It's a Job Interview, Not a Beauty Pageant

Last Updated May 26, 2010 8:00 AM EDT

In a beauty pageant, the judges look over a slate of contestants, ask them a few questions, perhaps have the contestants perform a talent of some sort, and then all the contestants parade around the stage in fancy dresses or bathing suits. At the end of all this, the judges proclaim a winner. She cries because it's so wonderful and all the other contestants congratulate her and then slink back home, depressed because they didn't get the crown.

Somewhere along the line, people started treating job interviews the same way. We see the hiring manager as a contest judge who is to be feared and impressed. Instead of thinking, "what would I really do in this situation" we think, "what does this judge want to hear?"

The difference is at the end of a beauty pageant, the winner gets a crown, some money and the the obligation to ride on the back of a convertible in the town 4th of July parade, while the "winner" of the job interview "pageant" gets to spend 40-50 hours a week with the "judge."

So, since the outcomes are not remotely similar, we need to stop treating the job interview like a pageant. This is not a place where the hiring manager gets to ask questions and you try to figure out what in the heck the answer is supposed to be. This is place where the two of you should be working very hard to determine if you are the best person for the job and if this is the best place for you to work. Yes, you need to look appropriate, but you aren't being judged on your appearance unless it is extreme.

Remember, you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. Here are some things you need to know before accepting a job:
  • Is this a new or existing position?
  • If existing, why did the previous person leave? If the person was promoted, great. If the person was fired, why? If the person left for a new position, why?
  • If new, are the responsibilities new or being taken from other people? How do the people whose responsibilities you will be taking over feel about this? Will you be walking into a tension filled situation or will people be thrilled. If the responsibilities are new, does the position have adequate support to be successful?
  • What is the hiring manager's management style? If you are an independent, "I'll call you if I have a problem, otherwise leave me alone" worker, having a manager who likes giving out checklists and following up all the time would be painful. Does the manager give regular feedback? Are you okay with that? Are you okay with receiving no feedback?
  • What type of people tend to succeed in this company? What type fail? If you are a status quo loving person and the company is constantly reinventing itself there will be trouble. On the other hand, if you are a new idea producer and they don't like new, it won't be a success.
  • If you will be supervising others, can you meet with these people before accepting an offer? Your relationship with them will probably be more critical then the relationship with your direct manager, likewise your peers. You will be working with an entire team, not just a direct manager. You need to know these people as well.
  • How often do "crises" arise? What is the usual cause? Are crises due to lack of planning in other departments? Lack of resources? Whims of senior management? Clients? You need to know how things really function.
There are other things you need to know, specific to your job and industry. For instance, if I was interviewing for an HR job, one of the questions I would ask is how layoffs are carried out. The reason I would ask that is that how a company treats the people who are being laid off tells me a lot about how they value their employees. I don't want to do employee relations for a company that has a security guard stand over a newly laid off employee, questioning if that picture of small children is really personal property. That's a red flag for me.

You should ask questions. You can even ask questions after an offer has been made and before you make your decision. If they don't like your questions then that is a pretty big indication that they want employees who shut up and do what they are told. You know, kind of like a beauty pageant winner. Smile and look pretty and don't stray from the script.

Photo by jsr00001, Flickr cc 2.0

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