A reader questions the validity of interviews and we consider how job interviews are a persistent illusion, in the December 1, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.


interview illusionIt’s good I’m no HR expert because if I were I’d question my sanity. I just had another job interview where I could tell the interviewer was unqualified to assess me. Almost all the questions were general like, “What accomplishment are you most proud of?” She didn’t assess my technical skills or my understanding of the job at all, just asked questions so she could decide how cooperative I am. Is HR insane? Is it me, or is job interviewing all wrong?

Nick’s Reply

I agree that how employers interview is mostly wrong, and I’ll let you decide about HR’s sanity. But let’s dig into what happens in most job interviews.

Suppose you interviewed me for a job and I gave essentially meaningless answers to your questions. If you’re like lots of HR managers, you’d probably interpret what I said as useful information, and you’d rely on my nonsense statements to decide whether to hire me.

Say what?

The illusion of job interviews

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We’ve actually known for a long time that job interviews are a persistent illusion. That is, employers keep asking irrelevant and open-ended questions because they think they will “get to know a person” better. More astonishing, HR managers contend that these interviews are “structured” simply because all candidates get the same questions. Treating people consistently may make interviews seem fair, but it doesn’t make the information gleaned from candidates valid.

I believe such exchanges often yield little useful information. All we do is feed an illusion that we can make good hiring decisions based on worthless information.

Making no sense of job interviews

In a seminal study of job interviews done by Jason Dana and his colleagues at Yale University, job candidates gave random answers to an interviewer’s questions — but interviewers were confident that their resulting impressions of the candidates were accurate.

It’s not just contrived interviews in research settings that fool employers. Dana’s work suggests that unstructured interviews in real settings are poor predictors of success on the job.

Employers make mistakes when they interview this way due to a common cognitive phenomenon: We’re wired to try to make sense of information, no matter how little value it has. Dana says we have a “propensity for ‘sensemaking’” — we try “to make sense of virtually anything the interviewee says.”

Making sense of cognitive errors

V.P. Of Outcomes

“Behavior, skills, personality – none of it by itself accurately predicts how well someone will do a job. None of it means you can perform. I reference the interview to the outcomes I need — to the work that must be done. I don’t hire people because of what they say. I hire them because they can prove they can do the work!” – Buck Adams, Telecom V.P.
& Commanding General, NORAD, Ret.

How can we stop our brains from making such costly hiring mistakes? First, we should avoid hiring people because we like them. We should stop listening to our feelings about candidates, and learn to rely more on objective metrics. (See sidebar.)

Chatting with job candidates might be satisfying and fun. But if HR (or a hiring manager) fails to gather appropriate evidence, it will likely lead them to make hiring mistakes.

What really predicts a good hire?

Second, employers must rely on better information. More concrete, objective measures of a candidate will likely improve hiring.

Dr. Arnold Glass, a researcher in human cognition at Rutgers University, said, “It has been known since Alfred Binet… constructed the original IQ test in 1905 that the best predictor of job (or academic) performance is a test composed of the tasks that will be performed on the job.”

In other words, use a job interview to learn what a job candidate can do. Gather hard evidence. None other than Google’s notorious former head of HR, Laszlo Bock, said open-ended interview questions don’t cut it.

According to Bock, even a candidate’s GPA is a more objective, useful predictor of future success than how an employer scores a job interview.

Objective evidence vs. interview illusions

Dana cautions that information about a candidate gathered during an unstructured interview is likely illusory. Worse, it “can interfere with the use of valid information” that you take the trouble to collect and that can actually help you make good hiring choices.

HR and hiring managers need to curb their intuition and avoid hiring who they like. The more objective evidence an interviewer can glean from a job applicant, the more likely their hires will be good ones.

The purpose of any job interview is to assess whether you can do a job. That must be the crux of any hiring decision. Because employers have long been in the habit of asking peripherally useful and worthless questions, the value of most job interviews has become a persistent illusion. (Learn how managers can handle interviews better.)

What’s a job seeker to to?

What job hunters need to know is employers are persistently and generally wrong about job interviews.

If an employer subjects you to a friendly, open-ended discussion about your likes and dislikes, or quizzes you about what animal you would be if you could be any animal (or how many golf balls would fit in the Empire State Building), you’ve lost control of your job interview. It is then up to you to salvage the meeting. Gently break the employer’s illusion of interviews. Terminate the trivia game and the casual, unqualified personality test an employer seems to be giving you.

Help the employer get past the interview illusion. Help focus your meeting on the work. Help the employer understand exactly why you are really worth hiring by showing how you’ll do the job. (For a truly killer interview question, click here.)

Are job interviews an illusory way to assess job candidates? What should an employer ask? What should you convey to prove you’d be a good hire?

: :


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  1. The best job interview ever:

    In the mid-1990s, my wife and I were flown to the Southwest to meet with managers and fellow engineers at a small (~30 people) “give us your hardest problems” company about a job.

    I’d previously participated in two month-long overseas experiments with the company’s chief engineer (and founder/owner) and, as I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with my current employer, I’d asked him if he might know of any other companies that I should be considering. He responded by telling me to send my resume to his company’s president – something that I’d never expected.

