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5 Steps to Easy Interviews and Quick Job Offers

In the June 26, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader says the quickest job offers come from quick and easy interviews. So we consider why.

Question

Difficult job interviews tend to be grueling and I never get offers. I have discovered that interviews which end up in a job offer are short and I come away wondering why they didn’t ask me hard questions.

interviewsThat’s how I got my current job. The managers made their decision right there and then. I expect to get an offer from another recent interview that went just as well. (I will probably turn it down.) They didn’t actually say so, but the message was clear: They’re definitely interested and they seem hopeful I’ll accept a job.

Another example: I got my previous job when my manager made the decision during the phone interview while I was 2,000 miles away. My on-site interview was about an hour and ended up with an offer on the spot.

In contrast, after recent discussions with an iconic company known for its difficult interviews, I realized that I would have to neglect my current job (which I love) to make preparations to interview successfully. Even though the company has exciting technology that excites me, I shut down the process. [See How and when to reject a job interview.]

The latest company that wants me has technology as interesting as the iconic company. They are not well known, but they are very certain about why they want to hire me. It pays to look for gems like these.

So I am concluding that if someone has decided they are interested in you, the interview will be pretty easy and the offer will come quickly. If they are not interested, they might throw some difficult questions your way to “reveal” your incompetence. (At the iconic company, they kept asking question after question until I couldn’t answer.) Then they say to one another, “Obviously, this is not a good candidate — he couldn’t answer a basic question!”

I don’t want to work for people like that. What do you think of my observations?

Nick’s Reply

You’ve pointed out a very interesting phenomenon in hiring that seems to sail over most people’s heads. Some hiring decisions happen quickly, and the interviews are smooth. What makes an interview go so well?

But I think everyone gets so wrapped up in the interview game that they totally ignore an even more important question:

Why?

Why do interviews happen?

That is, Why is the interview happening at all?

We can break this down into two more specific questions:

  • Why did the employer choose this candidate?
  • Why did the candidate choose the company?

I think there are several answers, and they reveal the stark difference between employers who know what they are doing and those that are clueless about recruiting and hiring. It’s all about what happens way before the interview even gets scheduled.

When job seekers and employers choose one another for the right reasons, interviews seem easier and job offers materialize quickly. But I don’t have to tell you this doesn’t happen effortlessly!

5 Steps to Quick Job Offers

I find that employers that hire quickly and decisively take most of these five steps before they conduct interviews. In fact, they take these steps before they even contact any candidates.

  1. The employer decides where to find the right candidates.
    These trusted sources might be other people, organizations, specialized pools or communities, or even publications. The candidate list is not generated by algorithms, job boards or databases. Thus, only high-likelihood candidates are ever interviewed.
    From Fearless Job Hunting – Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), p. 8:

    To get your feet in the manager’s door, don’t throw resumes at it. It’s the people, Stupid. That manager has no time to read your resume because he’s busy talking to a candidate referred by people he trusts. To get in the door, you need those people to introduce you. And the manager needs someone who has a plan to get the job done. Make that person you.

  2. The employer decides what outcomes it wants from the hire.
    So, it pre-selects people who are able to deliver outcomes, not qualifications or keywords on resumes. These candidates are not surprised by the criteria and interview questions, and the meetings go smoothly.
  3. The employer understands that specific skills are not the objective in selecting candidates.
    The main objective is to hire someone with the ability to ride a fast learning curve without falling off. That is, the right candidate is someone who can learn whatever is necessary to get the work done. You don’t find that on a resume or in a job application. Of course, there are prerequisites, but most of the time these can be verified prior to even contacting the candidate.
  4. The employer vets candidates before it contacts them.
    It does its background research in advance, by turning to trusted sources of good information. I’m not talking about background checks. I’m talking about referrals, recommendations and firsthand knowledge about the person. Thus, only high-likelihood candidates who can readily address the employer’s needs are ever recruited or interviewed.
  5. The match is made mostly in advance.
    The employer is already more than halfway there on the hire, before the interview happens, because it already knows a lot about the candidate. The interview is not the main assessment; it’s a confirmation. The chance of a quick hire skyrockets.

Good candidates don’t come in a grab-bag

It’s no accident or coincidence that this approach to hiring mirrors how good managers do other aspects of their jobs. A good interview is good business.

For example, an engineering manager doesn’t design and build a new widget by dumping a grab-bag of random parts on her team’s desk. She and her team carefully research available parts and their manufacturers, confirm quality in advance, and lay out on their workbench only the parts they already have a lot of faith in. The same goes for picking people.

Why are employers so game to buy a grab-bag of applicants from LinkedIn or Indeed?

