Wednesday, July 2, 2008

When Interviewing, Interview the Interviewer!

As a manager in my company, I have to do a lot of interviews.  It surprises me how often I interview people who don't have much idea about how to get through even the simplest of interviews. Now in defense of some of these candidates, I often see people for junior positions.  Many of these people are either freshly out of college or on their second job.  But even then, it still is surprising how some people perform.

Probably  most common mistake I see in people consistently make is to not engage with the interviewer.  People naturally like people they can have a good conversation with.  If you are answering questions too succinctly it can be a problem.  I was on an interview the other day where I was basically trying to guide the candidate down a certain path.  This candidate was answering my questions, but they were not doing much more than that.  I was hoping to have a dialog with the person to delve deeper into their background and skill set, but it was almost impossible without me doing all the talking.  I even went so far as to asking a purposefully vague question in hopes this person would ask me to clarify.  It is a technique I like to use to see how people deal with ambiguity and how good they are at asking meaningful questions.  No such luck.  The person just answered the question.

So my advice is simple.  It just involves

  • Asking lots of questions - If you are asked a question, ask a question right back. There are no perfect interview questions.  Almost everything in life can be clarified.  I like it when people are confused about my question.  It shows they are paying attention and that they are being thoughtful about their response.

  • Talk and be verbose - Don't go overboard with this one but remember that this is a conversation.  You should probably be talking as much as the interviewer.  There are times I have gotten the interviewer talking more than myself by asking the right question.  More often than not, I do well in those interviews.

So don't be shy.  You would be surprised how often interviewers wouldn't mind a helping hand for themselves when trying to get through an interview.


  1. Even if you don't really have any questions, always ask a couple questions to show the interviewer that you're interested, and not just showing up for yet another interview for that day.

    If you need ideas on what questions, go to the library or local bookstore and grab a job hunting book. You'll at least get ideas on general questions, which are always good to have a back-ups in case you can't think of any on the fly.

    Also, having these general questions on hand is great when the interviewer is kind of quiet.

  2. Yeah, I remember a handful of interviews where the interviewer basically left it to me to do the interview. Lots of awkward silences. Lots of me probing "So what do YOU do here?" "How long have you worked here?" "What are the benefits?" In hindsight I should have tried to sprinkle in some human questions like "I went to Big Bear last year. Have you ever been? Do you ski?" Maybe I wouldn't have been so bored, which probably showed and ultimately ruined the interviews.

  3. You quickly learn when you do enough of these, that most people have no clue what they should be asking in an interview.

  4. Besides qualifications what really lands the interview is your rapport with the interviewer. Don't underestimate the human aspect of an interview. It's just as important to the interviewer that you will fit into the workplace (good communication skills, easy-to-work-with personality, etc).