Thursday, 15 October 2009

Interview technique

We've been interviewing recently for a manager. And by "we" I mean my team at work. And by "interviewing", I mean interviewing badly. The trouble is that the initial interview, the final interview and the actual decision are all taken by my boss, and while the rest of the team get a chance to voice an opinion, it all rather happens in the middle of the process.

What happens, then, is that we all end up in a room with someone who might one day be managing us, and forty-five minutes or so later, we are expected to come up with an opinion about whether or not we'd be happy with them. The main problem with this is that with eight people trying to ask questions, there's not very much time for everyone to get a word in. Naturally, we can't all ask everything we want (the interview would take hours), but it makes it all a bit of a show. We have to try and divine whether or not someone might make a good manager based on a brief group conversation and possibly the chance to ask a question.

The other main problem is that for whatever reason (possibly because this person would be senior to us), we don't get to see their CV before the interview, which means that not only are huge swathes of time lost as they go through their background and experience for our benefit, but also that we don't get to jump straight to anything that might be of particular interest in their CV. Fair enough we're not doing the direct interview, just forming an opinion, but sending us in blind means that the time for meaningful questions is reduced further. And we're not only lacking the applicant's CV, but also the actual description of the job they're applying for. This means that we can't ask questions about aspects of the role (e.g. under what circumstances would you consider hiring new people) because we have no idea what the limits of the role are (e.g. do they actually have hiring power).

The result of all of this is that we are only able to give the vaguest of gut feelings, and means that because the most obvious answer we can all give is "I saw nothing to say that they'd do a bad job", the natural reaction is to try and find something more to say by picking up on some small aspect of the interview and making a judgement based on it. After one interview, the testing team said that they weren't sure about a candidates qualifications in terms of testing because they hadn't seemed to answer questions on testing well, when the candidate was only asked one question about testing, and the question itself (as I recall) was badly phrased and overly specific.

In any case, I have no idea how much weight is given to our opinions, and so it may be that any subtlety is ignored, and as long as we don't hate the person, it is considered a thumbs up from us. Given that we are not privy to any of the surrounding discussion and decision making, it is difficult to tell how much our interviewing skills are being put to use.

That was a bit random, and probably overly technical, sorry, but this whole posting-every-day thing is really sapping my inventive energy. I literally sat in front of the screen for 10 minutes trying to think of something (anything) interesting to write about at my current low-energy level.

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