Script for a Perfect Job Interview
Job interviews are very strange events. Until you get to the interview, you don’t know whether you’re going to have a casual conversation over a cup of coffee like normal humans, or whether you’re going to be interrogated like a burglary suspect under hot lights.
You might get a few hints about the culture of the place from the job ad or from the interview invitation. One client of ours was scheduled for an interview for a job she had applied for.
Along with the interview confirmation, she got a list of Ten Dos and Don’ts for Interviewees at XYZ Inc. We had a good laugh about that.
This employer instructed its job applicants to be succinct in their interview answers and wait for the next question, along with nine other rules for proper doormat-type job-seeker behavior.
One of the ten rules was the instruction to hold their own interview questions for a second interview — if a second interview were scheduled.
Our client received the list of Interview Dos and Don’ts and cancelled her interview.
“I’m afraid it wouldn’t be a good match,” she said in her email message.
The open job stayed vacant for months. I’m sure the poor people in that company have no idea why job-seekers would give them a pass.
The world is changing. There are still unfortunate managers in many organizations who don’t understand that the more talented and marketable a job-seeker is, the more he or she wants and needs to be an equal partner in the match-making process.
We can feel compassion for those out-of-it managers, but we don’t have to work for them.
The smarter and more forward-looking a manager is, the more aware he or she is of the rock-solid connection between passion and performance. The more people care about their work and one another, the better job they do.
Every day more managers write to us to say “I hadn’t been trained to treat team members, much less job applicants, like valued collaborators. I’m learning to do it now. My job is easier and more fun since I stopped trying to act like a boss, and just started coming to work as myself!”
The perfect job interview is breezy and human. If your manager uses a script of pre-written questions in the interview, we will forgive him or her and assume that the poor thing hasn’t learned any other way to interview.
As a job-seeker, you can shift the conversation out of Oral Exam mode and into Human Mode by means of a technique called Spinning the Table.
Spinning the Table is very simple. You give a short answer to a question the interviewer asks you, and then ask a relevant question of your own. You can turn a stiff, formal Oral Exam-type interview into a human conversation.
Here’s an example:
GARRETT, a MANAGER: So Bryce, you’ve worked with zircon-encrusted tweezer applications before?
BRYCE, a JOB-SEEKER: A little bit – I’m just getting into it. We had our first project involving ZET applications this summer. Why do you ask — how do you use that technology here?
Watch Bryce spin the table like a pro! He’s turning the script into a conversation. Garrett is happy to answer Bryce.
GARRETT: Honestly, we’re completely new to that arena too. That’s just the next question on my script.
BRYCE: Do you know why? Are ZET applications important, or do you think they’re going to become more important here over time?
GARRETT: We want to get into that realm of technology. That’s why experience with them is on the job spec.
BRYCE: You probably know this, but ZET technology came out of agricultural dental floss app development. I’ve worked in that area for, geez, at least ten years.
GARRETT: I didn’t know that. How did you use that technology?
BRYCE: Well, and we’re going back a ways here, the technology originally emerged from dental floss farming operations, where it was used to automate harvesting techniques.
GARRETT: I didn’t even know there was such a thing as dental floss farming.
BRYCE: Oh, heck yes! So the ZET technology evolved that way, and the underlying structure is the same —
GARRETT: I would love to understand that better.
Now two humans are conversing the way humans have done for millennia. It’s not a traditional job interview anymore. Bryce had to get Garrett off the weenie script so that the two of them could have a conversation.
In Human Workplace language we would say that Bryce invited Garrett to rise out of Godzilla land into Human Land. Garrett was happy to rise.
He doesn’t like the stupid script any more than the job-seekers do! No one else who applied for the job had had the chutzpah to get off the script, until Bryce showed up.
Bryce isn’t trying to win points with Garrett for his knowledge of the history of zircon-encrusted tweezer technology.
Bryce is taking the conversation away from the scripted “How much experience do you have?” query into the broader realm of the connections between one corner or technology and another. He’s sharing what he knows with a fellow human being.
Bryce can tell that Garrett, although he’s the manager and seems like a decent guy, doesn’t know anything about the particular technology himself.
That’s not bad. That’s good! That’s an example of Business Pain. Bryce knows tons about the part of the technological family tree that Garrett is inquiring about. Bryce is more than happy to politely and non-snarkily share what he knows.
As the interview progresses, Bryce is going to ask lots more questions about the pain Garrett is experiencing. Garrett’s pain is the reason Bryce came to the interview in the first place!
A lot of people would be miffed or affronted to be asked questions about whether they’ve used technology that the interviewer himself doesn’t have any clue about. Bryce chooses not to be miffed, but to educate Garrett in a friendly way. He will share a little information with Garrett, then ask another pain-related question.
What if Garrett had copped an attitude with Bryce? What if Garrett is the kind of manager who can’t have a simple conversation with a job-seeker?
What if Garrett had been too afraid to step out of the frame “I’m the interviewer, and I’ll ask the questions!”?
That’s no problem!
For Bryce, an interview is a fact-finding mission. Bryce is not committed to the outcome either way. He’d be happy to get the job if it feels like a high-mojo environment. He’d be happy to hit the bricks if it’s not the right place for him.
Let’s replay the scene with Fearful Garrett standing in for Trusting Garrett:
GARRETT: So, tell me about how you’ve used ZET technology so far.
BRYCE: Let’s see, I used ZET this year in an automation project. How do you folks use it here?
GARRETT: Um, let me ask the questions, Brent. I mean, Bruce. Brandon? (Glances at resume in his hand.) Bryce.
BRYCE: Okay. I don’t mean to throw you off track. I just have one question.
GARRETT: What is it? Make it fast. I have to get through this list of questions.
BRYCE: I’ll be quick. Is this interview going to be the sort of thing where you ask me a bunch of questions and I answer, and then you ask another question?
BRYCE: Okay. Thanks. I understand. I want to save your time — I don’t think it’ll be a great match in that case. Thanks for your time today. It’s been great to meet you.
(BRYCE Rises out of chair, extends hand to shake. GARRETT looks stunned, shakes hand. BRYCE exits through doorway LEFT).
It is a new day. You can’t afford to waste your time, squelch your passion, slow your career, or dim your precious flame with people who think that they, or anyone, can or should be less than human at work.
You wouldn’t be happy in a job like that. You have too much to offer. The minute you say “Gee, I’ve got to run – enjoy your day!” you’ll feel your muscles grow. It’s a good feeling!
You are too smart, too talented and too powerful to be shoved into anybody’s tiny box. Saying “No thanks!” to the wrong situations is the best and fastest way to bring the right ones in.
When you Spin the Table at a job interview with your hiring manager, you’ll see right away how you and he or she might be able to work together. When you can get off the script into Human Land and have a substantive conversation, you’ll get to a deeper and more powerful level.
That’s where the great ideas come from and where trust develops. In a perfect job interview, you don’t play any part except yourself. It gets easier and easier to bring yourself to the job interview, the more you do it!
Remember that only the people who get you, deserve you. Your job now is to remind yourself what you bring to your next employer, and bring that energy forth!
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