Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Interview Rooms

Last week, I experienced the joy of participating in team interviews at work. We brought in seven candidates for two openings, and spent a significant amount of time attending to the process, including an hour-long panel interview with every candidate. Almost everyone on the panel viewed the process as a time-consuming drudgery. I thought it was a great opportunity to break out of the routine tasks and learn new things. There was more to learn beyond taking surreptitious mental notes about "what to do, and what not to do," when I interview for new jobs in the future.

I treat these interviews like serious business, even when I'm playing on the interviewer side of the game. Our typical work atmosphere is casual but participating in the interview process is something that I do not take lightly. I dressed up, complete with a necktie and dress shirt, and looked presentable and ready to kill. Why? 

Contrary to the commonly-held belief that interviews are simply casting calls for potential recruits, it's also an opportunity to sell the organization to the prospects. When candidates asked inquisitive questions about the worplace and culture, I emphasized that my daily work involves making a difference in the work lives of up to several dozens of people a day. Whereas other peers responded to the prospects' questions with details of the nuts-and-bolts minutae of daily chores, I complemented the scenery with big-forest view, complete with connecting the dots between the work that we do, and the impact that our work has on others. 

Learning about the organizational culture (in this case, the institution and the entire IT department) over the years has given me a wider perspective of how my work unit relates to that of the larger organization. It was second nature to describe to the potential hires about recent cross-departmental collaborative projects, the awesome employee guide that our HR people had recently assembled, and various training and learning options and opportunities that are available to us. It felt liberating (albeit strange at first) to sell the global aspects of the organization instead of regurgitating the rote details of the silo life. It's good to give the interviewees a broader perspective. It is ultimately the new peers' decision to take time to understand the organization, or to stay put inside the innards of the workplace silo. At least I have done my part to offer options. I'm fortunate that I networked and picked the brains of other people in the vast organization over the last decade.

Perhaps this isn't a mainstream assumption, but during the interview process, the candidates are interviewing us: this is not a Panopticon. The folks who are entrusted with hiring new employees are seen as the face of the organization--they will tell their friends, peers, and their network what their experiences with the interview process was, as well as their impressions of us. That is why I dress formally and be attentive during the interviews.

Since the world is a small place, those candidates whom we don't make offers to and I may cross paths somewhere in the future. I want these folks to have a positive impression of our team. I hope we left a very positive impression on all the candidates last week. 


  1. Excellent post. You are the type of interviewer I love to have on a search committee.

  2. Having been on the panel before, I find this particular interview process problematic. In particular, the union-mandated requirement that we ask the exact same thing of every candidate severely limits being able to engage him \ her in more informal conversation. It's been my experience while interviewing candidates (at previous jobs) that a more informal process is more informative and revealing for candidate and interviewer alike.