Tag Archives: interviews

The one with a rant about interviews

Dating was easier when I was younger. It just involved going out, drinking just enough to get over myself, bumping into a girl and then snogging. After that was kind of the “seeing each other” bit and eventually we were boyfriend and girlfriend. Until we weren’t and the whole cycle began again. And this is in the days when you had to call a girl’s home number and ask her Dad if you could speak to her – none of this easy get out texting/facebooking/tweeting malarkey. Proper fear!

Then, somewhere along the way, dating became harder. It became like dating was portrayed in American films – a contact sport or a numbers game. Going out with a girl seemed like running the gauntlet of a set of boxes requiring ticks. It ceased to be about two people just getting to know each other and finding out if there was chemistry and became about passing some test. Those were trying times – all nerves, can I remember an anecdote that will fit the situation? Am I being impressive/empathetic/funny/interested* enough (*delete (or not) as appropriate)? I usually ended up being the worst version of myself and definitely not me…

[There should be a segue in here, I know!]

A lot is written about recruitment these days. About the future of recruitment, about how it is increasingly social, how technology is changing it and how businesses need to attract talent differently. A lot of what is written (or at least what I get to see) is actually about a small part of recruitment i.e. attraction, and not about an equally important part of recruitment, selection.

I’ve read the studies (best data is Schmidt & Hunter 1998), the best predictors of job performance in terms of selection techniques are (in order) work sample tests, cognitive ability tests and structured employment interviews. What am I saying? I’m saying I get it – the structured interview is up there with the best of the best in terms of job performance, or so the research says.

Personally, I was always more of a fan of the semi structured interview. Whilst I believe that the research is valid I also believe that it doesn’t mean that’s exactly how you should do your interview. Let’s be honest an interview is not ALL about selection. It’s also a little bit about attraction – because whilst the person is sat in front of you, they aren’t saying yes…..yet.

Also, whilst I understand that validating competence through examples from previous work is a very valid process it does nothing to help you understand how the person would react given a new challenge, how they think about the possibilities and how their existing competence could be stretched or even (perish the thought) developed in your organisation. Also, and let’s be honest here, people prepare their examples.

I’ve been trying to think of a way of describing my favourite form of interviewing and the best analogy I can use is Prime Minister’s Questions. If you ever watch PMQs (and you should do at least once) it’s a fascinating process which shows the archaic process of parliament at its most entertaining. Any MP can table a question, that is submit it in advance for the PM to answer. The submitted questions are vetted by the PM’s team and possible answers are prepared in advance (you know the folder he takes to the despatch box – that’s his homework). However, should the same MP rise again to ask a further question (and the MP will likely be called by the Speaker) they are asking what’s called a “supplementary” question where it has to be on the same topic but otherwise all bets are off, and it’s down to the thoroughness of the prep and the ability of individual to think on their feet as to what happens next. That’s how I like to interview.

Ask the ‘can you give me an example of a time’ question but then probe the answer, get stuck in, explore and try to truly understand how the individual thinks and how they learned from that experience. If you spend the time ONLY asking the “give me an example” questions you are likely only testing the ability to prepare.

Which may seem something of a tangent from the dating stuff at the beginning BUT I am getting to my point (I promise). In recruitment terms I am not a pushover I like to really get stuck in and understand the individual BUT I realise the multiple requirements of an interview. I put my ‘date’ at ease, I establish rapport, I make them feel comfortable, I let them share something about themselves and reciprocate because let’s face it; I want to see the best version of them, not the version that comes out under the pressure of nerves and intimidation.

To finish the dating analogy, I never wanted to date a girl who without thinking offered a second date, but I did want a girl who realised that the whole process isn’t easy and that making it comfortable for both of us was the likeliest route to us working out whether we wanted to meet again.

And to finish the recruitment rant, I always wanted the candidate to leave the room a) wanting to come back for a further meeting and b) feeling they’d had the opportunity to present the best version of themselves. I may have failed as often as I succeeded but this was always the intention and I’m not sure how many people share it.

As a final thought, I am very happily in a relationship and to any of you reading this who are out there dating I wish you the best of British luck! I had my fill….



