now. Give me 10 uses of a coat hanger within the next minute and a half.
Candidate (Answering with rapid fire): It can be used to hang a coat, draw a triangle, a weapon, remove cob webs........
Interviewer: OK, now tell me three good reasons to hire you as I am still not convinced.
Candiate: I have a lot of experience, I have excellent contacts, I have the drive and enthusiasm.
Interviewer: This is absolutely no good, everyone says the same thing. You have not even provided one good reason as to why I should hire you.
Candidate (At this point irritated): I have given you the reason why I believe that I am a fit for this organization. If you remain unconvinced, then, you are definitely entitled to your view. I, however have nothing else to add.
Some final statements and the interview ends. The candidate is taken outside to a cab by the interviewer. No smiles, no chilling after the interview, no return to earth, no small talk, just a goodbye.

So what happened? Do you think the candidate got an offer? You bet he did! Did he take it? Read on to find out...

Analyzing the interview, why was it so aggresive? This is clearly not a regular interview by any means. The interview was for a very senior position involving sales. The interviewer was apparently simulating a typical sales environment where he acted like a tough customer. The environment was to test how the candidate would perform and sell. It was a test to see how thick skinned the candidate is, how well he handles pressure, how composed he is and most importantly how he can defend his position and make a sale.

So, where does that leave the candidate? Does the candidate take the position? The candidate did not. The candidate although uncomfortable with the line of questioning, did understand the direction of the leading questions. However, the problem with the interviewer was his continued aggressive behavior after the conclusion of the interview. There was absolutely no way the candidate wanted to work with an individual with a personality like the interviewer. So the candidate turned down the offer and found a far more lucrative and suitable position in a different organization. The point of note here is that the candidate did not fail! The interviewer failed! He failed his organization as an interviewer as the deciding factor of whether the candidate accepted the job or not was really determined by the behavior of the interviewer. The interviewer lost a really good talent and the same could be equated to a $$$ of loss of the organization as they lost a really good sales person.

I think for a moment, as to how I would have reacted to the line of questioning. I must admit that I have a very transparent face and a far lower tolerance level. I would have been red within the first few levels of questioning and would have stormed out of the office after hurling some really choicest words at the interviewer. Would I have got the job, errr I doubt it :-).
I don't think I have the skin to be in sales. More importantly, I do not think I can tolerate people who would make others cry during an interview process. I do not believe that any individual, interviewing for a sales position or any other should have to undergo such a tortuous line of questioning. I also believe that as an interviewer or as a candidate, one should stick away from any topics that are personal in nature, such as marriage, family etc. Apart from being just plain territories that should not be charted, they represent food for law suits as well.

So, as a person conducting the interview, we have the power play, our opinion will count, regardless of whether it is a sole decision or is a collaborative one after discussing with other "gods". We can choose to intimidate, befriend or tread a path in between while interviewing the candidate. As an interviewer, one should control the interview session but not come across as rude. It is a balance. Remember that as an interviewer, one is representing not just one self but one's organization as well. What the interviewer portrays will be the impression of the organization for the candidate. From the perspective of the candidate, the keyword has to be "impress". Impress by personality or skill or both. As an interviewer on can easily judge the latter but the former is often a grey area. At best, I would rate gauging a candidate as a dark art. Remember that the candidate is assessing the interviewer and organization as well....Its a two way sale!

I must state one thing! I work at and the interviewing process here is so tangential from that mentioned above. Candidates who come to Overstock for interviews are treated with the utmost respect and hospitality. I joined the organization after all :-))))


Vimal Krishnan said...

Awesome! you got really good writing skills. the narration was nice.

Sanjay Acharya said...

Thanks Vimal Sir for the kind words as always.

Vikram said...

I guess the interviewer forgot the basics of karma: "You might get away with kicking an old horse in the ass since you know what he is, don't kick a young one, you don't know what he can become"