    When we arrived at our destination, my first meeting was with the president who explained that *I* was not being interviewed. Instead, this was an opportunity for me – and my wife – to meet with their employees to decide if the company and living in the Southwest would work for *us*. In other words, the job was mine if I wanted it.

    Obviously, in hindsight, I’d already been “interviewed” by the company founder/owner during our month-long assignments. The decision was a ‘no brainer’; and the company got buy-in from both me – and my wife.

    Such an approach may have been standard for hiring executives, but as a mid-level engineer it was certainly something I’d never anticipated.

    • @Sam: You just described one of the best strategies for getting hired by the company you’d like to work for. Get to know a key person in the company by talking shop or doing some kind of project together, work related or not. (Maybe you both volunteer on something somewhere else.) I call this “shared experiences.” This is how referrals are born. Then, knowing the person respects you, tell them you’re looking to make a change and ask them if they know anyone at Company X (not their company) that you can talk with about a job. The chance that they will recommend you for a job at their own company is significantly higher than zero. The chance that the company will trust the employee’s judgment about you is very high. “If we don’t hire Sam, one of our competitors will, then we’re competing with him. We don’t want that!” (I once got a job when a mutual friend told a VP at the company just that.)

      The rest is as you told it. This approach can be taken with several companies at a time. It is not a quick way to get a new job, but it’s a very valid way. It’s fun and you make good friends even if a job doesn’t pan out. It’s called being a worthy member of your professional community. It’s how to live. Just remember to do favors and make referrals for others!

      In any case, my compliments, Sam! Thanks for sharing the story.

  2. I agree with Nick that the real interview objective is to see if the candidate can do this job. My ‘defense” (or maybe “interpretation is better) is to see if the candidate will fit in the company culture. I believe “soft skills” are important too, but of course that’s only part of it and doesn’t show that the candidate can do the job.

    Certainly the technical part of the interview process is most important, but the company hopefully should feel like they will get along with the candidate if they were to hire him/her. If they don’t care if the candidate seems like a jerk, that’s fine. But I bet it would benefit all (teammates, superiors and maybe customers) if the candidate has decent “soft skills” too.

    • @Bob: Of course both criteria are important, abilities and cultural fit.

      There’s no correct answer to this: Would you rather know first whether the candidate can do the work, or whether they are a cultural fit?

      • I’ll try responding to this too (sorry to barge in!)

        It depends on the complexity of the work to be done, but my personal take on it is checking for things more or less in this order:

        1.- Do they want to do the job, why? (check for basic motivation first)
        2.- Would they demotivate everyone else with their personality? (filtering out assholes)
        3.- Can they do it right now? (only now we get to look at competence)
        4.- Are they quick or motivated learners who can train themselves to do it anyway? (these are my favorite individuals)
        5.- Can they do it with help and coaching? (there may be room for them if this hiring decision is long term)

        I believe it doesn’t matter how competent an individual is, if they would demotivate everyone or slow down the project with an antisocial personality I’d rather not work with them and not impose that pain on others by bringing them in.

        Also, it’s easier to train someone on a technical skill than to change someone’s attitude from “absolutely abhorrent” to “somewhat tolerable”. So, generally speaking, if it comes to hiring or to looking for a partner, I’d rather pick one who’s short one notch on the technical side than on personality.

        I also think the term ‘cultural fit’ is often just used as an euphemism for getting together a bunch of people who think and act alike and solve problems with the same approach; this is not good for innovation.

        Anyway that’s my take.

        Thanks Nick for your excellent newsletters week by week!

        • @Pentalis: Thanks — glad you enjoy the newsletter.

          “I believe it doesn’t matter how competent an individual is, if they would demotivate everyone or slow down the project with an antisocial personality I’d rather not work with them and not impose that pain on others by bringing them in.”

          I agree that both fit and ability to do the job are critical, but I prefer to know about ability first for a simple reason: When you talk shop with a candidate right off the bat, you get answers on both questions. If you look for cultural fit first, a well-trained candidate can fake it. (Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen smooth candidates sweet-talk HR or a hiring manager.) I’ve never met a candidate that can fake a discussion about the work (even if they don’t have all the right skills).

          Another reason: I find that a good candidate can stumble over “cultural” questions and discussion just because an interview can stress out even the best people. Talking about work is more natural and I think puts more people at ease, so you learn more about what they are REALLY like.

          Not arguing with your approach if it works for you. This is an important discussion and we’re getting some good ideas here!

      • The employer/hiring manager should not be using ‘cultural fit’ as a cover for discrimination.

        • @Borne, Bring It On!

          The Millennials’ were conditioned to use this ‘Cultural Fit’ by Old School ‘recruiters’ who wrote the holy bible of recruitment.

          Another recent vocabulary is ‘Pivot’!

          I have read blogs and listened to self-professed economist/financial analyst ‘experts’ spew this word.
          OMG, I cringe as I envision a graceful ballerina ‘pirouette’ in this current economic-financial chaos.

          Thank you for reading-listening.

  3. This column is absolute gold. So true, so common and such deadly a sin – hiring for personality, or fit, without making sure the person can actually do the job.

    Fit is important, but fit is completely irrelevant if the person can’t do the job in the first place. But many organizations hire exactly the way Nick describes – how does the candidate make us “feel”? Such fuzzy-headed thinking and decision making leads to disastrous hires, which are then hard to terminate because we like the person (which is why we hired them in the first place). It’s a circle of incompetence. And it’s not the candidate’s fault (at least not entirely) – it’s the employer’s fault, who never should have hired them in the first place.

