Boost Interview ROI: Ask For An Agenda

The conventional wisdom (and the wishful thinking) is that it’s always good to go on an interview—any interview—because “it’s good practice” and “there’s no harm in it.” It’s just not true.

Boost Interview ROI: Ask For An Agenda

Question: We all wish we’d get lucky and an executive at a top company would somehow hear about us and poof! out of the blue invite us in to talk business. Well, that’s what happened to me. Be careful what you wish for.

A professional publication highlighted me in an article. As a result, the CEO of a company called me in for an interview. While I counted my lucky stars, I tried to find out about the culture of the company using LinkedIn. I found only two employees, and one of them was the person that I was interviewing with. The CEO was very informal and wanted to get together to start the dialogue, which turned into a very broad discussion with no mention of a specific position. Then I was invited in for a second interview, this time with the president of the company.

The bottom line is that nothing came out of these meetings. They said they really liked me, but no specific job was ever mentioned and then they completely dropped the ball. Do you think I should have insisted that the CEO tell me exactly what position I was being considered for? Was it unwise for me to accept a request for an open-ended meeting?

Nick Corcodilos: The conventional wisdom (and the wishful thinking) is that it’s always good to go on an interview—any interview—because “it’s good practice” and “there’s no harm in it.” It’s just not true. In fact, I’d venture that most interviews are a waste of time. Here’s the tip-off, which should be obvious to any good manager who knows how to run good meetings: Is there a clear agenda for the meeting, provided in advance? If there isn’t, don’t expect a useful outcome. (See “Don’t Walk Blind On Your Job Search.”)

Nonetheless, given the unorthodox way in which you got the interview, I think showing up just to meet and talk was fine. I would have done the same thing. But I would have pressed the CEO about what he wanted to discuss prior to the meeting. In other words, what was his objective, other than saying hello? While it seems to me the CEO is just scouting around for talent, there’s nothing wrong with that. Nor is there anything wrong with you insisting on a clear agenda for the meeting in advance.

But, having taken a first meeting without an agenda, you also apparently left that meeting with no clear idea about what conclusions the CEO drew from it. You should have asked, or why agree to a second? My guess is that you just didn’t know how to ask.

Here’s how to say it: “I really enjoyed meeting you to discuss your business, and I’d be interested in discussing working with you in some capacity. However, my schedule is very busy with projects at work, and frankly, I’ve got meetings with two companies interested in hiring me. While I’d like to talk about a job at your company, before agreeing to meet again I need to ask what your agenda is. Is there a position you would you like to interview me for? Is there a project you’d like my help with? If you can kindly provide me with details, that would help me make our next discussion more profitable. But without a clear idea of your objectives, it’s difficult for me to justify scheduling another meeting.”

If you’re worried that might put the CEO off, stop. When there’s no agenda, there’s no business. So what business would you have taking another meeting? Start looking for the ROI.[


I’ll offer you another angle.

How to say it: “If there isn’t a specific position you’d like to discuss, it might be you’re trying to figure out what kind of position you want to define. I believe I could help you with that by applying my expertise in XYZ … Until you define and fill a position, I’d be glad to offer you my consulting services at $X per day. I look forward to hearing back from you, and I’d like to help you any way I can. Thanks again for your interest. I really enjoyed our wide-ranging discussion. Kind regards …”

See how that works? Getting to know someone is a nice thing. But by the second meeting, we’re talking business or we’re not talking. My suggestions let you play multiple angles, including consulting, and put the onus on them to either define their intentions or to pay you for your time in some way.

The CEO’s failure to follow up with you or to bring closure to your discussions suggests this is a bunch of guys blowing smoke and picking your brain for free. Sometimes, you just have to realize there is no profit there. That’s no reason to decline a first meeting. You might meet some cool people and explore possibilities. But beyond that, we’re business people and we work for a living. Either the CEO has a clear agenda that presents a clear opportunity to you, or you’ll find little ROI at the end of your discussions.

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