Most candidates should be “wired” for a job

This is not to say that a sharp manager with good insight can’t identify a great candidate on the spot, when that candidate is essentially “off the street” with no background research done at all. In such cases, I think the manager has an unusual — but absolutely critical — grasp of exactly the kind of person they want. The manager recognizes that person when they appear, has the authority to move quickly, and acts decisively to make a quick offer.

But I believe that most of the time when such quick hires happen, it’s because the real legwork has been done in advance. You’ve no doubt heard the old saw about a lawyer questioning a witness in court: Never ask the witness a question you don’t already know the answer to. The same holds for job interviews — except most employers won’t be bothered to do their homework about the candidate.

When we say someone was “wired” for a job, what we really mean is the employer chose carefully whom to interview in advance. The manager selected from a pool of thoroughly vetted people.

That’s why the right candidate winds up in the interview — and it’s why the interview appears easy and the decision quick.

Avoid broken interviews

I think those offers came quickly to you simply because you were the right candidate and the typical rigmarole of interviewing wasn’t necessary. The rigmarole is necessary only when the employer has no idea what it wants, whom it’s talking with, or how to assess the candidate. The rigmarole signals the interview is broken from the start and that you’ll likely be wasting your time — and so’s the employer.

A broken interview is marked by a canned, indirect assessment process that, almost by definition, isn’t going to yield any helpful insights about the candidate. It consists of the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions, and it’s about everything except how you would do the work.

As you already recognize, that kind of rote assessment feels very painful and awkward. It’s not a meeting of professional minds or a discussion about the work. It’s an interrogation. The process stretches out mercilessly because the employer never did the legwork. When employers rely on such canned, indirect assessment methods, they feel they can justify hauling in dozens of candidates they know virtually nothing about. “The assessment tool will reveal the best candidates for us!”

No, it won’t. It’s a waste of time. The interview is broken.

Good managers help candidates get hired

This is why fewer candidates are better than lots. Any employer that’s working through a big stack of resumes and applicants likely isn’t sure what it really wants, and is searching in the wrong places and sizing up mostly wrong candidates.

Those interview questions that seem to get you hired quickly seem easy because the employer picked a candidate that can answer them. Why interview anyone else?

This is why I teach hiring managers to talk with a candidate’s professional cohort in advance (while respecting privacy, of course). Then I suggest managers contact their carefully selected candidates and coach them prior to interviews — just like they coach their employees on how to do a project at work. The manager has to want the person to succeed! Only worthy candidates will take the coaching. (See also, Handouts: What information should employers give to job candidates prior to interviews?)

What this means is, employers should not interview anyone that they’re not already excited about hiring.

The match is made in advance

The insights you’ve shared may seem trivial. (“I get hired when the interviews are quick and easy!”) But your insights are profound. Let’s go back to our two questions:

  • Why did the employer choose this candidate?
  • Why did the candidate choose the company?

If the answer isn’t, “We already know this person and job are a great match!”, then the interview will likely go south because someone didn’t do the necessary legwork. The job interview should be a chance to confirm a match, but a good match should be made in advance. When employers and candidates do the hard work of matching in advance, interviews seem easy and job offers are made quickly.

Do your interview and job-offer experiences mirror this reader’s? What’s the early mark of an interview that will yield a hire? What tips you off that an interview will go nowhere? Whether you’re a job seeker or a hiring manager, what steps can (or do) you take to help ensure an interview will produce a hire?

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49 Comments
  1. Can we get rid of the bullshit fad known as the Behavioral Interview? I am a prospective employee, not an actor being tested on how well I remember my lines.

    • @Mike: Loads of failed HR execs have made loads of $$ selling “Behavioral Interview Methods” white papers to their former employers. “Tell me about a time you really ticked somebody off. How did you handle it?”

      “I walked out of an interview, just like this one. Now, if you’d like to discuss the job we’re talking about, I’d be glad to show you how I’ll do it profitably. Otherwise, can you tell me about a time you lost a great candidate to stupid, canned questions?”

  2. My last interview for my current job came at a very inopportune moment. I was out running in shorts and tank top when a longtime friend ran by and we had a long conversation literally about everything. The following day,again he came by with a group of his friends. Really nice kids, the ones you would like to be your grand kids. Needless to say they are now my co-workers.

  3. When I was an up-and-coming young manager, I used to spend a lot of time, and a lot of my co-manager’s and boss’s time very carefully hiring the wrong people who either wandered off too soon or had to fired.

    I stopped interviewing and began a screening process called “The Walk”. (My workers came up with this name after observing how I was hiring–they would sometimes make bets on the outcome.)