    It sounds hard-hearted, but companies do no one a favor by hiring someone who fails. It hurts the candidate/employee, it hurts the company, it hurts the co-workers, it hurts customers – everyone loses. Except the recruiter who gets paid to do it again, because so few organizations will take corrective action and fire the failing employee in time to get a replacement hire out of the agency.

    I checked the link referring to the “killer interview question” and it’s from 2011. But it’s exactly right, and it’s what Nick preaches again and again – do the homework, then demonstrate HOW you would do the job during the interview. That advice is a decade old on this website and still as true and relevant as it was when it was first published.

    My overly simple summary is the old hiring rule is hard at work here: A’s hire A’s, B’s hire C’s, D’s hire D’s or F’s. When I hire, I want someone who is going to make the company more successful, and make my job and my life easier, so they need to be extremely good at what they do. I won’t hire a jerk, but I will continue to recruit until we find a strongly competent candidate who can clearly do the job AND who is a reasonable fit in the culture. It often takes a while, but it’s worth it.

    Nick, an excellent column as usual. Keep preaching the “show how you’ll do the work” message. It seems obvious but I rarely see it anywhere but here.

    • @Albert: Thanks. I agree about A’s, B’s and C’s, but here’s my experience. A’s hire A’s. B’s hire C’s. Then the A’s quit and move on.

      • Oh my goodness, Nick, that’s exactly right. That’s been my experience as well.

        Something about not suffering fools gladly…..

  4. Nick, I have had the experience of being told to my face by a Millennial (who did not know about the value proposition of their company, its recent layoffs, and pending merger with another company) that I am not a ‘cultural fit’ for their organization. The job role was simple ‘Customer Service Specialist’ of which the reality is to retain and get more money out of the customer.

    I asked myself who writes these shallow interview questions. I discovered that there exists a Society of Human Resources https://www.shrm.org/ that appears to create and propagate ‘rules’ for the entire HR industry, in collusion with private and government industries.

    With the 2021 political transition, media public relations peddling Diversity & Inclusivity to the public and recent announcements within DOL & EEOC — will simply result in the same old system, status quo and nothing will change.

    Thus, the illusion of creating a Fake Future to sustain a livelihood.

    • @Bernadette: You’ve discovered SHRM!! AKA, where HR people go when they’re done HR’ing. (Apologies to those few that I respect — they know who they are.) Once at SHRM, they have a platform from which to sell white papers, “best practices,” and other rules of engagement to companies that don’t want to be bothered. Your last sentence says it all.

  5. In mid-November a zoom forum was held for companies involved with key categories within the business community. The panel included representatives from Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter, cyber security, and UPS. Other attendees were vendors of categories utilized at various times by these power brokers. My company fell in to that category. The discussion lasted 2 hours and the main topic was POST COVID TRANSFORMATIONS. The majority of agreed upon paths to be taken cannot be shared here. Suffice to say hiring was among the items discussed. For purposes of this column here is what some people should expect to find in the marketplace beginning January 2021:
    #1. There will be 4 classifications of businesses; top tier and 2nd tier followed by 3rd and 4th tiers. Hiring by companies in the top 2 tiers will be focused on skills + experience but emphasized by can the person hired “create, innovate, and leapfrog” into areas requiring speedy change. Degrees, talent, and cultural fits are not a priority item. Filling these positions will largely come from within, meaning those already on staff will be given first option, if they meet the criteria. Key personnel involved in different categories within a business will be responsible for acquiring new personnel. In some respects the new positions will bypass HR entirely and go to key managers. 3rd and 4th tier companies will be utilized by the top tiers as subcontractors or temporary fill-ins depending on the category of the top 2 tiers. In essence, 3rd and 4th tier companies will get the crumbs.
    #2. There is projected to be new positions created by the effects of COVID. Some current positions will be phased out either immediately or over the course of short term. Some of these positions will fall to the 3rd and 4th tier companies on those seldom to be used projects. Criteria for these new positions will be finalized as the process continues and adjustments are made to conditions within the marketplace. The vast majority of these new positions will be filled by people with skill sets, experience and foresight (vision) that isn’t taught by Universities. Many of the people hired will be given the latitude of working independently and brought into either the home office or a branch to assist lesser employees in how to perform duties created by adjustments to post COVID conditions.
    #3. Security and logistics are projected to incur the most changes. Most will be dramatic, within the industrial operations but not on residential or end users. The initial dispersion of the various vaccines is an example of the short-term visionary adaptations hitting the marketplace. Don’t bet on Pfizer to be the main source of available vaccines. Of course associated categories to security and logistics will also see an influx of openings and opportunities for “tomorrow’s top hire.”
    #4. There will be short-term, meaning initial, opportunities that will utilize some current skill sets but mid-term opportunities will come after the 14th month of post COVID resumption of activities. Governments (federal, state, local) will give way to industry in any future situation that resembles COVID. The medical sector will not be consulted but told how/what industry/marketplace intends on handling whatever the situation is. The economy will be the main focal point.
    #5. What the main power brokers implement will have a residual, trickle-down effect on the 3rd, 4th, and lower tiers of businesses. Some of these “also-ran’s” will incorporate these changes to the extent they either economically can or limited perception allows. Some adaptations must take place if any of the lesser companies desire to do business with the main power brokers.

