How to win friends and interview people

I don’t know if it started with my sons’ response to me showing them my 70s disco dance moves. Or if I said it to my husband when he was trying to speak like a Jamaican. But somewhere along the line, in our family, we started to say, “Let’s not do that.”

Yesterday, I took great delight in unsubscribing from all the job alerts I had signed up for. My email inflow has dropped drastically but what a pleasure not to have to wade through all of those. It also got me thinking about something else I won’t have to do again (for a while, I hope!) now that I have a job: I won’t have to go for interviews.

Now that I am able to start reflecting on my interviews with a sense of amusement rather than failure, I thought it might be helpful – a public service, perhaps – to provide some feedback to interviewers, from an interviewee’s point of view. And I thought what better way to approach it, than to say, “Let’s not do that.”

1. Let’s not freak out the interviewee

I had an interview last year with an HR manager and a head of communications. The HR manager asked me a few random questions, then sat back, rested her chin between her thumb and forefinger, and gave me the hairy eyeball. She just stared at me. The head of comms grabbed the mic and asked me a few questions, but it was hugely off-putting to have another pair of eyes drilling into the side of my head. She was also the one who said, “Lovely to meet you.” Perhaps she wanted me for dinner.

2. Let’s not play games

A few months ago, I applied for a job and got short-listed. The recruiter called me to tell me I had been short-listed and invited for interview. I was thrilled (as I always was!) and, during the course of the conversation, I asked her how many people had been short-listed. She immediately said, “Ooh, I can’t tell you that!” O-o-k-a-a-a-y…

My interview was preceded by a test. I arrived at my designated time, was met by a frazzled HR person who failed to introduce herself but just dragged me upstairs to the test venue. She – seriously – kept the test paper face down as she looked at her watch and synchronised her time with the clock on the wall. She was almost hyperventilating and then told me she didn’t know whether she was Arthur or Martha. I said to her, “Have you had a busy day?” Her instant retort was, “I’m not going to answer that because you just want to know how many people have been interviewed.” How about, no? How about, that’s the question I would have asked anyone in a similar state of frazzled-ness?

She then waited for the exact second at which to turn the test paper over, and my 30 minutes began. Good afternoon, Miss.

3. Let’s not interview in a warehouse-sized boardroom

When my above 30 minutes were up, I was met by one of my prospective interviewers. He escorted me to the interview room, which was the biggest boardroom I have ever seen. The three interviewers were scattered around the table and I could have done with a megaphone to answer their questions audibly. Shouting through cupped hands seemed to do the trick, but I didn’t get the job.

4. Let’s not interview at the gym

A few months ago I was invited to interview for a job in an organisation similar to the one I worked for in Cape Town. The interview was to be held at a Club in Chelsea, near the Thames. It sounded like a maritime-themed Club, and I envisaged it to be a business club, where you can hire a meeting room for such occasions. I arrived at the venue, walked through the door and realised this was a gym. I panicked a bit as I thought I’d got the wrong venue. I approached the uniformed woman at the reception desk and said to her, with a question in my voice, that I was there for an interview and I told her with whom. She smiled and nodded and took me through to the coffee shop where two women were waiting to interview me. With the overwhelming aroma of chlorine floating through the room, people coming and going and meeting up after or before their daily workout, shouts and screeches and splashes all around, I had an interview at a gym coffee shop. Funnily enough, this was the job I didn’t get because I was “too nice”. Perhaps I should have walked in and said to them, “WTF, guys?” (Why The Funny-venue?)

5. Let’s not panic

About six weeks ago, I got a frantic call at 8am on a Monday morning. It was a recruiter who could barely speak through her worried breath. She told me of two jobs she was recruiting for, and asked if I was interested. I said they sounded interesting and would be happy for her to email the job specs through to me (as is usually the case). She said she needed to know that moment as she had to get back to the employers.  (They’d called her at 7 that morning to brief her on two jobs that needed responses by 8.30? I don’t think so.)

I then outlined my concerns about the jobs, given that they were looking for someone with local media contacts. I reminded her that, while I had media experience, I didn’t have local contacts. In increasing panic, she said she would get back to me. I never heard from her again. Ever.

6. Let’s not wander off the subject too much

I have registered with about a million quite a few recruitment agencies. Some of them ignore you completely. Some of them invite you for an interview to put you on their books. At one such interview, the agent spent more time talking about her upcoming holiday in Cape Town, than my job requirements. Hmmm, thanks for that.