    At the time, I directed a mid-sized warehouse of some 50,000 square feet. Modest by modern standards, the usual first impression of an applicant was “you don’t look this big on the outside.”

    I walk at a fairly brisk pace.

    That was the first test, and the one that usually promted the most betting. Can they keep up?

    So we walked and talked around the perimeter of the Distribution Center. I was especially paying attention not only to their pace, but to their comments to determine not their capability but their curiosity. Everybody wants a job, but only certain people are looking for interesting work, and those were the people that I was looking for.

    The sorting process was simple: three piles.

    1. definitely would hire
    2. would hire
    3. required by law to retain application for ten years

    This system served me well for twenty years, and yes, the Feds did ask to see my employment files (we had grown large enough to attract the attention of the Feds), so I advise you to check the latest regulations.

    • Hey, X — Remember MBWA? Management By Walking Around? IBWA is a time-honored way to interview candidates without any sitting down. What I look for is, do they stop at work stations to ask employees about their work? You could write a whole book about IBWA!

      • One of the best managers I have ever come across used this tactic religiously. He even kept a journal of what he learned, so he refer to it later.

        He was promoted to manager and is still one of the youngest people ever to make it to the management level at a Big Four Accounting firm. So this process certainly worked for him.

      • Nick, this is one of my favorites. Warehouse Managers – always interviewed them walking around the warehouse. I WAS the HR guy, but knew the business, which they usually didn’t know about me (cause applicants think HR guys are disconnected from the business, right?). 3-5 minutes of walking around – I knew enough based on their questions and observations and as you mentioned, how they interacted with the team members working.

        • @Kevin: I love it – thanks for sharing that. There ARE managers in HR who know which end is up, and my guess is nobody expected you did, so you had the disarming advantage. Amazing what a little walk will do :-).

      • Management by walking around, pointing the finger, and creating problems — yeah, I’ve seen that.

    • In 1982 I had a high stress interview for a Sell-side technology analyst position with an Institutional Sell-side firm. There were about a dozen Institutional Sales people peppering me with rapid fire questions. Sometimes several people would ask questions at the same time. I politely told them that they had to take turns if they wanted me to answer their questions. After that, the interview went well.

      I was offered the position with a mid-six-figure salary.

      • @David: A lesson in demonstrating assertiveness, which a smart employer will value. A smart employer.

  4. Sadly, it seems a lot of companies put the background check in the front of the whole process. Nothing says trust like making everyone prove they’re not a criminal before you’ll even talk to them. Makes one wonder what type of recruiting activities employers are engaged in if they have to do all that first.

    • @Chris: It’s even worse when they put the background check in between the [job offer+acceptance+resignation from old job] and the start date. Yet another reader just sent me a note about this. He accepted the offer, quit his old job, and waited while they did the background check. Then they notified him they “would not be moving ahead with the hire” because of the results of the check.

      Part of the responsibility for such disasters lies with job seekers who are behaving imprudently. (Would you make a non-refundable down payment on a house before your loan application is approved?) But HR departments should be strung up for encouraging candidates to quit jobs and count on the job offer — before all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed.

      • Imagine the reverse where an employee accepted a job but then withdrew acceptance because of some “background check” he/she conducted. Oh, the pearl clutching and wailing one would hear from an employer all too willing to do the same.

        I swear, the next time I’m asked to go through a background check, I’m going to ask the manager, and especially people in HR, to submit *their* information. Sauce for the goose……

        • @Chris: As the market shifts toward job seekers, that would be a great idea!

          • @Nick @Chris

            We’re already seeing companies complain when the same “tricks” on them:

            https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/people-ghosting-work-its-driving-companies-crazy-chip-cutter/

            Somehow, I don’t think they will learn.

            • @David: Thanks for linking that article–what a riot seeing the HR people whining. However, I strongly disagree with some of the assertions that the job market is so strong (talent shortage!) that everything is in the candidates’ favor.

              Maybe, just maybe, part of the reason people don’t show for interviews or cut off contact after an interview is that HR is taking the wrong approach in the first place (something that Nick has had much to say about). Here’s on example:

              “Some recruiters have started to borrow from the airline industry, copying its approach to selling more tickets than seats. Meredith Jones, an Indianapolis-based director of human resources for a national restaurant operator, now overbooks interviews, knowing up to 50 percent of candidates for entry-level roles likely won’t show up.”

              Granted, that’s for entry-level positions. But I don’t think overbooking interview slots like an airline is the solution.

