Tuesday 12 December 2023

Thought Picnic: What really is the purpose of the interview?

Between the means and the end

Interviews as one would expect are a means of engagement to ascertain if a candidate for a role is first able to do what is contained in the job specification and beyond and to determine if the said person is a good fit for the team, department, and organisation into which they are being assessed and invited.

In general, I would think a curriculum vitae should speak for itself in terms of what was done, achieved and how that activity benefitted that setting. In my case, because the general rule especially in the UK is to have a 3-page or shorter CV, a wealth of experience and expertise running decades is difficult to encapsulate in such a short space. For that reason, I have a link to a much longer resume in the narrative, quite detailed for anyone interested.

Against the odds of poor preparation

Expertise is knowhow and would by inference be recent and attending to the role applied for, experience brings in a long more over time, by observation, involvement, practice, understanding, and even the ability to explain in some appreciable detail the hows and whys of things.

The question then is, how to set up an interview in such a way that the engagement allows the interviewer to tighten their enquiry to gain the best indication of ability, agility, and compatibility meeting their requirements. I am now concluding that no preparation on the part of the interviewee can prepare them for a poorly planned interview.

I have received commendations after attending interviews where the feedback has been, that I am likeable and knowledgeable, but I did not address the interview questions to the detail required. Also, the additional feedback has suggested that the roles have been readvertised because none of the tranches of interviewees were selected for the role. We probably can agree that this is a problem with the interview than the interviewees.

Ask concise and relevant questions

The quality of the answers you get from an interviewee have to be related to the standard of questions asked. It goes without saying that the quality of search results for a standard search request is dependent on how well and unambiguous the search terms are phrased. In these times of generative AI, the same principle follows, a well-crafted prompt will elicit good responses close to what the inquirer requires.

How this fundamental principle does not filter into interviews does baffle me. Again, I have probably interviewed better when I have had to give a presentation from a range of selected topics or dealt with scenarios proffered that would assess my quality of thinking, problem-resolution ability, and general perspective on issues. Sadly, very few interviewers adopt this line of enquiry.

In a lake of mysterious misery

For instance, you would probably get an interview question that is worded along the lines of, ‘Cross the lake.’ You are then left wondering where is the lake? Are there crossing points along the lake shore and from what crossing point to the other? Does the lake have bridges, pontoons, and boats, or do you have to consider swimming, if you cannot swim? How long do you have to cross the lake? Is the lake infested with crocodiles or other dangerous animals?

Let me paint the scenario in this analogy, a lake where the supposed interviewer is a fisherman, with apparently extensive knowledge of the lake, the best times to fish and what types of fish thrive therein, where the water source is, the weather and seasons to expect at what times, maybe even has done night rescues of people in distress and the question he asks a visiting fisherman interviewee reads like he doesn’t know anything about bodies of water.

So many scenarios can be built around crossing the lake with additional information to help the interviewee address the issues or thinking that would help the best lake crossing, if just for themselves or in consideration of others where probably a bridge would suffice rather than a boat as someone would have to row the boat back to the crossing point.

Poor questions won’t yield good prospects

Indeed, I am aghast with the quality of the technical questions I face, they are general, rudimentary, elementary, fundamental, and broad. When asked by the supposedly highly technical person, you are left wondering why they are not asking questions built around scenarios and issues they have encountered with the guardrails to refine the responses with follow-up questions?

It is incumbent on interviewers to prepare for interviews just as much as interviewees prepare with some kind of interview preparation. What seems to be happening is the interviewer seems to be winging it, in the end, they never really determine suitability because they have been lazy and the waste of time on both sides is not compensated for, with disappointment on the side of the interviewee and self-created disappointment on the side of the interviewer.

What really is the purpose of the interview? I am left unsure of whether that very basic idea is known.

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