    Bottom line for the people requesting assistance from this column is to plan now and begin now to improve their skill set and move on to those companies that will be making major changes beginning in 2021. For those who don’t believe their current positions are in danger, they will be blindsided by either losing their position or being required to skill-up. The probability factor is that as 2021+ progresses more people who seek help here won’t fit in to how the marketplace changes.

    • Thank you Tomas for sharing the 2021 work landscape.

      Tomas, in your opinion, in the context of humanity, will Ageism and Cultural Perception of Value continue in the eyes of the minions of the power brokers?

      In other words, the selective process of hiring is still subjective as this is human nature. On the heels of the ‘fuel charged’ Diversity & Inclusivity, am I sensing that ‘Charcoal’ skin tones will be the preferred candidate in the onboarding process while brown tones will continue to be the exploited front liners, exposed to public abuse?
      If so, the power brokers can sit back while they watch Culture on Culture abuse & exploitation that fulfills their generational colonialism and bottom-line profit. History repeats in the 21st Century.

      • I believe your conception of history is flawed. Power brokers will continue to do what they’ve done since the 1st century; use whoever can assist them in achieving their goal of sustainability in the marketplace. Sustainability enables them to operate at a high level. Color, culture and other social issues are not issues in their formula for retention of position.

    • Thomas
      Very compelling post. However, the crux of your thesis has more or less been true for decades. I have been a so called high level employee of several Fortune 500 firms and have spent a lot of time getting work done by the 3rd and 4th tier firms who function as subcontractors. Let me tell you that these people are not mindless servants to the firms that hire them. In fact I found them to be more sophisticated in their relationships with their customers than then they get credit for. It’s how they survive and thrive.
      Even with expensive craft union labor, they managed to get the job done at competitive prices. The biggest problem they have is trying to provide generous employment to family members barely qualified to turn out the lights at the end of the day. In a larger sense, this is a notional problem. We have millions of people who have the inconvenient habit of eating every day and needing a place to sleep. Any business solution consisting of tiers needs to acknowledge that having a company of A and B’s only leaves a bunch of T-Rump type voters behind who are forced into an economic corner and support crazy $biy.

    • @Tomas: I hope you didn’t pay to sit in on that Zoom, because the hierarchy you describe has been with us since our modern economy was created decades ago. It’s called a pecking order, aka a multi-level marketing scheme, aka you-know-what rolls downhill, aka the haves and have-nots.

      I think the “haves” are in for some rude surprises when COVID is under some modicum of control.

      • I believe you either misunderstood or didn’t entirely comprehend the premise of what I wrote. Agreed the power broker system has been around. As I indicated to Bernadette, since the first century. Using history as an example, the titans of Tammany Hall ruled but as time, innovation and new inventions became common, this allowed new contenders to rule. Main reason was the old guard refused to acknowledge the imminent change or adapt to it. Such is the case today. Some of the current “haves” (as you state) are struggling and are in the process of being bypassed. The COVID issue has accelerated what was in process but not as obvious to those not trained or simply unobservant to the changing world around them. The work from home, increased ecommerce, changing consumer purchasing habits among other changes are indicators many things will not return to the way they were pre-COVID. The changes resulting from COVID will continue for some time and impact virtually every aspect of commerce. This will have a direct impact on who gets hired and who doesn’t. More emphasis will be placed on those individuals who have critical thinking abilities and can assist any company either to advance or stay in the game. The majority of people who request assistance in this forum certainly are in the category of needing such help. The issue for them is not to stay “pat” but to observe the criteria that is being created now and will increase post COVID. If you don’t have critical thinking ability, you will be either bypassed or terminated. When that happens will you be blind to your own failings and attempt to align with another company retaining the same outdated skill level? If so, requesting assistance from members of this forum is futile.
        Certain factors continue to be foundations in the marketplace: innovation, critical thinking, adaptability and flexibility. These foundations have been around since man first engaged in commerce and they will continue far into the future. These foundational principles guide any power broker or small business owner as well as any and all employees. One of the things revealed in this forum is a recognition of not only the issue but the necessity to seek out the fittest available or those capable of training (vis-a-vie critical thinking). This is the new Darwanism of the marketplace. Shouldn’t this forum offer assistance to those who will continue to be employees and pawns of the system on how to be more employable? Or is this forum constrained to the status quo merely complaining about HR tactics and venting one’s frustrations without addressing the bigger issue.
        No Nick I did not have to pay for admission to the forum but as I indicated there were items discussed neither myself or other members of the group are allowed to discuss. It’s not a question of cost but value. Your limited perception of what’s going on in the marketplace is of course your choice but your answer to my presentation reveals your limitations and possibly others who engage in this forum as well. Here’s the bottom line, let’s make a bet who has a better handle on what the post COVID changes in the marketplace will be. Your status quo and snail pace or what already is taking place. Want to do that?

        • @Tomas Schafer. Your comment resonates as an enabler of the Old School Imperialist of the 21st Century.

          Your assessment by labeling ‘limited perception of what’s going on in the marketplace’ is a disturbing statement. You project yourself as a Narcissist with a self-serving agenda to deceive, devalue, demoralize then sprinkle ‘Crumbs of Comfort’ to those who do the work. Yes, there are many of your kind that exists.