7. Let’s not interview like David Brent

I can’t say I had an interview exactly like this, but I did often feel like poor old Stuart in this clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtfUn6b4NBY

8. Let’s not become a recruiter

Last year, I had an hour-long interview with a recruitment consultant. She had my CV in front of her, she asked me loads of questions, wrote copious notes all around the perimeter of my CV, gave me some useful advice about job hunting (I was new to London at that time), and said she would chat to her colleagues and get back to me about any job possibilities. I never heard from her again. Ever.

I know recruiters are inundated with applicants. But she never responded to any email I ever sent her, even when I asked about jobs her agency was advertising. To me, that was most bizarre. I would imagine that relationships are your stock-in-trade when you are a recruiter, and communication – and communication skills – should be a given for the role. If you don’t like dealing with people, find another career. Surely?

I met a woman at my gym in Cape Town a few years ago. She ran her own horticulture business. She told me she loved her work, she loved working with plants and the joy of watching gardens grow.

“I’m a plant person, you see. I’m not a people person. I like people, but I don’t think I could eat a whole one.”

Perhaps some recruiters should take note. And, interviewers, I hope you have found this feedback useful. You were all strong candidates but unfortunately you didn’t have the exact match of skills and experience that I was looking for and someone else gave me the job. Thank you for the time and effort you took in interviewing me.

Sunshine signing off for today!

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48 thoughts on “How to win friends and interview people

  1. I think that being a recruiter could possibly be the worst job ever!!! Especially if you like people. Imagine- “really think you are awesome, but sorry you will have to continue eating bread and butter for next month!”
    They must feel awful. Maybe that’s why they never get back to anyone, they hate breaking hearts.
    I do, however, agree with everything you have said. Enjoyed reading from a different perspective!!!

    X

  2. This is a hoot! Sad, bitter, but a hoot. You must be so relieved to be in a job. Looking for one is so horrific. I had an interview with someone who had been hired into a Very Good Job by the person referring me to him…His response to my writing? “If this had come in over the transom, I would have thrown in into the garbage.”

    Such class and tact. I was so sad (not!) when he was fired a few months later.
    Journalism job interviews now seem to resemble a mud wrestling match and your primary task is to show how mean you can be. WTF indeed?

    1. Thanks, bsb, it was a fun post to write. What an awful thing that guy said to you … it’s so unnecessary to be like that. And how awful that you have to be so mean … funny old world, hey?
      Glad this made you laugh … that was my goal! xx

  3. In 1980 I was teaching at middle school and with enrollment increase at senior high the principal and assistant principal came to recruit a teacher. Several were interviewed and were not selected. So I put my name in the hat and they called me in. Now you have to understand at the high school level they are always looking for coaches for all the different sports venues and those credentials are almost as important as your subject area credentials. I know very little about the sports other than to catch glimpses of various games here and there on TV while drawing cartoons. So when the principal asked “What sport do you like Carl?” I froze. I blurted out the only things I know. “Horse race gambling and poker.” They grinned at each other and I got the job on the spot!

  4. This one made me laugh out loud–several times!

    I don’t have any great interview stories of my own to share–maybe I’m just glad to be home. Will try to catch up with your earlier posts
    in the next couple of days.

    Have you written a book?

    Christmas blessings from KENTUCKY,
    Kathy

    1. Oh Kathy – I’d LOVE to write a book. I feel I have one in my belly … just not sure what it will be!
      I’m thrilled you’re home safe and sound and wish you a fabulous, fun, blessed and peaceful family-special time! xx

  5. Great read Sunshine! I especially like the interview in the warehouse size boardroom. I had an interview for an evening receptionist job with the entire board of a construction/real estate company. It was a part-time job…Did I mention it was after regular business hours? Did I need to be interviewed by everyone? Quite intimidating but I did get the job.
    Jeanne

  6. Great post, Sunshine…I think your post should be required reading for all “HR professionals” (I use that term loosely!)…I’ve been in horrific interview situations more times than I’d care to count…aargh!

    Hugs,
    Wendy

  7. This was funny in a sad kind of way. Why can’t interviewers and recruiters be just a little more thoughtful?

    I always look at job interviews like it’s a 2-way street. They’re interviewing me, but I’m also trying to figure out whether I want to work for them, too. It’s like, if this is how you treat me now, when we’re just dating, how bad will it be once we get married?