Schmidt, F.L. & Hunter, J.E. (1998) “The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings”. Psychological Bulletin Vol 124, No. 2


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The one where its about reflection

When I was 6 years old I wanted to be a Builder… I wrongly understood my Dad to be one (he wasn’t)

When I was 11 years old I wanted to be a Journalist…I had seen “All the President’s Men”

When I was 14 years old I wanted to be an Accountant… then realised it involved lots of numbers and having attention to detail

When I was 16 years old I wanted to be a Doctor…then realised there were easier ways to get a Mercedes and I like my sleep too much (the white coat would have worked for me though)

When I was 23 years old I had a degree (in Biochemistry) but with no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up…

I’m now 36 and seem to have ended up doing something I love without much of an idea how I got here and the nagging fear that if I went back and told the 16 year old me how it would play out if he wouldn’t have run in the other direction!

Why share this?

As you will know if you’ve read some of the other posts, I am currently in the process of finishing a Masters degree and am completing a research project. It involves interviewing senior business people about their achievements as Corporate Entrepreneurs.

So far I have completed one interview, with a guy who used to work for one of the largest retailers in the world (you won’t have to think hard to work it out). It was a nerve racking but seriously enjoyable interview which ended up (probably against protocol) being more a conversation. This guy had done some fascinating things, in circumstances which were probably the antithesis of standard corporate operations for the specific and many other corporations. What was really surprising was his comment at the end, “it’s been really interesting taking the time to reflect and explore this stuff”

Since then I have spoken to several more of my “recruits” and there seems to be a theme emerging on how much people are looking forward to reflecting on their careers and not just over a beer. It seems many of them have charged through their careers with a great deal of momentum but not much direction and being able to have an agenda-less conversation with someone (who isn’t trying to lead them, manage them or recruit them) seems to really appeal.

Personal reflection is a whole other subject and I wouldn’t want to be seen as advocating a session of navel gazing but if there is a take home from this post then it’s don’t wait to be recruited for a Masters project to reflect on your career. You may be amazed at how enjoyable it is and you never know it could inform your future decisions…

Now where did I leave that white coat?


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The one where the plot thickens…and I ask for help

You may have got from my first post (it was there in the subtext) that I am experiencing a little anxiety about my research project. The project is a 10,000 word dissertation, fully researched and referenced. I do love that in a piece of work that is supposedly mine, that my opinion has no input whatsoever – unless it’s cited I can’t say a word!!

Also, I must say as an aside I would never make an academic. The reasons for this are numerous, but the primary one it seems my surname is far too prosaic – Jones. The bunch I seem to end up reading have weird and wonderful surnames which makes writing any bibliography a chore. If your name is Smith or Davies – please, get into academia, quickly!

The most difficult hurdle so far has been choosing a topic to research for the aforementioned. You have the WHOLE of occupational psychology and with frustrations about how specific an academic research question has to be aside, that is a whole lot of ‘stuff’ to choose from.

So what have I chosen?

Entrepreneurship. Specifically internal entrepreneurs (aka Intrapreneurs or Corporate Entrepreneurs). If you say entrepreneur to most people they think of Branson, The Dragons or god help us all sur’Alan … but my interest is not in these people. I am interested in those who achieve as entrepreneurs but within a corporate setting. They have launched businesses within businesses or they have launched whole new product or service areas. They have structures, processes, constraints, budgets, teams, governance and most critically for my project – bosses!

Which brings me to the source my of current highest anxiety… where the hell do I find people who are achieving as Corporate Entrepreneurs (you may see where this is going) if only there was a way to speak to people who knew people who knew other people – some form of network… If I could tell them what I was looking for and see if they knew anyone who would be prepared to be interviewed…

So (and this is the call to action folks) can I ask (ever so politely) that you have a think about the people you know and if any of them strike you as meeting these criteria – they have achieved as entrepreneurs, in a corporate environment, ideally working at Senior Management level PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me know… I would only want to interview them and may there even be a beer/glass of wine/mojito (delete as appropriate) for those who help (that’s the incentive bit)

Yours sincerely etc


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