The Awkward Art of the Job Interview

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Job interviews can make for some of the most awkward interactions humanly possible. It doesn't need to be this way.
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Job interviews can make for some of the most awkward interactions humanly possible.

"It’s such a false scenario, right? Interviewing’s weird," said Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix and contributor to the Harvard Business Review. "But you want to get the chance to have an authentic conversation with somebody."

If hiring managers don't know what they're doing, the process can be especially painful for applicants, and in the end, disastrous for companies. And McCord says, most large organizations don't do it well.

"Their objective is to put butts in seats instead of build teams," she said.

During the 14 years McCord worked at Netflix, it developed a reputation for its treatment of employees and its ability to identify talent. It's famous for the 127-slide "Netflix Culture" presentation. Now, McCord consults with companies about the best way to identify and maintain great teams. The key, she says, is to treat the process less like a science and more like an art.

"It's a little like painting," she says. "The finished result is because it’s all in the prep." McCord says there are some basic steps to bring discipline and professionalism to the the hiring process:

  1. Cast a wide net, and reel some in. First, she says, if you're a hiring manager, you should gather a large pool of applicants by using social networking tools like LinkedIn. The best applicants may not always come to you; like a journalist seeking interviewees, you might need to go to them.
  2. Work backwards. When you begin the hiring process, she says, think first about the problem that needs to be solved rather than the kind of person you want to bring in. 
  3. Pick a star interview team. At least three different kinds of people in your company should be on the hiring committee: one to probe applicants for technical skills, one to discern problem-solving ability, and one who has a reputation for sniffing out good candidates.
  4. Do your homework. Read up on your applicants, and make sure you tell them who will be on the interview committee, to give them a chance to do their own homework. You'll have more to talk about if you've built some common ground beforehand.
  5. Don't prepare a laundry list of questions. Too often, we focus on the clever interview question instead of trying to have a genuine conversation. The goal isn't to stump the interviewee; it's to make them comfortable enough so they'll show their true colors. Let the conversation drift, while being sure to focus on skills and experience instead of pleasantries like beer preferences. 

McCord says in Silicon Valley, questions looking for a "good fit" about pleasantries like favorite movies or favorite bars lead hiring managers to look for people "just like me." Instead, Patty says the goal is to find questions that will make applicants stop and think — and go from there. For instance, instead of asking what their career goals are, ask "What do you not want to do anymore?" 

Listen to host Charlie Herman probe McCord for her strategies for interviewing and suggestions for the ways companies in Silicon Valley might make their hiring practices more inclusive.

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