Sunday, 9 March 2014

Thinking about the Job Interview

A friend of mine is going for a job interview, so I dug this out, and it occurred to me that others might be interested.

I will follow it with a more detailed post about preparing for a Job interview, in due course.


Thinking about the job interview
It is very interesting, and helpful, to think about how we view a job interview.
Is it an ordeal we seek to survive, or an occasion when we have to sell ourself?  Or is there another way to view it?
The reason these questions are important is that they affect our whole approach, emotionally as well as intellectually.

Interview as ordeal
Many people approach job interviews as some kind of ordeal. That leads to nervousness and our fight or flight instinct comes into play. In advance of the interview, we may decide to pull out of applying, rather than go through with the ordeal. Of course, we rationalise the decision, making excuses which we half believe.
Or we may prepare for the day as a prize-fighter might, considering how to deliver knock-out answers and leave them for dead.
On the day, the fight or flight response may become even more marked: adrenaline surges through our system, our palms are sweaty, and we again face that choice: to run away (though that is more difficult now) or to slug it out.
Clearly, this view of the interview is not likely to work too well for us.

Interview as a sales pitch
A more common way of viewing the interview is as a sales pitch. We are there because we want to be offered the job. There will be others competing with us for the job, too. Therefore it is essential that we put ourselves across as well as possible, and sell ourselves into the role.

There are problems with this view, too. One is that many people are profoundly unhappy at the notion of selling themselves. That immediately introduces pressures and artificial behaviours into the process.

Also, it places us in a subordinate position to the interviewer, which is not the best place to be.

A third problem is that it can lead to us over-selling ourselves (making extravagant claims, or promises which we can’t honour) and under-demanding of the interviewer.

None of these will help us to achieve a good result.

Another way to think about the interview
The other way to think of the interview is a process designed to help both the interviewer and us to make a good decision.

On the one hand, the interviewer needs to decide if we are the most suitable person, out of those available, for the job which needs doing. So our role is to provide him or her with the information (and indeed reassurances, since this is a big and costly decision) necessary to make that decision wisely.

On the other hand, we need to decide if the job is right for us. This is an important consideration, and one which is easily overlooked during the interview. Doubtless, we do research beforehand, but the interview provides a particular opportunity not only to ask questions, but also to stipulate conditions: ‘if I am to succeed in this role, I will need....’
That may feel a counter-intuitive thing to do, but it is actually very important, both practically and psychologically.
Practically it is important, because if there are conditions under which we would not take the job (eg a lack of support), then we should make that clear, both for our sake and theirs.
Psychologically it is important for a few reasons. One is that it reminds us that the power balance is 50:50. Yes, we want the job: but they need to recruit. That simple truth means that we can, and should, treat them as equals: rational people, doing a responsible job and worthy of respect - just as we are. Such a frame of mind is far more conducive to coming across well at interview.
A second reason is that if we make some kinds of demands on them, that communicates something about us. Assuming they are looking to recruit someone who is effective, they will take that as a positive, compared to someone who behaves more like a yes-man, from a subservient position, or a salesman trying to force a card on them.
Seeing the interview in this way, one can view it as a joint problem solving discussion. They have a staffing problem, and we are seeking to further our career.  The purpose of the meeting is to see if one particular solution, our taking a job with them, will meet the needs of both parties in the best way possible.
If we can hold onto that understanding throughout our preparation and the interview itself, it positions us very well to achieve a good outcome - which may or may not be to land the job.

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