How to Play Both Sides of the Interview Table

Q. I had a really bad interview last week; not because I wasn’t prepared, but because the person interviewing me had no idea what he was doing. Interviews are hard to come by – why don’t companies train the people involved in the interview? How do I interview well when the person who is interviewing me is inexperienced, awkward, doesn’t know what to ask and keeps talking?

A. I’m sorry for your experience. Effective interviewing takes skills – from both sides of the desk.

Sadly, companies often don’t look at the interview process from the candidate’s point of view. Many candidates are brought in multiple times because schedules aren’t coordinated; interview schedules often take place through meals and with no restroom breaks. Often, a printed schedule with names, titles and meeting room locations is not provided in advance. All of these logistical issues can be managed very effectively if one person owns the process, especially if a company wants to show a candidate how they treat employees.

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Even if all the set up is well organized, unskilled interviewers can happen to good candidates. As an exceptional candidate, you need to be prepared to play both sides of the court, and that means being prepared for every bad shot hit your way.

Bad Arrangements/Information – If you are dealing with a hiring manager who seems too busy to organize a valuable experience, ask if there is an administrative or support person who will serve as your primary contact. You might say, “I am excited about the opportunity to meet with you and members of your team. Is there a support person I can work with to arrange the logistics so I won’t need to take your time?” Don’t sound judgmental, or annoyed, sound like you respect this person’s time; make best friends with the scheduler and ask lots of questions.

Bad questions – The interviewer doesn’t seem to be able to focus a question that relates to the skills you bring to the job. Being an effective candidate means knowing what you want to say regardless of what you are asked. Like a skilled politician, you will discuss your skills, strengths and the value you bring to the company even if the interviewer gets stuck on, “How are you?”

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It’s all about me – And it may be, but you have to make sure that at the end of this interview, the interviewer knows enough about you to recommend you for hire, or at least a return visit. You have to ask great questions that focus on getting you information about the company and the job, and how the person in this role will succeed. Craft that insight into stories on how similar your experiences have been so that his or her memories are of you and not just their own.

No time, distractions, interruptions – Even during interviews, people tend to multitask. They may take a call, answer a knock at the door for a quick question, or even step out. Don’t get upset. Understand business continues. However, if it gets past the point of being able to carry on a thoughtful conversation, offer to reschedule. You might say, “It seems like there is a lot that needs your attention right now. Would it be easier to reschedule our meeting?” This meeting should give you the opportunity for a professional review of your skills. Your interviewer may appreciate the offer, or they will apologize and try to move ahead with all their attention. Be positive.

Hopefully the company sends its best people to interview you. If not, go in ready to play both sides of the interview desk, and build relationships with everyone you meet.

-Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners

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