            • Funny, employers have been behaving this way towards applicants and candidates for YEARS, and now that the shoe is on the other foot, they’re whining? Seriously? Too many employers have taught applicants and candidates how to treat them, which is the same way they’ve treated applicants and candidates. Make them jump through multiple hoops, online “screenings”, drug tests, criminal background checks, financial background checks, wanting to know the name and contact info. for every boss, every employer, demanding references upfront, and more. If you made it through the barbed wire and trap doors, you still didn’t even get an auto-generated “thanks but no thanks” email or phone call, and even if you interview you often never received a phone call to say “thanks for interviewing with us but we decided to hire another candidate and good luck”. The behavior is nothing new, but what is new is that now employers are being treated with the same ghosting behavior and disrespect that they dished out to applicants. Karma’s a b!&ch!

            • I love the quote in the “ghosting” article from Wharton’s Peter Cappelli. Further evidence that even employers have to reap what they sow.

            • @Bill Freeto: Several readers sent me that link. While I was headhunting in Silicon Valley for many years, I experienced several cycles. In hot times, employers dissed engineers. Afters short “bust” periods, silly employers laid engineers off without a thought. When the market turned back up and companies were desperate to hire, the engineers learned the deal and made life miserable for the employers. (I remember engineers holding out for one particular “starting bonus”: A new BMW. Desperate employers paid up.) Turnabout may or may not be fair play, but it’s what happens. Employers are too smug to realize the pain they’re buying for the future when they treat their professional community callously. Employees remember.

        • I know of a case where that happened. An associate of mine accepted a position with a large employer, and she told me the “good news.” I had worked at the company at one time, and I gave her a lengthy background on the politics and dysfunctional culture of the place. She reached out to another friend of hers who had worked there, who confirmed my opinion of the company, and added her own observations. Soon afterwards, she received another, better offer from a different company. She called the first company back and reneged on her acceptance after having done her own “background check.” Of course, the first company had no idea why she changed her mind about working there.

  5. I have noticed that when the economy is good and employees are hard to find, employers conduct short and pleasant interviews and make a job offer soon.

  6. Thanks for the timely blog article – it basically has described my experience over the last year or two.

    I’m going to go on a bit of a rant/write a wall of text.

    After college, I took a bit of a non-traditional career route. I was in that line of work/industry for nearly 15 years. The work I was doing was certainly related to my degree and more traditional roles, so I definitely picked up skills that could be transferred.

    At various times over the years, I tried to get into something more mainstream. From what I could gather, I was losing out based on “buzzwords” and “years of experience” even though many of the questions asked in the interview were the typical canned questions we’ve all come to expect, like “what is your greatest strength/weakness?” So, I don’t see how a decision of “not qualified” was made unless people were playing arm chair psychologists.

    Over the last year, I did convince two separate organizations to hire me doing something more mainstream. My current role so far has been nothing short of a success based on the feedback I have received so far, even though I know I’m not the most qualified person “on paper” because I didn’t have all the buzzwords.

    The kicker has been that some of the so called recruiters/head hunters/staffing consultants that literally blew me off over the last year, magically started getting in touch with me to the point of stalking when they found out about the positions I took on in the past year or so. It’s not like my “skill set” has changed all that much in the past year so I have to question the skills evaluation, persuasion/negotiation and relationships that these people claim to have. At one point, I was out of work for a few months, and could be had at a discount. It’s like why was I a leper then all of a sudden stalked? What value do these people add if they are all going off of keywords?

  7. Let me guess that HR wasn’t involved in these short, fast interviews that lead to prompt job offers.

  8. HR was involved, but the involvement was different – more of a supporting role. They would often make first contact, get my name to the manager, and then make sure everything goes smoothly in scheduling the interview. The manager would drive the interview. HR people might ask a few canned questions, but in the cases where things went well, they were just stock procedural questions they asked for the sake of asking.

    In companies where the fit was not so good, that is where the interviews became stressful. In many of those cases I never heard back from the employer, even when I went out of town. Needless to say, I neither purchase nor recommend the products of such companies.

    In those cases where the people interviewing me just simply do not like me, the interviewer often gets angry or throws smart-alecky questions my way. They are mad because I am causing them to waste their time.

    Note to self: If the interview isn’t going well, leave. Be nice about it, but leave.

    How to say it:

    “I really appreciate your time and interest in me, and I was really excited about coming in today. I realize, however, that this might not be a good match. To save time in your busy schedule, I would like to end this interview so you can concentrate on candidates you are more likely to hire.”

    I have ended interviews when a question was posed to me that showed I really didn’t have the required experience.

    For example, I was being interviewed by a couple who ran their own firm and I really liked them. I asked if there were any concerns, and he said, “Yes. You don’t have FPGA experience.” He was nice about it, I thanked them, and left.

    Funny thing is I did get FPGA experience in my next job. I probably could have hit the ground running in the company run by the couple in question.

