What We Talk About When We Talk About Interviews

Last October, we discussed the ways that we do and do not cultivate corporate culture through the recruitment of new employees.  This week, I’d like to revisit that idea and carry it along into the interview process.

Again, as in the last article, these are ideas that should be discussed with your HR representative prior to implementation.  They are not out to ruin your ideas.  They just don’t want to see you sued and fired over awkwardly phrased interview questions.  The point of these articles is not to revolutionize the hiring process.  The point is to have discussions as a professional community, amongst colleagues, on how we preserve or change corporate culture.

I’ve participated a lot of interviews in my day, and as far as I can tell, they are designed to ensure that neither party involved can actually get to know the other.  First off, I’m a strong advocate of letting the teams govern their own hiring process.  I’ve watched far too many teams get basically kicked to the side while an “appointed committee” is tasked with finding someone to work with a group of people they have little interaction with.  It’s a recipe for disaster.  The supervisor of the group may have the only opinion that matters but if the folks working on the line next to the new hire hate each other, it’ll become the supervisor’s headache in a hurry.

All this to say, the teams working with the new hire should be directly involved in the interview process, and they should be encouraged to be themselves.  I’ve watched people who literally have to rent a suit for formal occasions, but they wear a suit to conduct an interview.  If we’re interested in hiring people who are compatible with our current teams, than it would probably behoove us not to dress differently than we normally dress.  In other words, be yourself and if they are repulsed by the leather jacket you inexplicably were through the summer, it’s better they find out now instead after six months of employment.

The real concern with the interview revolves around the questions.  Typically, these questions are loosely related to the applicant’s ability to perform the duties as described, which may be necessary.  However, the conversation before and after the “official” interview is typically more meaningful.  Those casual moments when you ask them about the shows they are watching, or they offer meaningful insights to something you both have in common.  That’s where the real interview takes place, in my opinion.  I’ve watched colleagues try and get at this sort of meaningful interaction by asking canned questions to try and force the response, “Why are manhole covers round?” is my personal favorite.

One of the ways to let this conversation happen organically is to arrange for one person to be a half hour “late” to the meeting.  Let the interviewing team spend 30 minutes having an off-the-books talk about whatever it is that they usually talk about.  Invite the participant to join into the conversation.  I would be willing to guess that you’ll have a better idea of how well this person will fit in with your culture by the end of that chat than you would at the end of an interview guided by canned questions.

While the advice given here certainly won’t work in every environment, my hope is that it will get you thinking enough to have this conversation with the right people now.  Challenge the way you’ve always done things mindset and think about what you really value in your team, and then interview accordingly.

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