Remembering back to college admissions days (which many of you might have kids going through that right now), one of the best parts of the whole process is doing the college tour thing and doing interviews at the various prospective schools. For 4 year degrees, the risk of not performing well on the interview is probably minimal, but it’s a stressful time anyway. There’s a very well known medical school in the U.S. that requires an interview for all of its candidates, and the interviews routinely take about 10 to 15 minutes to conduct. Never has an interview been known to take more than 30 minutes, God forbid we actually find out that much about our candidates. In truth, you get the tour of the campus, then you are seated with a number of other prospective students while you wait your turn to be called in for the interview. You could be sitting in there for minutes, or hours waiting, after which you go in for your freakishly fast 10 minutes where you cover topics as mundane as, “How was your summer?” and “What kind of food do you like?”
These are obviously quite difficult screening questions, akin to the tense corporate lunch interview when you are forced to pick between coffee and tea after the meal. After the short 10 minutes, you are thanked and ushered out on your way with, “You’re all done for the day.” Most of us would be crushed. We would walk out, find a little hole to crawl into, and weep. After all, our hopes and dreams of attending one of the top medical schools in the world has just been dashed. What we didn’t know, was that was not the interview. Indeed, behind a glass window (think police headquarters) is the entire admissions committee watching if/how you interact with your fellow candidates. What type of a person are you? What do you talk about? Who do you talk to? After, “You’re all done for the day” there is a choice to be made. Are you the type who picks up and leaves? Do you sit around on your iPhone waiting for your ride to come pick you up? Do you start conversations with some of the other prospective students? In this case, the reality is to be literal – you are not supposed to stand apart and set yourself as better than the rest. Most organizations like to consider themselves “collegial” and excellent places to work where people trade information freely and willingly.
Unfortunately, since we don’t usually do panel interviews where we have multiple candidates being pitted against each other at the same time, it’s tough to observe whether or not a person is really going to be collaborative once we hire them. And I don’t really feel like submitting my Director-level candidates to a 2 hour personality assessment test. Our only real feedback at current is the candidate’s interaction with the receptionist and other people who might be sitting in the lobby while they wait. However, we almost never ask the receptionist what they think, and they aren’t really trained to give an expert opinion anyway. What is important to us when we recruit is a combination of what a person knows, and who a person is. We are quite adept at figuring out what a person knows, but less skilled at knowing who a person is over the course of four 1-hour interviews.
Managers and recruiters alike are supposed to be semi-skilled at reading candidates, but unless we have a full-on behavioral psychologist interviewing, I’m not sure our read of candidates is anywhere near perfect. We all know that when we are in front of a hiring manager or presenting to a client or whatever, that we are on stage. Reading the candidate when they are “on stage” is not meaningful. It’s about how they act when they are not acting.