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Making the Most of an Interview

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Posted by Belinda Skinner

12 months ago

Many years ago, early in my career, I remember going for a job interview with a very well-known company. It was a daunting experience, more like an interrogation scene. I sat in a chair with about a metre of open space between me and the long desk in front of me where three stony faced HR people sat. Looking back now, maybe that was the first test to see how you would react, maybe I should have moved that chair closer to the desk to join them, instead I sat there looking around for a big spot light to be shone on my face!

One of the questions posed to me, which I cannot forget, “If you were a piece of fruit, which fruit would you be?” I contained myself from laughing at such a ridiculous question… I had no idea how to answer, so the first thought came out “I’d say a strawberry. I can be soft and sweet but be careful, if unaware I could be sour”. In my late 20s I thought that was quite funny, but later I was told that wasn’t what they were looking for. In fact, the answer they wanted was a grape. It can be good on its own, but works well in a team … good grief! They said a strawberry is an individual. I told them but a strawberry is far better when there is more than one. They still didn’t see the funny side.

Interview questions should not be designed to catch people out, but to stimulate conversation to allow the interviewer to dig deeper and gain a better understanding of the person. Had these people dug further they would have realised I had a sense of humour (something I think they did not possess).

You do not need to be an experienced interviewer to get the most from people. A good interviewer is someone who is relaxed and yet prepared. If you come across relaxed, the interviewee will relax and more likely to open up to you. Their guard will drop. The conversation will flow and not be so rehearsed.

Start the interview with general chit-chat questions, put them at ease, drop their heart beat down!

So many open with the question “So tell me about yourself” they are looking for the classic elevator speech. Don’t fall into the trap of judging a person on this. This is the most rehearsed answer. You could be fooled! Ask them if you want to, but use it to dig deeper and carry on the conversation. For those who test English in an interview, this is also a common question… let me give you a piece of advice – don’t! Again this is the most rehearsed answer in English. When I test for English I ask questions completely not related to their business such as “Where is your dream destination for a holiday” or “What did you want to be when growing up” etc something that will test their knowledge of English, words not commonly used, but at the same time, a more relaxed topic.

The big question we need to ask ourselves as interviewers, is how do we handle the answers of the younger generation? Do we need to change our mindset? How many of the younger generation have you asked “where do you see yourself in five years?” or “what does the near future hold for you?” To be told that they plan to be elsewhere, doing a different job, having their own company etc. All answers saying they will not be with you for long. Are we expecting too much these days? Is the era of having someone stay with you the long term disappearing? Or do we keep looking for the more loyal, reliable person? On the flip side, someone who says I intend to stay here until I retire etc… well, we all take that answer with a grain of salt! Personally, I think if you offer them a good career, good environment and benefits they will stay. Therefore I suggest to ask further questions to this answer – find out why they said that, what are they actually looking for. Listen to their reasons why they want to be in a different role, company etc can you offer what they are really seeking? I had someone tell me recently they wanted their own company in about three years, so I dug deeper to find out why. They told me that they want to be more relaxed and take it easy!! They didn’t want to have a boss. Sadly, I have heard this a fair bit. They certainly had a misguided view of business and no concept of the real world. Let alone a hardworking attitude.  Needless to say, I didn’t hire this person.

Interviewing is not rocket science. My advice to anyone interviewing, don’t make it harder than it has to be. There are no power games to be played. There is no need to catch the person out with tricky questions or unrelated questions. Put the candidate at ease, get some trust from them, get them to open up and find out who they really are. Lastly, treat them with respect, their time is just as important as yours. I’ve heard of many instances where the interviewer has kept the candidate waiting or even cancelled once they arrived and in one case they invited several candidates all at the same time, because they thought someone might cancel and they don’t have time to waste. They then were offended when one candidate left because they didn’t have the time to wait their turn. Remember the interview is the first impression the candidates will have of the company. Treat them well.

Belinda Skinner – Country Manager – en world Thailand