Friday, 24 July 2009

In Interviews Say As Little As Possible

Having just failed to get a job from the seventh interview I have done in the past 3.5 months. I have learned something to add to the things I have written here before about the way you have to twist and turn in order to get recruited. One problem that this latest interview has re-emphasised once again is how little departments know what the human resources department is doing or how it approaches recruitment. I have applied to over twenty companies in recent months and the forms you have to complete and the information they want varies considerably. The most involved required me to present copies of my 'O' level certificates (examinations I took 1983-4) along with the originals. At the interview a man compared the copies and the originals and signed the copies. These are apparently kept on file for a year even though I was not offered the job.

In the latest interview one of the interviewers at the time and in feedback asked about my work pre-2000 though there was no room on the application form to include that. She said she always wants to know about 'gaps' in people's CVs especially as she could find no declaration that I had no criminal record. Of course, she was oblivious to the fact that, at her company, the human resources department gets you to post in that declaration in advance and I had done just that. She was bewildered by the application form I had completed despite it being the one on the company's website. This was from a company that was far better organised than ones that have interviewed me recently.  Even then, though, I felt that I could not be judged properly if the interviewer was getting different things to what she expected. This time it was particularly depressing as I was told I had failed, not because I did not have the range of skills they wanted, but because of that interview.

My key problems these days in getting a job are either that I have not had four careers in a range of different fields including human resources, product quality, strategic planning, market research and marketing or that I seem too relaxed in interviews. I cannot do anything much about the former. Even if I went back in time and directed my younger self I could not go up all of those career paths without holding down multiple jobs.  As it was, I had 4 part-time jobs simultaneously for 2 years of my life, though clearly not in sufficiently diverse settings.

The attitude of interviewers is clearly something I should be able to alter which is why I feel so bad about making the mistakes I did this time. I am just about to sign on unemployed and getting a job now would have meant me avoiding the 'gaps' in my CV that people will pick up on in the future. My mistake in 35 minutes could have altered my future greatly. I still anticipate a long period of unemployment and having my house repossessed but it seems with a slightly different approach I may have been able to snatch myself out of that situation at the last moment.

I have done scores of interviews in my life for courses and for jobs. I always do a lot of preparation before I go into an interview and find out all I can not just about the company and its attitudes, but as much as I can about the members of the interview panel themselves. As a consequence I am not intimidated when I go into interviews and am often far more relaxed than the interviewers, many of whom are amateurs at recruiting, have had no training in how to interview, and as noted above, are often ill-informed even about how their company conducts recruitment. I always score well for my presentations, interviewer after interviewer has said I do that very well. It is when the questions start that I am clearly blundering.

The mistake I made at this latest interview was to assume that the interviewers would drive the interview. They complained at the end and in feedback that they had not had time to address the questions that they had wanted to cover. I thought: 'well, whose fault is that?' It is not me who sets the agenda of the interview. I respond to the questions as asked and try to give as thorough a response as I can.

I was bemused that they asked in depth about the structure of the company I am being made redundant from and also about my jobs pre-2000. Neither of those things are really a basis on which to judge my qualities now. Apparently, though, I was supposed to be dismissive of these things and focus on me. I did try to get them back to me here and now, but that was apparently not the right approach either.  In their view I should simply have given terse responses allowing them to get on to the questions that they felt were more important. As we apparently had no time for these, they said they could not judge me properly and so I stood no chance of getting the job.

There is another issue here: how short interviews are becoming these days. Back in the 1990s, 45 minutes was seen as normal and there was slack for it to run to 55-60 minutes if necessary. I did have a 75-minute interview recently, but that was because I was the only candidate and the interviewers seemed to feel they had to get a whole long list of standard interview questions in as well as talking about the specifics of the posts. These days for interviews, 15-30 minutes is the norm and there is someone waiting outside to follow in immediately. Thus, if they do not get to the questions of importance you fail by being 'timed out'. There is no sense that the interview should or could continue.

My mistake is that I feel people want a genuine answer in which I can show the breadth of my knowledge and experience, whereas in fact they want a terse response to enable them to tick a box. I knew that kind of interview back in the early 1990s when in the civil service, but it was more apparent that it was mechanical in that way. I guess, given the inexperience of so many interviewers, it is a mistake to try to judge the kind of interview you are in from how the interviewers behave.

Obviously, I need to learn the trick of getting the interviewers to focus back on me as I am now, yet without seeming to take over the interview. I need to get this focus across very tightly despite the fact that at the level I have been working, it is difficult to explain a complex project that I have worked on in a few words, but clearly it is what I need to learn. However, now it might be too late. As the days pass and I step further and further into a bleaker future, failing to kill myself last August seems daily to have been the greatest mistake.

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