Interviews - Essentials Or Ego-Trips?

All job-seekers have to attend interviews from time to time - computer contractors more often than most people. But have you ever given any thought to WHY you are being interviewed?

Most people would, if pressed for a quick answer, would say "to find out whether my experience qualifies me for the vacancy". Yes - this may be so, but how many times have you been called for interview without first having submitted your CV, either direct or via an agency? Very rarely, I would think.

If the client is taking recruitment seriously, the candidates' experience and technical suitability should have been established prior to interview on the basis of his or her CV, supplemented where necessary by enquiries to the candidate or agency.

Interviews should be all about personalities and fitting-in, what Americans refer to as "chemistry". All too often, interviews consist mostly of a job-by-job walk-through, the interviewer demonstrating his or her reading skills with your CV!

But let's get back to the point. Is the interview a serious part of the selection process or a chance for the interviewer to do not-very-much for the afternoon?

With the rise of the "meetings" culture in the 'eighties, many people found that, with a bit of careful planning, they could avoid doing any meaningful work by contriving to attend an endless round of meetings. Colleagues swiftly saw how this could work for them and were only too happy to reciprocate the favour by arranging meetings, thus keeping the process in motion.

Interviews are a particularly good form of meeting, as nobody expects very much to come out of them. An interviewer need not put in much effort. Indeed, he or she may have already decided on the successful candidate, but why spoil a good thing when interviewing and subsequent selection meetings can pass away a week or more?

Everybody has their favourite interview stories but a few of my experiences may provide readers with some amusement (though they did not necessarily do so for me at the time):

1) An (admittedly non-specialist) agency once sent me to see an electronics company, saying that they wanted a computer specialist looking for an opening in sales. It soon became apparent that they were looking for an experienced salesperson with a basic appreciation of computers. We laughed at the "mud-throwing" technique of the agency and the company graciously paid my travel expenses (those were the days).

2) A well-known agency on the south coast 'phoned me at 11am to attend a 2pm interview on their premises with their clients. There was no mention of the technical requirements, so I reasonably assumed that, as the agency had my up-to-date CV, my experience was suitable. When the client started talking about RPG (which I can just about spell), I knew something was wrong. The interviewers then let slip that they had asked to see six candidates - I was a make-weight.

3) A service company called me for interview on their client's premises in that same south-coast town. I had sent them the latest version of my CV a few weeks earlier but that didn't prevent my application from failing, due to my lack of familiarity with the word-processing package used there! A short 'phone call could have saved their time and mine, plus a good few gallons of petrol.

It hasn't all been gloom - some of my interviewers have known how to make a decision (either way) without the almost-obligatory "we're seeing some more people and we'll let you know". Indeed, my most successful contract started ten minutes into the interview when the interviewer (sadly no longer with us) took the decision which resulted in a very worthwhile one-year assignment.

As one of the relatively-few contractors who have crossed the divide to work in recruitment, I hope I can say that I haven't wasted people's time with any of the above examples. In my experience, people rarely leave significant skills or knowledge off their CVs - most do the opposite! There is little point in arranging to see a candidate whose CV lacks mention of the client's most important requirements.

Anyone who has worked in a sales environment will know how customers raise objections and will have their own ways of overcoming them. But I never cease to be amazed at how good clients are at putting stumbling-blocks in the way of their own recruitment! Having supplied relevant CVs and arranged interviews, it's normal practice to follow up interviews with a 'phone call. This is when you learn of the "hidden requirement" - the skills or experience not previously mentioned that the client can't possibly do without.

This even happened when I was working for a company which trained unemployed people in IT skills, arranging work-experience placements. Clients only paid a 10 per day contribution towards training costs per trainee but it's amazing what companies were looking for in those trainees, even when they were paying next to nothing for them!

The fact that interviewers are prepared to waste candidates' time and their own on interviews without proper preparation can mean that they are either short of proper work or are actively seeking to avoid it. What's more, the culprits are usually very well paid to carry out this "activity" while those who really do (and can't avoid doing) the work are normally paid considerably less.

But the crowning glory of all interviews was one I attended for a contract in a government department. There were no less than SIX members in the interview panel, sitting on a platform some six inches higher than the candidates' chair. Four of the panel were non-IT and made little contribution. Later, when I had joined the project, I was told that interviewing had taken nearly two weeks. Goodness knows what the cost of that exercise was - suffice to say that the dear old taxpayer footed the bill - as usual!

© Brian Smith 1995

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