Monday, April 18, 2011

Project Social: An Unorthodox Interview

My project social partner Dave Ryan and I were chatting last Monday and he mentioned he'd been to a college recruiting event and felt re-charged by all that young energy.

So we decided to write a little post about hiring recent graduates.  Don't miss Dave's post over at HR Official.  Here's mine:

These days there's a lot of advice out there about how to interview applicants to make sure you find the right person - or, as the Kris Dunn unforgettably put it, 'separate the stars from the turds.'

It’s all good advice but one of the best interviews I ever had flaunted current wisdom.

My last semester in graduate school was devoted to job search but there was only one company I really wanted to work for.  I researched everything I could and cobbled together an interview suit of sorts:
  1. A black jacket bought on sale at Nordstrom rack; 
  2. A nice if prim silk blouse from Ann Taylor with a small stain on the arm that the jacket hid (which I still have); and 
  3. An old black wool skirt that belonged to my mother and hit me at the worst possible spot in the middle of my knees (which I do NOT still have).
The day of the interview came.  I got dressed, did what I could with my hair and scrutinized myself in the mirror.  I looked inexperienced and awkward, even to myself.  (See the picture at the top of this post?  I didn't look like that.)

The partner who interviewed me wore a well-cut suit with casual ease and exuded friendly confidence.  The contrast to myself intimidated me for the first few minutes of the interview until I noticed something odd:

He was feeding me my lines!  That is to say, I was answering his questions literally and he was re-phrasing what I'd just said to make it sound better.

For example, he noticed on my resume that I was student body president at UCSD - I didn't have much business experience so there wasn't much to choose from - and asked conversationally what that involved.

Me: I run the student association meetings and sometimes meet with the dean to discuss student affairs or speak at a student event. 

Him: Ah, so you're an experienced facilitator, negotiator and public speaker. That's great!

The entire interview was like this and as we shook hands at the end of the interview he told me I’d made it to the next round and wished me luck.  Dazed, I thanked him.

Interesting, no?  He could have easily tripped me up with tough questions but he built me up instead.  He looked for reasons to hire me instead of reasons not to.

Bottom line: High performing companies don't just hire and retain top talent, they also identify and develop potential talent.  A tough interview makes sense if you're looking for a particular skill set but a more supportive approach may work better with young professionals who lack polish.

Polish in your twenties is suspect anyway...

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