    So let’s say you don’t have experience with something an employer needs. Do you find someone who can learn it, or look for someone with experience doing it? In today’s world, isn’t the ability to gain new skills more important than the skills you have?

    • @Kevin: I think you nailed the problem. It’s astonishing that any employer would value a specific skill more highly than the ability to learn that skill quickly and use it effectively. But consider: “Do you have skill X?” is a yes/no question. Easy. “Can you learn skill X?” requires a discussion and assessment of the candidate’s learning ability. Harder.

      Lazy employers know which question they prefer to ask.

      The database jockeys who create online job applications have no idea how to deal with the second question, so they don’t try. Maybe they’re not good at learning :-).

  9. @marybeth: Employers have the money – and likewise the power – so whatever they do is right, and anything you do as a potential employee is wrong. (At least that’s how many employers see it – yes, I’m being sarcastic.)

  10. God knows, I love to rant about the hiring process. Its good to get a load off using a sympathetic audience. However, I was looking for stories about this hiring process that Nick outlined in his article. How does an employer set this up correctly? It seems that from the general outline Nick gave, there is still a lot of ways to mess this up. How does an employee spot an opportunity with an employer such as this?

    • Good one, Lucille! I’ll offer one suggestion. An employee spots a good opportunity when he or she encounters it in the course of a casual, talking-shop discussion with someone she meets at a conference or industry event. It’s where a manager goes to chat up people whose skills and interests drew them to the conference. They are — presto! — some of the most relevant potential candidates for the job.

      No resumes. No interviews. No job postings. The thing to focus on here is that the pool of people participating in such exchanges is very small. And that’s good. Makes it a lot easier to make a match.

      This is not to say that the manager should attend only events where like-minded people hang out. An insightful manager might find who he or she is looking for in out-of-the-ordinary events.

  11. @Nick: In reply to your comment to @Bill Freeto: An audio products company interviews me out of town then never contacts me again. Audio – and in addition to my bachelor’s degree electrical engineering, I have a Master of Music degree in organ performance from one of the world’s great music schools (one of the top 3 in the US – sometimes jockeys for #1).

    Maybe the kind of music I’m schooled in is old fashioned and irrelevant in today’s world (I’m no longer performing professionally anyway), but I was at the time of my interview.

    The pipe organ has a wider frequency range than any other musical instrument. I took a recording of my music to test this company’s products.

    So was it wise for them to diss me? Even if hiring me as an engineer was not appropriate at the time, I am certain that other departments might have wanted to look at me.

    A few months later my would be supervisor had left, and now works for another similar company. The company in question is not doing well.

    Headline: Audio company disses professional musician.

    Need I say more?

    • @Kevin: I gather that the people at that company weren’t really into music, and probably didn’t even know how to truly LISTEN to it. Here’s a story that you, as a musician and engineer, might appreciate. In the early 90s, I was working part time at an audiophile shop in Chicago that carried Linn Products. This was at time when Linn had rolled out a new top-of-the-line speaker (Keltik)and the “Cirkus,” a new, upgraded sub-chassis and bearing for their turntables. The head of Linn was travelling in the US with one of the engineers and marketing people as part of the introduction of the Cirkus and paid our shop a visit (we were the first in the US to hear it). Anyway, we listened to some music on the existing setup, finishing off Also Sprach Zaratustra. After installing the chassis upgrade in the deck, we sat down to listen again. Jaws dropping, somebody uttered, “whohhh, what the f is that?!” It was that super low C on the organ at the beginning (16 cycles/min, the lowest C that is audible to humans, I believe?). That note, which was there before, came ALIVE in a way we had never heard it before, even with the same speakers. That’s engineering (albeit mechanical vs electronics)–engineering driven by a passion for the music.

      • Now that’s a cool story! (I’m an audiophile. The only time I use earbuds is while working out at the gym. I want SPEAKERS and plenty of air between them and my ears.)

  12. @Nick

    MBWA–remember it well, and it’s derivative, which is buried deep in my archives. The spirit of it, as I can remember, went along the line of Management By Walking Around And Ignoring Every New Management Theory That Comes Along: MBWAAIENMTTCA. A couple of decades later, Scott Adams cured me of management fads with his publication of Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Manual. I was laughing at every page, of course, but as I read on, I realized that I was actually embracing some really silly concepts. I felt really bad for my workers. That was when I realized that Mr. Adams was not a comic, but an investigative reporter.

