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What I Learned About Job Interviews by Becoming the Interviewer

I recently had the opportunity to sit on a hiring panel as an interviewer, a role I hadn’t filled since I was a low-level bakery manager years ago. Needless to say, the experience was quite different. I saw my participation on the other side of the table as a chance to learn, as well as to take the lessons I’d learned in my own past interview experience and apply them.

I hate job interviews. I have always hated job interviews. If it weren’t for the logistical constraints, I’d be all in favor of a short trial period for any job candidate who looks good on paper; not like a probationary period, but more like a “prove yourself” period. Alas, that’s just not how it works, and we’re meant to choose our colleagues based on what they say in a manufactured setting in which everyone is choosing their words based on what they want the other to hear.

That’s why, before each interview, I tried to remember the way I felt coming into my interview for my current job—not hard, given I was walking into the same room with the same people who had given me a shot. I had been excited, nervous, scared. I was leaving the job I’d held for 10 years because I had moved. Although I wanted to leave my previous job for a long time, I was finally being forced to, and it was scary.

Candidates have all kinds of reasons for wanting to change employers. Whatever their reason, they’re always making themselves vulnerable when they walk into that interview room. I approached each interviewee with my own experiences in mind. Sounds pretty commendable, right?

Hold your applause, because then came the wrinkle. We were doing several interviews over a few days and, unfortunately, those happened to be pretty bad days for me, personally. I found myself having to work really hard to get out of my own head and into the candidate’s. It suddenly became a lot harder to make the interviewee feel comfortable, and it occurred to me that I had to be more aware of my body language and facial expressions. I was in the dumps, stressed, anxious, and uninterested in being in that interview room, but the candidate in front of me, seeing those nonverbal cues out of context, might interpret them to be my reaction to the interview. What if my bad mood was enough to psych out the candidate, who then blew the interview, plunged into poverty, and never recovered?

OK, maybe I was overreacting. But I did have to stop and think. As an interviewee, I had never considered my interviewers’ distractions during our meeting. In retrospect, maybe any negative vibes I got at an interview weren’t about me, at all. In fact, I nearly turned down the offer for my previous job because I’d gotten such a bad feeling from my interviewers. Later, one of those interviewers became my friend, and when I mentioned the bad taste the interview had left in my mouth, she was shocked. She remembered nothing off about that day and thought the interview went swimmingly.

Something that helped break me out of my funk and, in turn, helped a candidate stand out favorably, was the candidate’s clearly thoughtful preparation. One candidate in particular had obviously researched the position, then found a way to pluck out the directly relevant experience in his lengthy resume and use it to support his answers to our questions. Because of his preparation and ability to anticipate what we were looking for, we could spend time delving into more specifics about how his skills might match up to what we needed. This also made it easier for me—I didn’t have to strain to connect his experience to the duties associated with our open position, and I didn’t have to come up with three different ways to ask a question so that I could get a relevant answer. In my semi-distracted state, no other approach could’ve been more helpful.

My point is, if you find yourself in a job interview and you’re getting a negative vibe from one or more of the interviewers, don’t get flustered, and don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. It may have absolutely nothing to do with you. If you’re organized and prepared, and if you can go the extra mile to anticipate what your interviewers really want to know, you will leave a lasting impression.

Ronda Lindsay is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She has been an editor in the federal government for 13 years, working first for the Department of Defense and then for the National Transportation Safety Board. She has a master’s degree in professional writing from Towson University and a bachelor’s in English, with a minor in writing, from Oregon State University. She is passionate about plain language (in the government sphere), nature, books, fitness, and crafting. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Ronda loves to mentor others from west of the Mississippi who are interested in civil service. You can read her posts here.

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