On Interviewing

At work I interview a lot of people. As the store manager it’s part of the job requirements. A manager must staff his store.

I also do second interviews. Other store managers interview an applicant, then send the applicant my way for a second opinion.

I’ve done some interviews recently where, quite honestly, I’d have liked to say after two minutes, “You know, this isn’t going to work out.” An interview today was like that. I had one last week where, after stepping into the store’s backroom to conduct the interview, I wanted to tell the applicant that, no, he hadn’t a chance in hell when he picked my aspirin bottle up off the lunch table and said, “Oh, this isn’t a good sign at all,” when in fact I take aspirin (and ibuprofen, and sometimes both at the same time) because of migraines.

The thing I don’t want to hear in an interview is “I need a job” or “You had a sign in the window.” Those are good reasons to apply, but they’re not good reasons to work for me. An interview is a sales opportunity. The applicant has to sell me on himself. I have to be able to envision the applicant on the sales floor, talking to customers about our products enthusiastically. I don’t see that very often. Wanting to work for me because the applicant needs a job doesn’t sell me on the person. It doesn’t paint an appealing picture. That’s just the reality of the situation.

I do get to talk to some fascinating people, though. The amusement factor in that almost makes up for the painful interviews. Almost. 😉

4 thoughts on “On Interviewing

  1. I know of where you speak, my friend. Some people always told me I was too hard when it came to hiring, but if you’re not, then it becomes YOU hired ME, so YOU must need ME, so I can get away with being a useless cog in the wheel of this business. I learned that lesson very quickly and followed two of the oldest rules of the game.

    1) When the person came to fill out the application, did they bring their own pen? Yours isn’t the first stop in their quest for employment. They can’t assume every single location would have a pen to offer. It makes sense to come prepared. (Especially in the restaurant business where a pen is a vital component.)

    2) The applicant asks no questions in return. They have to feel that your place is as much a match for them as you feel they are for you. If they don’t ask about the menu, heavy sales times, incentives, benefits, wtc, then they’re looking for something to pass the time. Now, I know most people are not looking to make restaurants their way of life, but show some interest. If this is just something to make a few quick bucks that you don’t care how you go about it, then don’t waste my time. I, myself, have walked away from interviews saying, “Thank you for your time, but I don’t think I would be happy here.” and had the manager following after me wanting to talk more. If it’s not right for you, the employee, why would you take such a job when you can walk next door and apply there?

  2. John, I’ve had conversations that have run thusly:

    Applicant: “Can I get an application?”

    Me: pulls application from under the counter.

    Applicant: “Can I fill it out here?” (as in, on the counter)

    Me: “You can, but let me clue you in on something. I’ve never hired someone who filled their application out on my counter. Are you willing to bet you’ll be the first?”

    A subtle hint, no, that the applicant should go home, give the application some thought, perhaps even enclose a resume?

    About two weeks ago a kid called me up. I hadn’t called him in for an interview, he said. I went through the application stack, found his application, read through it quickly with him on the phone, and gave him reasons why I hadn’t called him. First, no experience. Second, crazy quilt availability. There was a third thing, I think he hadn’t signed something.

    It’s a difficult process, but if you want a job you need to approach finding a job in a mature, professional manner. And don’t expect snap decisions, because there are none.

  3. I think my favorite from my store days was the woman who came in with her teenaged son, asked for an app for her son, then proceeded to fill out the app right there for her son, as he just looked on apathetically.

    It might have been fun to see if she would have come in for the interview, but as I’m sure you can imagine, it never got that far.

  4. I can top that one, Bill.

    June 2002. I managed a store in the Philadelphia suburbs, a mall store. It was a tiny store–five hundred square feet–and it had no back room of which to speak. However, right outside the store in the mall’s atrium were these two lovely leather couches, and many a conference call would I take on those couches, calling that area “my office.”

    It also happened to be where I did my interviews. The two couches sat at right angles to one another, so I could sit on one, the applicant on the other.

    One day a man came in with his son. I’d talked with the man many times over the years, but I’d never had a conversation with the son in all the time I was there. The father was done browsing the store, stood outside the entrance, and the son milled about and finally went to leave. At the entrance, though, the father nudged his son in the direction of the marketing sign stand I had standing just outside the store, and the top sign was a “Now Hiring” poster. The son stared blankly at it, and finally the father said, “Well? What does it say?” The son, obviously taking a hint, came in and asked for an application. I handed him one.

    I didn’t expect for him to bring it back. That he did a few days later surprised me. That it was virtually blank inside also didn’t surprise me. It had been a long day, the thought of spending even ten minutes in my office on the leather couches was enticing, and so I decided I’d do a Pity Interview.

    Yes, that was my Official Term. The Pity Interview.

    “I’ve got about ten minutes. I can talk to you.” I gestured at the couches through the storefront window. “Let’s have a seat, shall we?”

    The applicant said nothing and followed mutely. I sat down on the couch facing my store, clipboard and application in hand. The applicant sat down on the other couch.

    And so did his father.

    The Pity Interview. It’s a harsh interview that I give to applicants who come to me with no experience and no obvious social skills. Lack of work experience I can work with. Dealing with the public, though, requires social skills. The applicant, whose name I’ve never forgotten, had neither.

    We have an interview guide produced by corporate Human Resources. To be charitable, it’s not the best, and were one to dig through the Procedure Manual you’d actually find a much better interview questions, ones that have served me well for six years now. They are challenging questions, they do require some thought from the applicant about who they are and the experience they bring to the table. These aren’t yes-or-no questions.

    Which is where the applicant had a problem.

    I would ask a question. He would turn, face his father, and stare blankly at him. And his father would say, “He’s not asking me, he’s asking you,” and then I’d get almost no answer in response because they weren’t simple questions.

    Me. Son. Father. And son. This was how the flow of conversation went, for a full ten minutes.

    There wasn’t any point in jerking the applicant around any more, so I asked my always-final question, “What will you bring to the job someone else wouldn’t,” watched the kid fumble that one helplessly, and finally thanked him for his time.

    I would have thought that it would be patently obvious to the father, if not his son, that I wasn’t going to hire the applicant. A week later, though, he came to the store, slammed his hands down on the counter, and said, “When are you hiring me?” with more energy and conviction than he had shown in the interview. All I could do was shrug, say that I had other, better qualified applicants in mind, and then he left in a huff.

    I felt sorry for him later, and I realized that the interview had been like pulling the wings off flies–cold, calculating, and malevolent. There weren’t but another two or three Pity Interviews after that.

    I’ve never forgotten that interview. I never will. The one where the kid’s father sat down on the couch, too.

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