Friday, July 12, 2013

Interviewing Tips From The Evil Overlord

So I spent nearly every moment of this week, including every half hour from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm on Friday, interviewing people for various reasons.  It is my frustration over so many people being clearly uneducated/untrained/unclued on how to even survive, much less prosper, during such interviews that led to the creation of this little(ish) missive.

Tips from the Evil Overlord on how to interview FTW (For The Win)
--or at least, so you won't look foolish.  These all come from real-life experiences, most of which are recent.

Don't get personal
The first question many interviewers will ask you is some variant of "tell me about yourself."  The thing is, we really don't give a crap about you.  Well, we do, but not that much.  We sure don't care enough to wonder what town you were born in, where you grew up, how many dogs or cats you had as a kid, or any of that other crap.

Not only do we not care, but we really, honestly, absolutely don't want to know anything that might make our decision illegal later on.  You must know what I'm talking about.  Specifically, I don't want to hear about your marital status, the number or ages of the kids you have at home, or how old you are.  I don't, I don't, I don't--it makes me extremely nervous to just be presented with such stuff, in fact.  It's information a hiring manager should never, ever use to make hiring decisions, for one thing, and if I don't know it, I can't use it.  I don't think that I'd ever use it if I do know it, but I don't ever know for certain whether I can prove that to a court in any particular instance.

Please, don't tell me anything I don't want to know.  When I say "tell me about yourself" I'm actually laying a trap to see if you understand the distinction between personal and professional life.  What I'm really saying, in a short and polite manner, is "tell me about the relevant parts of your professional life that will help me make the tough decision of whether to hire you to work for me, without saying anything that will make me want to claw my ears off my head."

A clue you shall have
Lookit, very seldom do I get to preside over an interview that was a surprise to the candidate.  Granted, that's kind of energizing and refreshing when I do, but it doesn't happen but once in a blue moon.  For most admissions and employment interviews, the interviewee knew it was coming several days if not weeks ahead of time.

Why the heck, then, do they say dumb stuff?

"How much do you know about (my place of employment)" is the most common example in an employment interview.  Let's be realistic here.  If your next words include "nothing" in any way, shape, or form, you're not going to stay in my office for much longer.  The point of a job interview, after all, is for you to convince me that you'll contribute to my business (and vice versa, but that's a different topic).  If one of the first things you tell me is that you have no idea what my business is, then I'm done.  Over.  Out.  You might as well just be sitting there asking me how I liked that game the other night.

Admissions interviews are much the same thing.  Nursing programs are famous for their challenging admissions interviews, and nearly every one contains the request to "describe what you know of the professional role of the nurse."  Don't answer this one "to assist doctors" because that's what medical assistants do.  Nurses are licensed care-givers of their own accord--not peers to doctors, per se, but definitely not medical assistants--and though they often work with doctors in the delivery of patient care within the scope of their license, they do not merely assist doctors.

On second thought, go ahead and use that answer.  This Evil Overlord here loves watching nurses with masters degrees or doctorates and decades of nursing experience twitch like they always do when you call them doctors' assistants.  But do it only if you don't want in to the program, because I guarantee that you can score "Makes Sheldon Cooper Look Stupid" on the TEAS test and you still won't get an acceptance letter with that answer.

Don't get surprised over stupid stuff
Lookit--as I already said, you likely know this interview is going to happen well in advance of the actual start time.  You may not get many advantages in the process, but this is an advantage you do get, so please, for the love of all that is Evil Overlordly, use it.

What do I mean?  Well, none of the basic questions should surprise you.  I mean, if you're coming in for a job you've never, ever done before, there are some things you probably won't know.  That said, I'd hope you're not flying into a new opportunity entirely blind.  You need to figure out what they're likely to ask you.  If you don't know, ask a friend.  If your friends don't know, look up the occupation online and see what kinds of stuff the occupation does.

Hint: I bet the interviewer will ask you questions that are mostly related to what that occupation does.  Granted, I only have myself and several HR classes and trainings to reference.  Still, I can't imagine a dean asking a candidate for the position of math instructor about driving forklifts. I can, however, imagine that same scenario producing plenty of questions about teaching and about teaching math, specifically.

Similarly, colleges and college programs are generally searching for certain characteristics in their students, and their questions should relate to that search.  Yes, if you say something about my old hometown, I might zing one about there off the top of my head because I'm curious, but you can bet the questions I have written down on my script are all related to characteristics that are important to the program at hand.  If you don't know what those characteristics are, ask somebody.  If you're going to interview for Some Great Univ., find someone who's been there and ask them.  If you're seeking to enter the Best Occupation In The World program, find someone who works in the field.  Then build questions that you'd ask to determine if someone else had those characteristics.  It's really that simple.

I shouldn't see it
Lookit, ladies, I don't wanna see your cleavage or your boobies. 

Okay, I have to admit that, secretly, I do.  And I hate myself for that.  It's just because the culture I was raised in taught me that that part of your body is the ultimate in forbidden fruit for us guys.  We were all raised there, so let's be honest for a moment, okay?  There are two kinds of (heterosexual) men: those who like to look at women's chests, and those who lie about liking to look at women's chests.