    @Kevin

    I was fortunate to only have to survive a few “panel” interviews. My fantasy icebreaker would be, “Well, I didn’t expect a Spanish Inquisition!” To which I would invite the only correct answer in the proper Monty Python tone: “NO ONE expects a Spanish Inquisition! NOBODY!” This would not only break the ice, but flush out any fellow Monty Python fans to whom I should be able to relate. Of coure, blank stares would indicate that leaving through the nearest window would the only viable response. (Make sure that the interview is being held in the first floor.) Why would anyone want to work somewhere that has no Monty Python Mindsets?

    @garp

    I had the incredible good fortune to retire at $10,000 per year more than what my last survival job paid. The bad news is that I didn’t want to retire until Feb 2021. My initial rough calculation of income lost from being tossed out of my high-paying circa 2010 when the banks got nervous and the owner of our 70 year old company thought it would be better to sell than disolve, is about $1.9 million. Pro-rated from whenever anyone tries to drag me out of retirement until that year, that is my minimum.

    If someone wants me six months before I retire, it’s the same rate.

    After age 70, everything’s negotiable. The slate is wiped clean and my needs may have changed. But right now, I’m too busy documenting my knowledge gained from over 50 years in the workforce, 45 in distrbution.

    Even before I had paid my management dues, I often wondered why companies didn’t work harder to keep their experienced workers. My ultimate admonition to companies that toss educated and dedicated talent to the wind is that they are not just shooting themselves in the foot; they are blowing their brains out.

    My European buddies stateside inform me that they don’t do this on the other side of the Pond.

  13. @Bill Freeto: The 16 Hz would correspond to low C on a 32’ (32 foot) pedal stop. A Bourdon (stopped flute with a 16’ physical length) or a 32’ reed such as a Fagott (bassoon) or Posaune (Trombone) – those last 2 have rich harmonics. Some organs I have played have a 64’ gravissima stop – 8 Hz. That would test any system!

    At this particular interview, I should have you know that during the interview when I asked a question of one of my interviewers, he said, “We are interviewing you – you are not interviewing us.” Since I had nothing else to do that day I stayed, but now I know I should have left or at least protested.

    It may be that these products are directed toward the consumer market, and people just don’t listen to classical these days. Rock and pop music is amplified even in live venues. I wonder how many of these people truly appreciated music.

    In this interview, every person who talked to me asked really detailed questions and I could tell they were not impressed. Looking back, what I lacked in knowledge is stuff I would have picked up in a week.

    @Nick: I think it’s fair to ask detailed technical questions in an interview. At the same time, how should one handle the concept that you have got to have answers ready at the tip of your tongue. So often in failed whiteboard interviews, I was not allowed to ask questions and I was not allowed to look it up. So does one need to study for these kinds of interviews? Is this a sign of incompetence? What do you think a fair technical interview is anyway?

    • he said, “We are interviewing you – you are not interviewing us.”

      Moron. Sorry, but no other conclusion to draw. If I were the manager and you didn’t interview me, I’d be very worried!

      What do you think a fair technical interview is anyway?

      It should be no different from a meeting with your boss when he or she assigns you a new project and asks you to roll up your sleeves so you can both figure out a good way to plan it, likely at the whiteboard, and likely with the aid of some look-up tables (just like you’d refer to at your workbench — who can memorize all the tables and who wants to? cf. Einstein about looking stuff up), and maybe you’d need to call in one of the other engineers who knows more about X than you and your boss do. (Yep, that involves “asking questions” — so you can do that in the interview, too.)

      An interview should not be a test. It should be a working meeting where you and the boss (and others) put your heads together just like you do at work, to get something specific done.

      When I recruited EEs in Silicon Valley, my advice to my clients was, “Take the EE candidate into a design review meeting and let him or her participate as best they can.” Without divulging company secrets, of course.

      A manager’s job is to help make sure the engineer is going to do the best job possible on the new project, right? So why not do the same with a job candidate? I mean, how tough is that to understand? :-)

      I think you know all this already. It’s evident in how and why you check out of interviews that aren’t right for you!

      • There is a lot of “say one thing, do another.”

        Employers will swear up and down that they want employees that are adaptable, especially in the Engineering/Tech fields where things are changing/evolving all the time.

        But, when push comes to shove, there will be an insistence on specific keywords. I fear a lot of it has to with the whole “Just-In-Time” approach to hiring, where it basically takes some sort of (near) catastrophe to actually get buy in to hire people.

    • @Kevin: I, too, received the same response you did “We get to ask the questions, not you” with a prospective employer. I believe interviews are (or should be) two-way streets. Interviews should be a conversation, not an interrogation or a deposition. I remained polite, but I ended the non-interview interview. If companies/people are generally on their best behavior during the courtship (and an interview is still part of the courtship), then I didn’t want to think about what it would be liking working there. God forbid if I had a question about a job or task. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t try to figure things out myself first, but I want to work for employer where I won’t be shot for asking questions.

