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March 15, 2011 / Mervyn Dinnen

Interview #fail

Not so long ago I attended a second interview. I was there to meet the owner of a small group of recruitment companies. When I arrived I was told that he was running late.

No problem.

He arrived about 5 minutes late, shook my hand, sat down and said…

‘Sorry I’m a bit late, I’ve just had to go to one of the other offices and make a couple of redundancies. Bit if a shame, they’ve worked with me for a few years, but I’ve got to look at the bottom line and I can outsource what they do. Found someone who can do it from home so it’ll be cheaper. Was a bit messy though, a few tears, they weren’t expecting it, in fact when I’ve finished with you I’ll have to go back and sort it out.’

This is an opening statement before any rapport has been established and whilst he’s talking, I’m thinking why is he telling me this?what is he expecting me to say?

During the recruitment process we spend ages on interviews. Setting them up, preparing for them, worrying about them, doing them and chasing feedback on them. Both the interviewer and interviewee invest quite a bit of time and effort in this.

Invariably most of this time is spent on questions. What to ask, how to answer. 

But what about the small talk? The spontaneous things we say, sometimes without thinking. How many interviews go wrong, not because of the questions and answers, but the chat in between? The stuff that isn’t prepared.

The guy I met that morning didn’t need to tell me what he did. On the one hand you can admire his honesty, but then again why start with it? And why start with a statement that shows you are autocratic, unprepared, maverick and cost cutting?

How many interviews #fail not from the questions and answers but from the small talk and from honesty that becomes confessional.

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7 Comments

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  1. Katie / Mar 15 2011 8:02 AM

    Small talk at interviews can be hugely problematic for all sorts of reasons. A simple “Did you have a good weekend?”, or “what sort of week are you having?” can set both candidates and interviewers off on speeches that they might end up regretting.

    It is a running joke in my team that candidates tend to become a little bit too honest in my presence. There are so many occasions when I’m sitting there thinking “oh my God, why are you telling me this?!?”…

    • Mervyn Dinnen / Mar 18 2011 10:28 PM

      Aren’t those the best bits though?! I always think ‘honesty is great, we all like honesty…but the trouble with honesty is that a bit too much and it become confessional’…either that or you’re the High Priestess of recruitment!

  2. Simon Lewis / Mar 15 2011 9:32 AM

    Nice piece, Mervyn. The interview ‘process’ has always been a baffling one. When I hired staff for my recruitment teams I would, invariably, forget the CV and head straight to the pub. Perhaps no surprise there but in my book a recruiter is a recruiter and by that I mean this:

    1. The easiest people to sell to are sales people. Any good recruiter (irrespective of new-aged supposed altruism and relationship-building) can talk a good game. Therefore, aside from guidance, what’s the point of their CV? Take references instead.
    2. Recruitment is a tough game. It’s hard work (at least it ought to be) and long hours. I’d rather spend my time and exert my efforts with someone I get along with. And that includes the post-work drinks. Typically, not not necessarily generically, recruiters are of the same stock; they are inherently built to get along.
    3. Recruitment is about building rapport. You can train skills but it is hard to change someone’s DNA. Take them out of a stale interview scenario and get under their skin.

    The caveat to these points, of course, is to restrict the social interview to a couple of drinks. It could all end in tears otherwise…

    • Mervyn Dinnen / Mar 18 2011 10:31 PM

      Thanks Simon. Getting to know the person is always important, and the pub is as good a place as any to get under their skin. As long as you don’t ask ‘if they made a film of your life, who should play you and why?’…I used to have a client who asked that after a few drinks in the pub and I always thought it was a question for which there was never a good answer!

  3. Amy Wilson / Mar 18 2011 6:33 PM

    Are you sure the manager wasn’t David Brent from The Office (ala Ricky Gervais)?? Yikes!

    • Mervyn Dinnen / Mar 18 2011 10:35 PM

      You know something Amy…I think even David Brent would have struggled with that opening! He’d be too embarrassed and would do the nervous giggle! It really was a statement that got your brain thinking ‘what on earth do I say??’

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