So here's the interviewer's problem: if you bear that area of your body, you put me in a difficult position.  I can't not want to look, for one thing.  I can't look, for another thing, because to do so is horribly unethical in my book (and, um, in every other book on HR or on interviewing techniques, for that matter).  After all, if I were to hire you, it wouldn't be for--that--it would instead be for what you carry several inches higher, up there between your ears and behind your sinuses.

Also, I really can't hold this situation I'm in against you, if you've dressed up in a professional enough suit that just happens to set your cleavage on display.  It's--well, it's technically suitable attire.  For you.  I can't hold doing something that's technically suitable against you.

I can't hold it against you, but you're really not making points.  You're probably not making points with women, either.  The last panel interview I served on, I got bored listening to an applicant not answer the questions and glanced over at a colleague's note paper.  Over halfway into the interview session, she had written just three words: "TOO MUCH CLEAVAGE."

Point made?  Show your cleavage all you want at the nightclub.  Cover it up at the interview.

Be there or be square
Most graded interviews have a points category for "punctuality."  That one's easy to evaluate; if you're there on time you get the points, and if you don't, you don't.  Goose egg.  Zippo.  Nada.

Non-graded interviews, the type I more often lead for employment, don't have any points categories by definition, but trust me that "punctuality" is up there.  If you're not there on time for an interview, I am going to be forced to draw all sorts of mean conclusions about you, your perception of the importance of timeliness, and your work ethic in general.

Can you still get the job?  Yeah, I have to admit that I've hired people who were late to interviews, mostly because a true emergency came up and they made sure to let me know.  Generally, though, even in the "true emergency zombie horde almost caught me" situation, you're gonna start off with a great big black mark against you.

I ask a lot of questions in all sorts of interviews that begin with the words "give me an example of...."  Not gonna get into interview theory here other than to identify this technique as behavioral interviewing, and to mention that it's powerful.  When I launch these question missiles, they are generally scripted, critical questions related closely to the job at hand.  Thus, (see previous section) if you are surprised by more than one or two of them, consider yourself unprepared.

Doesn't matter how prepared you are, honestly, if you don't answer the question.  You do know, after all, what an example is, right?  "Give me an example of a time you've dealt with a student who was misbehaving," for example, often results in a theoretical discussion of classroom management techniques, and that's a Wrong Answer.  I don't give a crap if you know theoretical classroom management techniques.  Well, I do, but not that much.  I care if you can apply said techniques.  Thus, "Depending on severity I would call a break and counsel the student in private" is wrong, while "Last Tuesday I had a student breakdancing in the middle of class while I was trying to lecture, and so I booted him in the head and then duct taped him to his chair" is--um, still wrong, but at least it answers the dang question.

Here's the general rule of thumb.  If you are asked to "give an example of" any behavior or activity, then your answer had better start with "Last Tuesday I...."  Okay, yes, you can pick an example that happened on a Monday, or a Thursday, or even on a Friday.  You can even say what day it happened on.  Hell, for that matter you can lie to me about what day it happened on.  I really don't give a crap when it occurred, and I very likely will never check.

(then again, I might check, if your example involves booting a student in the head or duct taping them to chairs, but only because that crap tends to make the newspapers)

Avoid displaying your artwork
Okay, I'm glad--for you--if Jesus is so important to you that you decided to tattoo the name down your forearm.  And, frankly, I'm just as glad whether you're referring to the Only Begotten Son (and so on) or the Hispanic kid you met the other day.  Off work, off campus, on my own free time, we can discuss all the religious crap I have time to discuss.  At work, though, I don't care.

Piercings are the same as tattoos to me.  I don't have any of either.  I don't care if you do.  Personally, that is. I've seen people walking down the street with all sorts of metallic additions to their faces.  Doesn't bother me one bit, as long as I'm not on campus.

That said, different employers have different standards in regards tothe decorations some people put on their bodies.  While some employers don't care if you walk around with your entire body inked and more precious metals inserted in your skin than they have at Fort Knox, others (and colleges and allied health organizations are usually in the latter group) will expect you to keep any special artwork you might have covered up.  If the place you're interviewing at is in the latter group, make sure you comply with their expectations when you interview, or else you probably won't get a chance to comply as an employee.

Watch for clues
Believe it or not, even us Evil Overlords don't want to see you fail.  The whole point of taking time out of our busy day to talk to you, after all, is to entertain the (albeit probably silly) idea of working with you in the future.  Thus, while I have certainly made my share of interviewees cry before, that's not my intent.  No, really!  It's bad for my reputation when interviewees leave my office with mascara running down their faces, for one thing, and for another, the more people I make cry, the more facial tissues I have to purchase.

Stop making me buy facial tissues.  Come into my lair prepared.

All that said, keep in mind that I'm a sucker for giving clues as to what I'm looking for.  If I start asking, for example, "and if that doesn't work, then what?" then you're probably missing the point of the question.  When I lean forward, it probably means you've hit on something key.  When I grunt and look down at my notes, you've probably just said something stupid.  When I glance at your chest, you've probably displayed too much cleavage.

And hey, don't be nervous.  Yes, I'm aware of how silly that is to say.  I've been the interviewee myself, plenty of times, and I know that you can't not be nervous.  You can, however, breathe deeply and relax yourself.  You should also keep in mind that we expect you to be a little bit nervous.  It's okay, then.


Calm down.

Don't forget your towel.  But leave it in the car for the actual interview.


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