I remember years and years ago attending a training class for job candidates on how to improve their interviewing skills. The crux of the course was this:
- Most people are bad interviewers.
- Since they don’t know what to ask, you need to tell them what they need to know regardless of what you’re asked.
- What they need to know is the skills you possess, the duties you’ve performed, and the results you have accomplished.
I was reminded of this the other day when interviewing a very qualified candidate.
Me: “Think about the best manager you’ve ever worked for, and get a picture of him/her in your head. Do you have one?”
Me: “Now describe him or her.”
Candidate: “I like managers who are supportive to me and tough but fair.”
Me: “I’m sorry, perhaps you didn’t get the exercise. Do you have a favorite boss?”
Me: “I don’t need to know his/her name, but do you have a specific person in mind?”
Me: “Now, describe them, perhaps by using a list of adjectives.”
Candidate: “I like bosses who mentor me and teach me to do things better.”
Me (thinking): Penalty, Evasion, 15 yards. 1st and 25.
I almost cut off the interview right there. But I didn’t. Despite a repeated pattern of not answering my questions, I voted no-hire but didn’t veto the candidate because he did seem qualified. I discussed what happened with the hiring manager.
Me: “I would not hire that person. He is evasive and doesn’t answer questions.”
Hiring manager: “Maybe he didn’t answer because he didn’t know the right answer.”
Me: “There is no right answer, per se. I’m not trying to make the candidate describe you; I’m trying to get them to describe their best boss ever so I can do a comparison of that style with my perception of yours.”
Hiring manager: “I get it, but he obviously knows it’s a risky question so maybe he deliberately didn’t answer it.”
Me: “OK, go to talk to him and find out what happened.”
In the end, the hiring manager was right. The candidate didn’t want to give a clear answer to the question because he was worried it would backfire. And the core of that old training class sprung immediately back to mind “don’t answer the question they asked, tell them what they need to know regardless of what they ask.” Which, I believe, is the worst interview advice ever.
I ask questions. I ask them on purpose. I ask them for a reason. If you stonewall my efforts to interview you I will vote no — and I will often throw an outright veto on top.
It’s amazing how often I have to say it: answer the question. Job interviews are no exception. In fact, quite the opposite.
Don’t assume you’re smarter than the person interviewing you. Don’t play games. The purpose of my line of questioning was simple: “I wanted to figure out if I thought you could work with your hiring manager.” That’s a very important question — and one both sides should want to answer sooner not later. Don’t assume I’m an idiot and want you to describe the hiring manager. Assume I’m asking for a reason and even if you can’t figure out the reason or the “right” answer, answer the question.
If you don’t you’ll be lucky to get the job.