          Here’s a recent BBC article portraying your kind: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55187611

          Enjoy your life’s journey!

  6. As a job seeker, I want the interviewer to be interested in me not in their silly questions. I want to be told what the job tasks are and then asked what experience I have relating to the tasks, or my skills, so I can explain how I can do the job for them. I’ve been on several job interviews lately where I am asked silly questions and not given the opportunity to discuss how I will do their job. I try by saying it but the interviewer isn’t interested.They obviously have an agenda that doesn’t involve assessing candidate skills. What I have noticed for maybe ten years is the number of narcissistic people who don’t give a flip about doing the job who get hired. These people must ace the silly questions and razzle dazzle the interviewer. I’ve followed one such coworker on LinkedIn since we stopped working together. I noticed she got fired from her last job, I was shocked this company even hired her because they hire only high quality and high character staff. The last lame interviewer I met with had hired this former coworker who had no experience doing the job they were hired for. Yet somehow, they were dazzled enough to hire them when plenty of skilled applicants were available. After this interview, I realized what they were looking for, empty razzle dazzle.

    • Kathy, I could not resist responding teasingly to your reply.

      Did this past co-worker have the ‘look’ of: spending $200 on her hair color along with $300 false eyelashes, $50 gel fake nails, $750 BOTOX sessions, Louis Vitton/Gucci/Michael Kors wallet with matching bag, Manolo Blahnik shoes? Ah, the Sense of Entitlement as Culturally Fit!

      • Yes, Bernadette, you nailed it.

        • @Kathy — Happy Holidays!

          Wrapping a Warm Blanket of Abundant Wholesome Sense of Well Being to Bring on 2021!

    • @Kathy: The underlying message in your story is a bald, ugly truth: Most companies and their inept managers are not worth working for. Loads of people not worth hiring are happy to appease those managers and get hired. Razzle dazzle!

      • @Nick — You have said what I figure: “inept managers are not worth working for.” I am an observant person so I try to observe the person who is interviewing me. My last three interviews have been poorly done by the hiring manager and I walk out of there thinking this is a no for me even if offered the job.

        I had an interesting experience last year sitting at a fast food restaurant observing the manger do interviews at the table across from us. No silly questions, he got right into the heart of the matter to assess candidates in about 10 minutes each. (We were killing an hour of time in between two appointments.) Hired some on the spot. I realize this fast food restaurant maybe can’t be as picky as say a hospital or an accounting firm but he was doing an “old fashioned” interview without those dumb questions of what color describes you or why do you want to work here. I said to my husband that observing this reminded me of what a good interview should be like.

        I personally hate “why do you want to work here?” because obviously the candidate needs a job. This question forces the applicant to stammer out something about passion and commitment to the potential employer. It feels like saying the truth, “I need a job to pay my bills” won’t appease the employer. I think hiring managers like this question because they think it shows something real and true but the good liars, the narcissists, can ace this question with BS.

  7. The writer is on a quest. For the perfect interview, brought about by the perfect resume.Lots of luck with that.

    With HR posed as the troll under the bridge to scare your trusty steed and dump you in river to be pulled down by your shiny armor.

    Some points the writer could consider.

    1. Is HR insane? No. Why is HR talking to me at all? They can’t assess my qualifications. Who says they are trying to assess your job qualifications? That’s for the hiring manager to do.

    Then what is HR doing? I As an inhouse company recruiter, (usually considered HR) or my HR Manager considered our focus to be on the company…i.e finding good assets for the company. And as part of that, being inside a hiring manager’s head well enough to know if they’d be interested in talking to you further.

    Let me offer an example. As a company recruiter, and often the 1st to meet with an applicant, it wasn’t uncommon for a person to ask “What does this company do?” I really don’t care how qualified you are, you underwhelmed me. This translates to tire kicking for a job, a paycheck, and someone who will move on down the road for a 10 cent an hour raise. I knew the hiring managers would feel the same.

    Asset means effective right now..and potentially for contributing to mutually beneficial future growth.

    If HR sees any red flags that your ability to do the job would be questionable or doubtful to a hiring manager, moving forward is moot. Meaning if we & the hiring manager are on the same page on what would be red flags, they won’t be interested. We’d be wasting everyone’s time. Also in the interest of the company, our employees and potential new hires, HR needs to ensure the red flags are appropriate. Work flags, not social or personal biases flags.

    The writer’s posed question about “your accomplishments” isn’t lame. You can claim that’s on your resume. Is it? I’d like to have a buck for every resume I’ve read that lays out responsibilities, results etc, but leave unclear as to what you personally contributed and accomplished. In most cases our 1st awareness of you is a resume, a piece of paper, full of sterile facts. YOU aren’t there. Yes I want to get YOU talking. And people love to talk about themselves..and their accomplishments. You just got offered an opening to take a strong hand in the interview. Don’t bitch about it make use of it.

    Interviews are to find out who YOU are, and if you’re on top of things vs versa. Who WE are, and THE COMPANY is. Interviews are not one sided. The door swings two ways. And everyone you have a chance to talk with is a source of info/intel and HR has plenty of it..e.g culture. If you’re going to sit there without pumping them for info, that’s on you. And if you can’t get info from someone interviewing you…that’s information. someone not knowing or not saying is information too.

