A little while ago I was working on a book I had hoped was going to be a tongue-in-cheek look at our current business climate and the people who make it that way. I was shooting for something humorous but with enough of a basis in reality that those who don’t have the broad range of experience that I do (read OLD) would find it informative.
I never was able to get the thing to jell completely, so I thought I’d post some of the more coherent excerpts here.
If you’ve been looking for work, maybe you’ve run into some of these interview “techniques” that I’m describing in the next few posts. Every resource on interviewing I’ve read assumes that you’ll be ushered into a solemn, dignified interview tribunal, in which your qualifications and experience will be discussed. After an appropriate, intense period of question and answer, you’ll be done and the high priests will confer on your merits.
But here’s what usually happens:
The I-Didn’t-Know-I-Was-Doing-This-Interview Interview
This is unfortunately, the most common I’ve run into recently. It usually takes place with medium to large companies and a middle-management type as the hapless interviewer.
You’ll check in with the receptionist, take your place in the waiting area, and generally sit there for about 15 minutes past your scheduled interview time. At some point, your interviewer rushes into where you are waiting, apologizing for the delay, explaining they were in a meeting, or putting out some other fire. Understandable – these things happen. Once they lead you to the room where the interview takes place, which will usually be the first empty office with a door that they see, you get down to brass tacks.
It becomes obvious from the way they are hurriedly scanning over your resume that they have never seen it before. He or she will ask you to tell them about yourself while they frantically try to figure out how to proceed. They’ll flip back and forth between your cover letter and resume, ask the same questions twice, and just generally not establish any flow. At the end of the hour, if they allot that much time to it, they’ll just be getting to where they should have been when you sat down.
They are unprepared, and can’t even make a good show of hiding it. You need to be polite, of course, but also you need to realize this is your time. You came here at their invite, and took time out of your day. You need to make this work for you. Anything you are saying to someone who is frantically trying to play catch up is probably going in one ear and out the other.
The good part about this happening to you is that it gives you a chance to take control, in a polite and respectful way. At least one person in the room can be prepared and professional. It might as well be you!
Ask “I can wait a minute until you get caught up, if you’d like”. If the person is really flustered and winging it, you might ask “I can reschedule if you’d like, because I’d really like an opportunity to discuss this position and now might not be a good time”.
Left to their own devices, the interviewer in this scenario isn’t going to remember if he interviewed you or Donald Duck five minutes after you leave. You need to get them calmed down, and focused. It takes a little bit of guts to steer things in this direction, but if you’ve really got a scatter-brain on your hands, you’ve got nothing to lose. You might also consider this tactic if they are glancing at their Blackberry for emails, or allow themselves to be further interrupted during the interview.
In today’s environment, there are generally second, third, fourth and God knows how many interviews. One thing working in your favor is that this unprepared idiot will probably be unable to make a decision on you unless there is a real sticking point, so they’ll just pass you on down to the next level.