VP: ‘I’m Tired Of Canned Job Interviews!’

Interviews can be a big waste of time. Get past the silly questions. Talk shop and find out quickly whether a manager and a job applicant can be productive together.

VP: ‘I’m Tired Of Canned Job Interviews!’

Question: I’m a VP of marketing, but during my career I’ve interviewed for jobs all up and down the marketing organization, and I’ve interviewed a lot of job applicants myself. I’ve been in so many interviews that I now see just how scripted they always are. The questions are so rote that I wonder, how does anything useful come out of these meetings? The questions employers ask are so canned that you can look them up in any number of books, where you will find equally canned answers.

Do you give your corporate clients (employers) and your candidates any tips about how to get down to brass tacks in an interview? I’m guessing it’s the same advice.

Nick Corcodilos: Anyone who studies books about “top interview questions” and “behavioral interviewing” gets stuck in the rote process you describe. It doesn’t matter which side of the desk you’re on in an interview—the choice is simple. You can engage in canned, clever interview repartee, or you can explore how you will do the work together.

Dump The Irrelevant Questions

The first problem with interviews is that the questions are largely irrelevant; they veer into goofy territory: “What animal would you be, if you could be any animal?”; “Where do you see yourself in five years?”; “What’s your greatest weakness?” (See “Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions.”)

When this happens, turn the discussion back to the work. Anything else is, well, stuff and nonsense. Did you ever notice that those rote questions are about nebulous, touchy-feely topics? That’s because the people writing those books don’t know anything about your business, so they steer employers toward secondary topics. It’s no wonder you feel like you’re wasting your time!

Unless an employer assesses a candidate’s ability to do the work first, questions about style, personality, fit, team spirit, and so on are all human resources palaver. It’s preferable to hire people who get along, but it’s impossible to do your business if those people can’t do the work.

Get Past The Credentials

The second problem with interviews is that they focus too much on credentials, which can be sorted and processed by a simple database system in advance. HR refers to credentials loosely as “keywords.” Why waste time in a job interview rehashing keywords on the person’s resume?

As you’ve realized, the same method works for the hiring manager or the applicant. There’s a simple way to deal with the over-emphasis on credentials. You can use this from either side of the desk—just alter the perspective.

If you’re the applicant, you can force the discussion to a higher level. Call the hiring manager in advance and ask what problem or challenge the manager would want the new hire to handle. (See “Boost Interview ROI: Ask For An Agenda.”) If you can’t reach the manager, you can just do this right in the interview.) Then, show how you’d handle it successfully. Offer to do this demonstration with other challenges that would be part of the job.

“I don’t have one of the credentials you want, but I do have the skills and ability to do the work. If you’ll give me 20 minutes to prove it to you, and I cannot, I will shake your hand and leave with no hard feelings. Please lay out a live problem you’d want me to handle if you hired me. I’ll show you how I’d do the work.”

The real challenge, of course, is that you must be able to deliver. This requires lots of homework. If you’re not ready to do the work in advance, then don’t apply for the job.

If you’re the employer, I’m sure you see how to use this suggestion to challenge the applicant. It’s obviously incumbent on you to select candidates carefully in advance. Maybe you should call them prior to meeting—to suggest that they must be ready to tackle this challenge when they arrive. I can guarantee you’ll be interviewing fewer applicants!

Interviews can be a big waste of time. Get past the silly questions and the credentials. Talk shop and find out quickly whether a manager and a job applicant can be productive together.