    2. If a hiring manager wanted to talk to you without HR fronting the process, none have an anchor tied to their ass. Ideally via their own networking and priorities they’d already know your qualifications to do the job. And fit. But frankly those managers are rare. And/or recruitment isn’t as high a priority as you’d think…until it becomes a crises. And it’s now a hurry. And haste makes waste.

    Next best for a hiring manager, & more the usual case is to leverage HR. To screen for them, & invest the time to let HR into their head so said screening is meaningful to them. A common Manager whine is “HR doesn’t send them the right people” Translated. I didn’t invest time to train my screeners..or honestly I’m not even looking at the resumes…I’m too busy” Smart managers if that busy leverage the resources they have.

    Training HR works just fine as an resource. For example when recruiting outside, I have had the pleasure to meet an HR Manager who just passed you right to the hiring Manager after just a glance at a resume..because they were so instructed by the hiring manager, who trusted her to recognize a “hit”. She felt no need for a pro-forma interview.

    3. With all respect to the General, it’s not just about finding people who can do the job. It’s about finding people who can do the job without derailing others from doing theirs. No person is an island in the work world. You work with others, there are dependencies all around you. You depend on others and others depend on you. Some call it culture, fit, etc.

    I’ve worked with people who were role models for egotism, insufferable anti-social behavior, who are so good at what they do people tolerate them..IF they address that part of job, hard & soft, that meets the needs of others. Inability or unwillingness to do that is a tipping point.
    And I’ve worked with HMUs (High Maintenance Units) that in the conduct of their work leave a wake of bodies, hurt and hard feelings that are just counterproductive. HMUs move past the tipping point when a manager or team members spend more time cleaning up after a person than it’s worth, when it dilutes team results and/or reputation.

    I’ve worked with hiring managers that terminated highly qualified people. whose technical knowhow and work would be missed…because of attitude. In fact in my experience, outside of layoffs, Attitude has been the primary reason for terminations & qualification don’t override it if it tips into the negative side of the scale. It may not be perfect science but a hiring manager wants to meet & talk with you to at least try to protect a well performing team from having a good working world screwed up.

    4 Be careful what you wish for. You want to talk with the hiring manager & by pass the HR minions? You need to understand sometimes the reason you’re having the interview/conversation at all is not due to the hiring manager, but HR. Who had to ride herd on the manager, nag his/her ass off to even look at you. You may be talking to your sponsor/champion, HR, in this process.

    And your value add to the company weighs more in the discussion then your qualification for the job. HR may be assessing their investment for more championship. If HR has to ride herd on a manager to interview you, HR will have to ride herd to extract a hiring decision as well, while you’re swinging in the ghosting breeze. That shouldn’t be your problem. It’s HRs and one way is to take a high profile in the process with a manager like that.

    5. Be kind unwind. A good manager knows thyself. They know what they know & what they don’t know..a factor that is the foundation for job creation. They also know what they are good at, and what they aren’t good at. Including interviewing. Some managers suck at it, as many job hunters know. The good ones know they suck at it and employ resources that are good at it. That can be someone in their team, a colleague…or HR.

    As noted they’d employ HR for insights on soft skills, intangibles and the like. Why? HR does many more interviews internally and with applicants than a hiring manager who is mostly focused on their needs, of a lesser number. They have a company level perspective a manager is less likely to have.

    6. Help others/network

    The writer is distressed because he thinks HR is lame & of no value. Self fulfilling prophesy. Those hiring managers, interviewers who suck at it, may have a natural talent for crappy interviews..or they just may be on the front end of learning how. Help them help you.
    The upside is you’ve been presented an opportunity, to tactfully guide the interview away from an interview & to what you want to have. With HR, company intel, to what you want them to know about you. With a hiring manager right into shop talk, to their insights on the company, to themselves. Ask for a tour.

    This includes HR beanies. Don’t you think they know they are regurgitating HR crap? Don’t you think they don’t know they are low in the pecking order? They know they are shaky ground. Don’t patronize, help them out, help them grow to be a good contributor to a good company intro.

    It’s a small world. You do that and you’ve just done some networking, which should be one of your objectives. They won’t always be beanies, you may be talking to some future decision maker. think positive. You’ve already spent time, make some use of it.

    Let me give you an example. Back in the day one of my specialties was Software QA, aka SQA. I had enough time in grade to consider myself an SME on the topic. I did a phone interview with a recruiting company. Someone who hardly knew what she was even talking about and she knew I knew. It wasn’t a fit anyway. But we continued talking and I spent about an hour+ giving her a tutorial and she left the call knowing a lot more than she knew going in with enough knowhow to conduct a much better chat with the next applicant. And told her she could call me anytime if she had more questions on the topic. That cost me nothing. And I gained an advocate

    In sum, there’s no perfect interview nor outcome. There’s too many variables in play so perfection is allusive. But if you look at them as an opportunity to at the minimum to build your network, and/or learn new info that can help you or friends in the future, no interview is a waste of time.

    • Don, we have been conditioned to know that our resumes are filtered thru Artificial Intelligence-Algorithms that select keywords from the resume before the minion HR arranges an interview.

