Interviewing: 'Til death do us part

Interviewing: 'Til death do us part

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Dec 07, 2006

So, I've been interviewing. And I have to say I find it an odd process. Basically, this is speed dating. A whole bunch of people send letters explaining why they're the one, the perfect fit, that Ideal Person that we're looking for. I set dates for the best prospects to come visit. We spend 30 to 45 minutes together.

If I like the person, I call a couple of his or her friends to get their opinion about whether we'll be happy together. And I listen carefully for any subtext that could give me a hint about what it's really like to live with my candidate day in and day out.

Finally, I offer the person I find most appealing the opportunity to spend 40-plus hours a week with our team. That's more waking hours than I spend with my husband in an average week, just for perspective.

If the person says "yes" to my offer, we suddenly have a new family member. We set another place at the meeting table. We add a birthday to the calendar. We hope to live together happily ever after. Well, that's what I'm hoping for at least.

Now, during the process I feel like a terrible, unkind, judgmental person, because after just a few minutes together I'll decide that nine out of ten potential team members just aren¹t right. And it's not about their skills. I interviewed all kinds of wildly qualified editors in the last month. Instead, it¹s about my gut.

I get a little sense somehow that this person might get cranky under pressure. Or may not typically assume the best about others. Or may be tentative about taking on new job duties. Or really doesn't want this job. I wish like crazy that I had some tangible proof that I'm right about these things, because that would make me feel better. But even though I don't, I keep looking if I get this kind of twinge.

And here's why: When I¹ve ignored my instincts, I've been sorry. And pained. Pained enough to vow I'd never do it again.

So, today when I interview I ask "what do you do when ..." and "tell me about a time ..." kinds of questions, because I want to know about the candidate's behavior rather than about their skills. And I always think about whether I'd be happy if I had plans to have lunch with this person. I figure the right hire will learn the specifics of our team's processes and procedures. But we'll all be miserable if I don¹t pick the right person.

Your turn: What's the most surprising thing a candidate has said to you in an interview that won you over or less-than-wooed you?

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