      And I think you’re right–I can count on one hand and still have fingers left over the number of people I know (myself included) who listen to classical music these days. I’m one of them, but no one else in my family listens to it or even likes it, and ditto for my closest friends and colleagues. I used to catalog music (in libraries) years ago, and one of my former supervisors loved classical music and opera. At that time (late 1980’s), she had a that highest-tech device (a CD player with a radio), so our department listened to the classical music and opera CDs we were adding to our collection and of course Morning Pro Musica was a staple. I had had some exposure to it in college, but that job made me a life-long fan. Some days on Mozart and Bach will do!

      I also think it is fair to ask detailed technical questions in an interview. I think that a skilled interviewer would know that you may not have the answers on the tip of your tongue, even though you know the answers, and would either allow you to refer to your notes (I would try to anticipate the questions, then write down hints to the answers on index cards or in a small notebook) or would allow you to look them up. I remember interviewing for an office job at a law office, and I remember telling the attorneys interviewing me that I knew the answer but couldn’t think of the case (I could describe it). They were NOT pleased until I gently reminded them that when they went to court, they have notes to which they can refer so trial doesn’t have to be postponed, and that judges don’t expect attorneys to remember everything without notes. They all got a funny look on their faces, then laughed, because what I said was (and remains) true. If they hired you, would they expect you to do the job and know everything without notes or without being able to look it up? It seems silly to me.

  14. I see another Kevin – I’m Kevin the engineer – as opposed to Kevin fromHR. :-). I’ll post as “Kevin A”

  15. These days it seems as though who you know is more important that what you know. While inside contacts have always been important I would dare argue that it has become more important with the auto rejection hiring systems.
    I think managers and hiring staff just don’t want to have the uncomfortable conversation with their bosses to say that they just spent muchos dineros on a system or systems that just don’t work. Those looking for new talent seem to be just going around the train wreck that is the computerized job application systems.
    My perception is based on the hiring insanity I have witnessed since the financial crash in 2008. Specifically with individuals hired into positions that they are either grossly under qualified to fill or are simply a bad fit. Honestly, don’t recall how many people I know who have been promoted or moved to a new job only to go back to their old job in less than a year. All of which were hired with the help of inside contacts. Not sure exactly what is going on there.
    The private consulting company I work for has two systems, the computerized one and talented recruiters. We have all but given up on the computerized system finding qualified candidates.

    • @Anna Mouse

      The irony is that employers will spend $Billions on ATS systems and job boards. Yet the majority of hires are via some form of networking/referral. Why aren’t employers bypassing these products and dealing more directly with candidates? I’d think ROI would be better…

      • True, companies just don’t want to admit they have spent so much time & money on systems that don’t work as advertised.

        Along the same lines, companies don’t seem to want to admit the risk they are taking by leaving positions open. I have seen this same concern mentioned on this board several times. Working as a consultant I sat through around eight company wide meetings last month and in EVERY case some disaster that occurred due to a recently vacated position. In one case around 80 temporary plant workers showed up and the plant wasn’t ready for them, so they got to pay for these employees to sit around all day and then had to pay more for 3rd shift employees to come in and produce a product that was going the US military. By screwing up they put multiple OCONUS military contracts in jeopardy.
        In another, a well known theme park missed their general liability insurance payment and is now paying a higher rate as the insurance company took the opportunity to increase their rates as they had quite a few claims in the previous year. Whoops!
        Hopefully these companies have learned their lesson but I am not optimistic.

        • @Anna: Wharton’s Peter Cappelli has pointed out that modern accounting systems have no way to track the costs of vacant jobs. So when employers leave positions vacant, on their books it appears they’re generating more profit because they’re “saving” on salaries. So there’s no rush, and the HR dept covers its a$$ by explaining it’s waiting for “the perfect candidate.”

          Go figure.

          The accountants behind those systems are probably the same people at the Dept of Labor who tell us the job market is booming and employment is up.

      • @Dave: A while ago the SVP of HR for a Fortune 50 company explained this to me. I’ll paraphrase but this is the essence: “The big job boards wine and dine our top execs so much that we spend virtually every recruiting dime on job postings that don’t work. Meanwhile, I can’t get $100 to take a candidate out to dinner to actually RECRUIT them.”

        I’m convinced he’s right.