      The juggernaut of the Artificial Intelligence mechanism to align with the stated role of the posted job description places the candidate in a disadvantage. There’s only so much room on the resume page. Consequently, forces the candidate to create several resumes.

      Could you share any wisdom in the context of bypassing this juggernaut?

  8. In this week’s topic, the applicant by some means got into the interview stream.

    Nick is better suited to answer your question because this topic has been discussed at length and he can point you to specific postings, with a wealth of info relative to your question.

    The gist of which is to avoid the rote application process in the 1st place.

    By looking for the hiring managers that do a lot of their recruiting themselves via their contacts. Trust me they are out there.

    You do it by a lot of homework. Don’t look for jobs, find companies that appeal to you, then find out who manages what appeals to you in those companies, then start block and tackling to find & talk with them.

    Get a name. And go right after it. Call them, email them. If that doesn’t work or you can’t find them do it Indirectly if you need to. Find who they hang around with & start with your network and see who you know who may get you closer to those people. If your network is lean, start building it, building a bridge.

    How do you do this. Take some time and find out how recruiters work, how headhunters work and learn to be your own recruiter. Recruiters make it their business to get names & contacts.

    Then try this. If you make a contact, and have a discussion and get blown off, hopefully politely, try
    mightily to ask this question before you sign off.

    “Can you suggest someone I should talk with that can help me along toward my goals?” or some such. Most people do want to help. And most people aren’t insulted when you ask for help and advice. If they toss a name, ask if you can use their name.

    Then you immediately follow up. Contact that person and say Joe X suggested I contact you. If you email, that’s your subject. If you call that’s your opening. If you get dumped to voice mail that’s your opening.

    All the better if this is inside the person’s own company. If they refer you to HR, call, can’t hurt, but call the Manager and use that opener.

    Keep the person in the loop. Thank them for the contact.
    Here’s why. You’re also networking & the right thing to do in network building is follow up. 2nd, once you get someone thinking about it, and you loop them in, chances are they are thinking of other contacts for you. They will likely not contact you to keep in the loop. That’s on you.

    Then it becomes like a snow ball. And you keep repeating the process getting more names and get more snowballs going.

    People really aren’t that many people removed.

    Presumedly you’re doing this in your chosen field. So the very useful byproduct is growing a network in your field. Which will serve you well & from which you can build snowballs.

    Give this network TLC. It’s not all about you. Keep in touch..give back. Ask if you can help them.

    Eventually if this works you will get in touch with HR as part of the process. As I’ve said it’s not your enemy, unless you make them such. They can get annoyed with people who bypass the application process. But if you handle it tactfully you can point out you didn’t apply for a job with Joe X. Someone he knows well suggested you reach out to him. Notice that I didn’t mention a job in this process. It was about meeting someone and should be presented as such to HR. If a job materializes from it, that manager will refer you to HR. By this time it should be proforma never mind what AI suggests.

    As I noted, get on Nick’s web site, search the archives for much more and better ideas than my off the top of my head answer.

    Good luck.

    • Thank you, Don for your kind and generous response.

      With Deep Gratitude,


  9. @Bernadette
    I think I should give you a bit more detail on the idea
    about asking for someone’s referral. How you handle this is important.

    For discussion I’ll call it networking TLC.

    If you ask that question, “could you refer me to etc”.
    It’s important that you understand the steps and how to get a networking snowball going.

    If the person you talked with gives you a name(s) it means that those people know each other well enough to give out each other’s names on the spot They trust each other’s judgments .

    Trust to do what? Protect their names and contacts. I have a healthy network, but I don’t give out contacts w/o an OK 1st. So normally I’m 1 step ahead of you.

    Once I give you a name…You have to trust me that I think its mutually beneficial that you know each other. I expect you to follow up ASAP. The reason being is now you’ve got my credibility on your back. One thing I hate to hear after running interference and most likely some recommendations..is to hear back from the contact I gave “Hey whatever happened to ???”. I expect you to follow up. At this juncture I don’t want you to run my contact through your filter and decide it’s not interesting.

    That 1st contact is a bit of a test. And the fool me once shame on you ..fool me twice shame on me rule kicks in. I’m not going to give you others if my contact is left swinging in the breeze.

    And its highly likely I have others, because I’m a connecter. I like to connect people who I think should be connected. So after I’ve given you contact #1, I’m working on the next ones. Waiting for your follow up. If you do follow up, I’ll go ahead and pave the way for the next one. and so on. the tighter you keep me in the loop, the faster things move.

    Network building kind of looks like this.
    1. I give you a contact.
    1a. I think of others that look good. Hold
    2. You contact the person & feedback to me that you contacted the person & what transpired.
    2a. I contact the person or vs versa and pick up further insights
    3. with the feedback I may stick with my 1st guess on next steps or alter it, pave
    3a. Then I’ll reach out to next contact possibilities until I have 1 or 2 more for you.
    Back to #2 & repeat as needed.
    As your snowball rolls if at some point we pin down the ID of a particular person you’re looking for then I’ll incorporate that into my network

    In parallel you are repeating this whole scenario with other people, developing your own contact streams

    And that’s how your snowball grows

    And as it does..you help others likewise

    • Thank you & With Heartfelt Appreciation, Don.

  10. A while back, my employer, a small Norwegian oil company of ca 13 people, decided to hire a new geologist and I was on the interviewing team.

