My 9-year-old, Alex, has been bitten hard by the theater bug. He recently auditioned for what will hopefully be his fourth show, a community theater production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. In talking with a friend who offered Alex some advice for his audition, I realized how similar the audition process is to a job interview. One of the more salient points was that a director isn’t likely going to know if you’re right for a role as soon as you walk through the door, but he or she will definitely know if you’re wrong for it, regardless of your talent, experience, appearance, or work ethic.
This directly mirrors my experience in hiring and interviewing in the corporate world. No matter how pleasant, well-dressed, or personable an individual is upon first glance, I’m not going to know if he is right for the position until some questions are asked and conversations are had. Conversely there have been times where a candidate looks perfect for the role on paper, but after a minute in a room with her, I’m ready to run away screaming. Because the first and foremost rule of interviewing is…screen out the freaks. That’s not PC, but there is nothing more important – unless you want your life and your employees’ lives to immediately descend into madness and chaos.
I began to reflect on past interview experiences when I was in management with two large healthcare corporations. For the most part I think I was a successful interviewer and hirer. Most of the individuals I brought on board stuck around, did a good job, many eventually moving onto bigger and better things. I don’t recall having to fire anyone who I hired, that was usually the result of cleaning up someone else’s screening failure.
One of my first experiences interviewing was when I was a young team lead on a customer service team. My manager was a thirty-something gay man who didn’t think anyone knew he was gay. Everyone knew he was gay. No one cared. It was the “don’t ask don’t tell” era of the late 90s, but we worked for a very progressive company that had an active LGBT group on site who had meetings at lunch with a little rainbow flag on their table in the break room. Even so, he didn’t speak of it, and I respected that. “Tell us about an obstacle you’ve faced and how you overcame it,” he read from one of the corporate-mandated “behavioral” interview questions.
Our interviewee proceeded to go into great detail about how the greatest obstacle she’d faced was being sexually assaulted, and how she’d worked to overcome it. She wasn’t ungraphic about it. You know the wide-eyed embarrassed face emoji? That was my manager and me. Only his face had turned four thousand shades of red in about ten seconds. We were both repressed, Midwestern, Germanic introverts, and completely unequipped to deal with that revelation. You can’t just come at us with that kind of information. Have you ever seen the Saturday Night Live trap door commercial parody? If you haven’t, here it is. http://www.hulu.com/watch/282478 Brilliant. If either of us had access to a trap door button at that moment, we would have both lunged for it like a fumbled football. I believe we both nodded and offered some words of sympathy, and made feverish mental notes to add “WORKPLACE” as a modifier to the word obstacle for the next go-round.
The best co-manager of all time, Linda, and I were on a continuous hiring spree one summer. Occasionally our micromanaging VP would insist on sitting in, which was always a disaster. The position required a mix of medical and physiology knowledge as well as financial and business acumen. It was tricky to get the right candidate, and we were always excited to find an RN who might fit the bill. VP always asked idiotic questions such as, “What’s your experience with the Microsoft Office suite of products?” One day it paid off, when the dense nurse we were questioning, paused, and said, “I can toggle.” O. M. G. Linda and I knew this would never work after that and a host of other red flags, but at the post-mortem discussion, VP thought we shouldn’t discount her nursing background. We found a way to discount her nursing background and moved on.
Linda and I were usually in perfect sync. Often we knew within the first five minutes that we never wanted to see this person again. A tug-of-war began during those interviews, with me, feeling guilty for bringing the candidate in, cursing the recruiter under my breath for not nipping this in the bud, trying to stretch it into at least a half hour, drawing out information. And Linda, wanting to wrap it up as soon as possible, rushing through our list of topics, skipping half of the questions. “Uh…I think we already covered questions 6, 7, and 8. Do you have any questions for us?”
There was the gentleman I interviewed who spent 15 minutes trying to convince me that our medical underwriting methodology (of which he’d been given the briefest of overviews) was wrong, and continued to badger me about it after I’d made it clear that I wasn’t going to get into an argument with him about it. Thank you for playing. I’ll walk you out now.
Another man came in, had excellent credentials, financial underwriting experience with a major capital firm, a management background. But he asked where all the exits were, asked if the windows were shatterproof, and told us that he didn’t feel the building was “secure.” And kept darting his eyes all over the place. And was very mysterious about why he left his previous job. Nope. No. No.
Passed on the girl who wore low-rise leggings that showed her tramp stamp.
Ditto for the one who smelled like one-part Captain Morgan and two-parts Joe Camel.
Oh, and the woman who said she wouldn’t be able to work most Mondays because her son was in jail and that was the only visiting day. Yeahhhhhh…no.
I really should have kept a journal. These are only a few of the episodes I recall off the top of my head. The firing stories are even better. And the day-to-day stories when my underwriters were intermingled with a large team of the entry-est of entry-level employees. Like people who had to be told to cover their stomach rolls at work. Or were caught doing…things…in the restroom.
My point, I guess, is for anyone interviewing for anything. Don’t get yourself disqualified in the first minute. Don’t scare the interviewer. Don’t be late. Don’t be way early. Take a shower. Don’t answer questions with 50% “likes” and “uhs.” And not to be cold, but no one cares if your cat has pancreatitis, if your husband has a gambling addiction, or if your last boss was a psychopath.
© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2017