  16. No, the original writer in this thread was wrong. The “easiest” interview can easily be the worst.

    I had one interview with one of the largest banks in the NYC area, and it was too good to be true. I met with the project team members, for the project that I would be leading, and had quite a bit of the cross-discipline that I had, and knew some of the same people in those disciplines and companies. Thought I had nailed that one. Even was checking out options to commute to Brooklyn from way out here. That is, until I had a second interview with the senior VP of technology for the bank. Absolutely horrible interview. It was like I was being screened for a completely different job and industry. Someone had set me up pretty good.

    Had a recent interview where I had all the qualifications the employer requested, interview went very well. Enjoyable, actually. I had all the right answers for every question. But I didn’t get the job, and the recruiter said the employer had not accepted any of their recommendations, and they said I (as well as two others) was on the short list. But from the beginning I had a strange feeling about his job as not being quite right. I traced the job listing back almost a year through different brokers and job boards, and it’s conspicuous (to me, at least) that the job was open that long, and not advertised anywhere by the employer. And the interviewer knew nothing about the job details the recruiter gave me. Later, someone familiar with the employer said the job was open that long because they couldn’t get anyone to take it. Apparently, it involved a lot of field work in horrible facilities in horrible neighborhoods, and they didn’t want to pay well. But it wasn’t a complete loss. I had lunch at a favorite restaurant a few blocks from the employer’s office in midtown, and had a practice run for the next one.

    But the interview I call the “Interview From Hell” actually had a more pleasant follow-up. I was interviewed by a crew from EDS for a VP and Product Manager position with an undisclosed client. It was a financial industry telecom product, commonly used by all banks and brokerages, and again I had the qualifications for it. Nick, you mentioned “Management by Walking Around.” Well, this was a, “Job Interview While Walking Around.”

    Back in the day, I used to spend a lot of my business day on my cell, and routinely returned calls while walking downtown I could walk 50 or more blocks before things got really noisy. But for this interview, I had no place from which to call the interviewer, so I was sitting in a courtyard in midtown Manhattan when it suddenly got too noisy for anyone to hear me. Then I started walking across town, but almost by every storefront, it was noisier as I walked east. Finally ended up in a doorway outside a popular men’s clothing store, and fortunately didn’t have a lot of customers that day. Just as the interview began to get better, I’m wondering why are these people asking me about my hands-on Cisco switch programming experience. (which was not part of the job spec). My resume shows a lot of Class A building telecom construction experience, where I usually manage union technicians and electricians, and their companies. So why would anyone reasonably assume that I would have hands-on experience taking union technicians’ work away from them (and cause all trades’ work to stop on the entire project), if my job was to keep my guys working and on-schedule? And what does this have to do with a VP position? I was going to cut them short, but assumed the interview was already a waste of time, but was curious where all this was heading. Never got my answer, but I was pleased to learn that every person from EDS on that call lost their jobs after they were acquired by HP.

    Lesson to be learned is that the job interview process allows the employer to see what they’re buying, and you can see what you’re getting into. Should be more common for them to try and trip you up just to see how you react. If the employer doesn’t ask you a question you can’t answer, or is difficult to answer, something is wrong. But if you believe that the “easiest” interview are always the best, I’ve got a great bridge in lower Manhattan on which I give you an excellent price!

  17. @Steve: Just to clarify that I was not saying that easy interviews are the best, but I wrote originally to ask why things may have worked out that way over the past few years.

    Like I said, my last two jobs were offered after easy interviews, and they have been very good jobs. Even so, I have often wondered why I almost never get a job when the interview is long or difficult. Am I too easily intimidated? But I also ask you, does performing well in an interview correlate well with good job performance?

    A few years ago I actually did get a job after a difficult interview, and while I did well, it was not as good a fit as these last two jobs. The headhunter has to convince them to hire me.

    A career counselor once said to me that interviews were basically a ritual – and something you just have to go through if you want a job.

    My question to everyone: What is the best way to interview a candidate? Do we need all this rigamarole? Actual time on the job says more than you can learn in an interview.

  18. What about when you have a phone interview, then a few weeks later an in person interview, then come back to meet with a different group of people and then 2 weeks later meet the president of the division and 2 other directors, and then after writing a nice follow up email a day after the last and final interview, nothing! This process was approx 1 month for phone and initial interviews and then it’s been almost 10 days since final in person ones.

    I know the company doesn’t have a full recruiter and HR staff at this location but it just seems they’re not moving as fast. I have a current job so I am not desperate. This company is in a different industry and different type of position. Do I send a follow up email or wait? I haven’t received an offer, but I want to know if I am still being considered.

    This is one aspect of the article and many of the responses that I have not seen, is what happens when they don’t get back to you in a timely fashion.

  19. @MFL: Let me unpack this for you: If they don’t get back to you, they are not interested. Period.

    I learned this the hard way. You just have to drop the banana and move on.

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