Job Applicants and Interviewees: My thoughts from the other side of the table

My coworker and good friend moved to a new job in another state and my boss, D, has just begun interviewing for her replacement. I was lucky enough to be selected for the interview panel (I like to joke that it’s because we are also interviewing for the job of being my New Best Friend).  I’ve never been on this side of an interview before, and it has definitely been enlightening!  What follows is hopefully not condescending like this email, just the things that I’ve personally taken away from my experience.

I wasn’t around for the initial resume review, but there were a ton of applicants, even with the specific qualifications.  I’m speculating, but it’s likely that there were keyword searches involved.  The posting requested one particular certification, and anyone who didn’t put this on their resume was probably filtered out without a human even glancing at their resume.

Lesson #1: Read job postings before you apply. Insert keywords if you’re doing the whole tailor-your-resume-for-each-job thing, but really, if the job posting specifically says “Include this on your resume,” you want to do it!

In addition to the sheer volume, D was amazed at the number of very overqualified people applying.  I’m talking people in their late 30s and 40s applying for a job that was most recently held by someone who hasn’t even gone through a quarterlife crises yet!  It actually made me sad, because this demonstrates how very bleak the job market is right now.  We’ve interviewed a couple of the overqualified people, but some of them have specifically asked about chances for promotions. (In the interview! Don’t do that.)

My “favorite” applicant so far has been the one who emailed D, saying,”I don’t know much about [our company, our business, and our project], but I figured I’d throw my hat into the ring.”  He does at least know D, but given the number of times I’ve heard the story, I don’t think that guy is getting an interview!

Lesson #2: Networks matter. Since the job posting was internal, D has done a lot of coordinating with applicants’ current management, in some cases asking these other managers to pick their best workers from the stack of resumes. (Luckily, these managers support the movement of their employees – this counts as a pretty decent promotion & jump in responsibilities!)  Those who were recommended got interviews.  One of my favorites was recommended above and beyond all of the other applicants from one department, and her manager wrote her a letter of recommendation.  That’s impressive.

In contrast, I spoke to a guy who had applied (he didn’t know I was involved in the process at all), and he said he hoped he got an interview.  He also said that his current manager really dislikes him and that they butt heads a lot.  Guess who was not recommended for the job?

Lesson #3: Your work also matters.  This is linked to #2.  A few of the interviewees are people we’ve worked with very closely before.  The ones we’d seen in action and the ones who distinguished themselves, they not only got interviews, but they were probably a lot more seriously considered afterwards.  It’s one thing to say you go above and beyond, it’s another thing when you’ve gone above and beyond to help the very people you’re interviewing with. Likewise, if you tend to do the bare minimum, the expectation is that you’ll continue to do so. D’s goal was to find someone who would work hard (since they’ve had unmotivated employees before and everyone hated them).

Lesson #4: Those boring interview tips are actually kind of right.  You know what?  I’m an engineer, and I understand why people ask about promotion potential and upcoming vacations. These things are important to you, and when will you get another chance? (The answer to this is when you get offered the job, by the way.  I definitely had classmates in college who couldn’t wrap their heads around why they shouldn’t bring this stuff up in an interview!) But I also have read those tips, and I know it’s bad form to ask them.  When I’m asked those no-no questions, I wonder how the interviewee has managed to not read anything in preparation for the interview.

Lesson #5: The interview does matter.  Your resume can be amazing, but if you can’t intelligently talk about all the things on it, it might as well be blank.  Thinking about questions – even if this leaves the room in silence while you speak – is a good thing.  Asking for questions to be repeated is as well!  Relate questions to the experience you can talk about best.  Even if you have something that sounds really impressive, if you can talk more clearly about something that doesn’t sound as cool, go for the boring thing.  Your interviewer can tell when you’re BSing!  And bonus points for those little interview best practices – another one of my favorite applicants wore a suit, brought extra copies of his resume, sounded so prepared every time he opened his mouth, and also sent a nice follow-up email.  His resume was great and he’s a hard worker, but he totally wowed me in the interview!

I’ve given D my opinion on the interviewees, but I’m not involved in the actual decision.  I actually prefer it that way – picking a couple of favorites is easy, picking The One Who Should Be Hired is a whole other thing that I’m glad is not my responsibility!


2 Responses

  1. I’d say the interview is the only thing that matters. You can get the interview with a good resume and networking.

    The process, at least in my region of our company, is pretty rigid. You are graded on all of the questions you answer and ONLY the things you say, so don’t assume your resume “speaks for itself”, you have to repeat what’s on there.

    In the end, the scores are tallied and whoever has the highest score… “wins”. Only when there are 2 close scores can there be a lot of subjectivity introduced.

  2. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking about “opportunities for growth” (i.e., promotions, etc.) at an interview. My company hires a lot of “overqualified” folks who often quickly move up the ranks. There just may not be a high-enough position open at the time, but they want to get in the door, and my company realizes the value of getting them in the door.

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