  8. My sister was a medical recruiter for years. She once told me the first 30 seconds is what counts. The rest of the time is just small talk. These people were qualified before they ever walked in the door. Now she has he own company.

  9. Brilliant, Sunshine. My husband worked for Professional Recruiter magazine and dealt with these in-betweeners on a day to day basis: he emerged unimpressed.

    I love the svengali staring HR manager particularly. How you managed not to wise-crack at that moment I do not know. my big mouth would have lost me the job conclusively.

    1. I did quite well at not getting the job without wise cracks … maybe I should have made some, then it would have been more fun! Thanks for the comment, Kate – glad you and your husband know what I’m talking about! xx

  10. Too funny, Sunshine! This reminded me why I work for myself — the benefit of not having to go on job interviews, ever again, is just too great! I think I’ve run across some of these same recruiters; too bad they still haven’t gotten it right!!

  11. I cannot stop laughing at this post! Sunshine, you tell a great story. “(Why The Funny-venue?)” ahahahahhahahaha.

    I have one to add to your books. About 10 years ago, I interviewed at one of the largest companies in town. I sat alone in the interviewer’s office until he and another guy showed up 10 minutes later. They sat down, joked around a bit, spent three or four minutes talking about the job, joked around some more, asked me what my salary requirements were, joked around again, and then after an hour, shook my hand and said I had the job. They didn’t ask me a single question or inquire about my portfolio. And they offered me $5,000 more than I’d requested.

    I took the job, and spent the next 18 months working for David Brent. So there you have it: proof that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

  12. That’s priceless, Sunshine. I love the quote: “I’m a plant person, you see. I’m not a people person. I like people, but I don’t think I could eat a whole one.” (I might have to borrow that sometime!) 😉

    It sounds like YOU kept your cool in all these hectic situations. Good for you. What a relief to not have to do that anymore, eh?

    1. Thanks, Winn – glad you enjoyed it! That plant comment was one of my most favourite quotations ever!
      Yip, I did keep my cool – thank goodness – but I am SO relieved not to have to interview any more! Hugs to you from snowy London! xx

  13. A gym coffee shop?? How absurd. I have certainly had interviews in which I realized early on that I didn’t want the job, but for some reason I would continue to sit and answer silly questions as though I did want it.

    Excellent post, Sunshine!

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, it was extremely absurd – the more I think about it, the more bizarre and inappropriate I think that venue was. But at least it’s great fun to write about!
      I’ve also sat through interviews as you describe – wouldn’t it be good if we’d just called it quits as soon as we realised it wasn’t for us?

  14. I’ve had my share of interviews as well! I don’t know how many applications I sent via email but there were many. (That may be an understatement) All in all, the past 3 months I think I’ve been on 20 interviews with last Friday’s being the epitome of interviewing. I’m hoping my interview process ends today with the results of my medical tests! 🙂

    1. Holding thumbs for you (as we Saffas say!) that your interview process ends soon and successfully … so glad you could relate to this post! I’d love to hear about Friday’s interview – sounds intriguing! Let me know how it goes 🙂

  15. “I’m a plant person, you see. I’m not a people person. I like people, but I don’t think I could eat a whole one.”

    The scariest thing about that is it seems that she’d put some thought into it!
    I would say you were fortunate not to have had success with some of those organizations. They don’t sound like healthy work environments. So glad you get to cross the recruiters off your list.

  16. What a great post. You should write a book. Because I’m self-employed, I’ve only been through a couple job interviews a million years ago, for teaching positions. I had no idea what I was missing.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Renee. I said to a friend the other day that I could write a book about job hunting … eish. I don’t think you’ve missed too much, Renee – you’re blessed to be self-employed xx

  17. Great post. I’m adding you to my blogroll….hope you like it!

    Here’s one for you…I had an interview where the man NEVER looked at me. He sat behind his big desk, someone ushered me in, he talked about the company for 40 minutes, asked me ONE question “why do you want to work here”….and then walked me out. I got in the elevator and cried. When I got home, there was a message with a job offer. What the hell…

    1. I’m so glad you love it and got some good laughs! I’d love you to post this in your office – what a hoot!
      Lovely to see you, pie, and much love and blessings to you for a Merry Christmas xx

  18. As sad as it sounds, I do like interviews. I don’t like the tests much but the interaction with people is what gives me my energy!

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