Career Advice, Interviews

The Two-Way Street Job Interview: A Decision Making Process For The Employer & The Job Candidate

I never know what I’ll find in my email inbox in the morning, but I know there’ll be one or two job-interview horror stories there. Some of them are just sad; some are amusing and sad at the same time (like the hiring manager who asked a candidate, “Can you do such a great job that I get promoted?”). Some of them are shocking (like the HR manager who said to the applicant, “You’re a marketing person? Marketing people are a dime a dozen. If it were up to me, we wouldn’t even have a marketing department”).

It’s not exactly news that employer-side job interviewers are often ill-prepared for interviews, and seldom able to answer the candidate’s most pressing questions. It’s no wonder that candidates go home from draining job interviews and wonder, “Will I get the offer? Am I even right for the job? Come to think of it, what are they looking for?”

It’s way past time for a new job-interview framework, one that rests on the idea that the candidate, as well as the employer, has a major decision to make. A job interview is a two-way street. The candidate’s decision-making process is no less critical than the employer’s. So why do so many job interviews seem to spring from the idea that the sole purpose of the interview is to allow the company to evaluate the candidate?

We see this inequality in the ‘air time’ allotted to candidates to ask questions about the job. One young woman called me to say “When I asked ‘Would this be a good time to ask my few questions?’ the interviewer said ‘This interview is for me to ask questions. You’ll get to ask your questions if you come back for a second interview.'”

We see the ‘slant’ in jobs interviews in the lists of questions posed to candidates. If everyone in the room has a decision to make, should we be asking questions of candidates that we wouldn’t feel comfortable answering ourselves?

A Two-Way Street job interview is constructed to attract shining talent in our regions and industries. Our traditional job interview processes make the same claim, but they fall far short. We delude ourselves that we’re hiring for talent when we allow our interviews to focus on the question “Are you, Job-Seeker, good enough for us?” without bothering to answer the question “Is our company and our job opportunity worth your valuable time?”

Remember Behavioral Interviewing? I do. I sat through hours and days of training to learn how to construct questions like “Tell me about a time when you had to [make a fire and cook breakfast using only two sticks and a Slinky.]” The Behavioral Interviewing approach assumes that we, the employers, get to ask these ‘have you done it?’ questions. The paradigm behind the Behavioral Interviewing method is “You sell us on your abilities, and we’ll decide. ” Does the candidate also get to ask the hiring manager, “Tell me about a time when you were floundering as a manager and you had to think creatively to get back on track?”  How many hiring managers would be comfortable answering that question? Our traditional interviewing approach rests on the idea that we, the employers, are the Deciders. The candidate is the supplicant, crawling over whatever broken glass we choose to toss in his way (or hers) to convince us that s/he’s qualified for the job.

I reject the idea of requiring jobseekers to humbly approach His Majesty’s throne in the interview process. A hiring manager has a job to offer, and s/he also has a problem that needs solving. A jobseeker has talent to offer, and he or she needs (or at least would consider) a new job. We are equals in the equation. If we’re not, we can’t say “Our Employees Are Our Greatest Asset.” We can’t say “We are a talent-focused employer.” That’s all bullpucky if we’re not viewing, and treating, jobseekers as worthy and equal partners in the process of matching open reqs to available superstars.

The Two-Way Street Job Interview doesn’t include the usual cast of characters: an HR person or hiring manager sitting on high, peering down through her glasses at the lowly applicant and asking probing questions to determine the candidate’s suitability for the job; and a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed jobseeker doing his absolute best to communicate “I really want the job, and I can do it!”  The Two-Way Street Job Interview imagines two capable professionals meeting to discuss an employer’s needs, a job candidate’s needs, the employer’s strengths and weaknesses as a place of employment and a jobseeker’s pluses and minuses as a candidate for the role. It’s business, and it’s respectful of all parties.

Here’s the recipe for a Two-Way Street Job Interview:

  • The employer rep(s) and the candidate have equal time to ask questions that will help each side decide whether the match is a good one.
  • The employer rep goes into the Two-Way Street Job Interview ready and willing to answer any question that s/he asks of the candidate, including “What is your greatest weakness?” and “What three adjectives do your friends use to describe you?”*
  • Every aspect of the Two-Way Street Job Interview process, from scheduling of interviews to follow-up and access to hiring managers, is geared toward showing respect to the parties in the discussion. Weeks-long radio silence from the employer isn’t in the mix, and neither is a corporate recruiter’s question “What is the lowest salary you would accept for the position?” If a recruiter asks a candidate “What were you earning at your last job?” the candidate’s appropriate answer is “What were you paying the last person in this role?”

Before you say “We already do this in our company,” ask yourself: will your hiring managers and HR staff be comfortable when a candidate asks them “What is your favorite animal, and why?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?” These are “One-Up” questions; they assume that the questioner is on a higher plane than the respondent. We reject that notion in the Two-Way Street Job Interview, because we’re looking to hire powerful performers, not sheep. We’re hiring for brains, initiative and creativity (among other elements), not for docility. This is a huge change for lots of employers. It’s an unimaginable affront to many others, who’ve never stopped to question the idea that the employer is high and the candidate is low on the totem pole.

Employers who can put talent on the same level with hiring authority give up nothing — they gain the ability to attract their industries’ top players. Will your organization join them?

*Hint to employers: don’t ask these insulting and brain-dead questions, and you’ll be okay.