For job seekers, interviews can be an exacting experience. You’re marched into an unknown locale in uncomfortable clothes and forced to answer questions for which you haven’t been given an opportunity to prepare. Interviewers are vague, noncommittal, and obfuscate the criteria by which the hiring decision will be made.
Will it go to the candidate whose personality they liked the most, the candidate who shared the best past experiences, or to the candidate that had the nicest hair? Does the interview even matter if they’re going to make decisions based off of a candidate’s resume?
These are pertinent questions that almost NEVER get an actual answer! It’s like playing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire without being told whether you’ve gotten the correct answers: you might get the million-dollar question right, only to find that you’ve been disqualified 15 questions ago.
Anyone who has applied for a job can relate with my frustrations. However, I’m going to flip those frustrations on their head: for the duration of this article, we’ll approach things more from the interviewer’s point of view. Why do they act so brusque and noncommittal? Why do they not clarify expectations? Why do they expect the interviewee to answer so many questions?
Hopefully by the end of the article, you can cultivate some empathy for the people sitting on the other side of the hot seat.
1. Interviewers Are Under Just as Much Pressure As You Are
I know, it’s hard to have sympathy for an interviewer, because A) they have all the power and B) they don’t go home at night worrying about finding employment. However, they’re a lot more similar to you than you might think.
Still, there’s value in flipping the narrative: for just a moment, have some empathy and put yourselves in their shoes.
a) They have strict deadlines and job criteria by which they’re judged. Their superiors will judge their performance in part based off of the new hire’s performance
b) They’re forced to take a large chunk of time out of their usual routine to vet resumes and interview candidates.
c) They’re forced to allocate part of their meager budget to paying whomever they hire.
d) They’ll end up spending more time during a normal week with the new hire than with their family or friends. It’s akin to choosing a spouse by vetting his/her resume and conducting several short interviews.
Have I said enough to scare you away from ever wanting to be responsible for hiring?
At the end of my interview gauntlet, I was hired as the Director of Marketing at an online boutique. My 2nd day, I began interviewing people for positions on the Marketing Team. This was a dream come true: finally, I would be able to sit in the interviewer’s Throne of Confidence. Very quickly I realized that the entire process was even MORE stressful than my interview for the Director of Marketing position! My day-to-day job and my team’s results were going to be in the hands of this new hire, and I didn’t want to mess up!
2. Interviewers Have Been In the Interviewee’s Hot Seat, Likely Recently
Trust me, I understand how painful being an interviewee is; I, like all of you, have been there. Last month, I went through my “April of Interviews”: more than 15 interviews over the course of the month, each one making me feel more and more like the captive lobsters in the seafood section at the grocery store.
As a candidate, I felt like I was being evaluated at every turn, as if one rambling answer or joke gone wrong would ruin my chances for employment.
At the end of a month of terrifying interviews, confusing rejections, and the pain of uncertainty, my story concluded happily with a job offer. However, the fact that I received a job offer doesn’t mean that I forgot the hell of searching for a new job!
Interviewers ended up in their position of power by going through the same process you are currently undergoing; unless they’re truly sadistic, they aren’t actively trying to torture you (if you notice a truly sadistic streak in your interviewer, you may want to consider other job opportunities).
They understand the difficulty of what you’re going through, and are going to give you opportunities to prove yourself in the same way they proved themselves.
3. Interviewers Are Feeling Just as Awkward As You Are (If Not More Awkward)
Interviews are uncomfortable for everyone involved; it’s like speed dating for a bunch of stiff businesspeople. The interviewer is expected to be the party that sets the tone and pace for the interview by asking questions, clarifying expectations, and trying to make the interviewee feel comfortable.
You may assume that every person with hiring authority goes through a rigorous two-year program at Interview School, but the reality is that most interviewers have little to no experience with hiring!
Social anxiety and awkwardness are the sum result of the interviewer’s inexperience, the lack of personal familiarity with candidates, and the outside pressures that are resting on their shoulders. However backwards it may sound, THEY’RE the ones that are feeling most uncomfortable; anything you as the interviewee can do to help alleviate their anxiety and make them feel comfortable will go a long way to make them want to hire you.
So much about interviews can be uncomfortable, frustrating, and hard. Trust me, I’ve been there! However, I implore you to flip the narrative and practice some empathy; your interviewers are feeling many of the same things you’re feeling, along with a whole other litany of stressors and emotions.
The more you practice empathy for them, the better chance you have of coming across as someone that they’d like to hire!