    We advertised on the main Norwegian job board, on a couple of geology sites and I posted the job on my LinkedIn profile (but no paid ad on LI).

    We got around 170 applications, of which around two-thirds did not even fill our main criterion of having five years of experience from the Norwegian oil industry, because they lived in a country Far far Away. They only gave our secretary more paperwork to sort through.

    Of those we selected for interview, we first had them for lunch and get-to-know, then an interview about their experience, motivation etc. The usual interview stuff. Not useless, because it gave impressions of them as persons and “fit”, but not much help in selecting who could do the job.

    Then (my idea ;) we decided to give them an exam. Some geological data, seismics, some tasks to work out, and then we discussed the results. This was hugely revealing, as some candidates fell flat and others showed that they really knew what they were doing.

    In the end, our first choice decided to take another job. The second best candidate on the exam was technically almost as good, but came across as a world champion in his own eyes. Sure, we may have read him wrong, but in a small company, there is not room for too big egos. One was rejected because she said an annoying “yes…yes…yes” all the time while other people spoke; “luckily” she was no technically good either.

    Management then wondered what to do, they even interviewed some more people (when I was on vacation), but hired none. IMHO, they could have hired number three on the exam, a guy with a good personal fit and who would do the job well with a bit of on the job training. In the end, nobody was hired, for budget reasons…should have thought about that first, eh?

    Lessons learned:
    – Seek candidates in the networking circles and among the local/regional community. The more ads, the more applications, and the bigger the haystack to search through for needles.
    – Personal fit is important, do not underestimate the gut feeling. I have myself once been rejected because company thought I came across as a bit intense in the interview, and I thanked them for saying so, rather than just giving a boilerplate rejection.
    – Give people real tasks to do and discuss to make people show they can do the job.

  11. “Is HR insane? Is it me, or is job interviewing all wrong?”

    Yes, HR is off the scale power drunk.

    Job interviewing (HR style) is “all wrong” in too many ways to discuss here.
    However, I just heard about a “30-something” interviewing a tenured (50+) and
    competent professional. This “interviewer” walked in the
    room with jeans (not Friday) on, proceeded to sit down with both feet up on the
    desk, and rifled off useless questions in robotic fashion all the while
    staring at their cell phone the majority of the interview.

    The most common theme over the last bunch of years is a “young interviewer”
    lacking any degree of respect for anyone other than themselves.

    So yes, the “illusion” is real. Although physically present, no “interview”
    is actually taking place.

    Complete waste of time.

    • @Chris S. I agree.

      HR tribes have trained their lieutenants and minions to carry out their self-serving agendas based on False Promises to create a False Future.

      In other words: Lie and Misinform the unemployed in despair. Then ‘they’ criticize & laugh at the candidate after the interview. The injustice is executed by an ‘Individual’. I am horrified at the posturing dominance of the ‘Blind Followers’ Lip Service.

      In this context, yes, the natural consequences of a drunk or a drug addict!

      • @Bernadette,
        Spot on right about they “criticize and laugh at the candidate after the interview”.
        Years ago, I worked for a steel company that was the poster child for toxicity. The receptionist, and another employee, would take applications and resumes into the break room, and laugh like a pack of hyenas. You could hear them all the way down the hall. It was degrading, disrespectful, and unprofessional. I felt bad for some of the applicants too. Some were desperate for a job.

    • @Chris S,
      I went through an identical scenario, but it with a “20 something” interviewer (Operations Manager), about 11 years ago. The rub was he sent me a nasty and unprofessional rejection email after the interview.

      • @Antonio, thank you for sharing and validating.

        In the context of business ethics and moral codes, these ‘ kinds of individuals’ do not realize their thoughts-words-actions affect the overall sense of well-being with a stable livelihood of the candidate-applicant.

        With the rhetoric on upskilling with emphasis on higher education’ on all candidates’ resumes, where did ‘these kinds’ of employees receive their ‘professional code of ethics’ and from whom? ‘Who’ is enabling these ‘kinds of individuals’, to think-speak-act’ – above the law (human rights-labor law-employment), therefore untouchable’?

        Consequently, I sense ‘these kinds’ of individuals are more dangerous to the work environment and community such as the recent videos of ‘Karens and Kens” spewing ‘diarrhea from their mouths’ based on their individual perception.

        • @Bernadette, “who’s enabling these kinds of individuals, and where did they get their code of ethics from”? Something I’ve asked myself multiple times over the years. I’ve seen that bad management enables bad behavior, yet for me, the question begs, how do you instill a code of ethics in someone who has no code of ethics to begin with?

          • @Antonio — Thank you for sharing your perspective. Your comment spurred me to embrace the aphorism: “Expect the unexpected so that there no surprises”!

            Wrapping a Warm Blanket of Abundance around your Wholesome Sense of Well Being, Antonio!
            Bring on 2021!

            • Antonio. how are you & your COVID battle doing?

  12. Don Harkness,
    I’ve never been that sick in my life. My church brought meals to my doorstep daily, and my niece and her husband ran to Target for me. I was cleared by my physician, and I started back to work this Monday after 3 weeks on my back. My employer has been a jerk about it, but no surprise there. You really find out who’s in your corner in these cases.
    On the mend, and moving a little slow, but getting there.