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Friday, September 19, 2008

interviewers who don't interview

A reader writes:

I recently interviewed for a position that I think I'm under-qualified for. The position is to be a dean of department at a university which requires 7+ years experience in a similar post and a great deal of knowledge about financial markets. I graduated from the top ivy league school in the country and have a Ph.D. in educational administration with varied and limited actual work experience in finance. ( I don't think graduating from a top ivy is a big deal, by the way).

Anyway, during my interview for the position, the vice president of the university couldn't stop talking about the fact that I graduated from this top school. She didn't ask me any questions about my qualifications at all. She was more interested in "selling" the position to me and asking me about my recent vacation in Turkey. The interview lasted two hours and we spent 1 hour and 30 minutes talking about Turkey. At the end of the interview, she said she definitely wanted me to come back next week to meet with the rest of her staff. She also mentioned that I was first person she interviewed for the job and that she has 60 resumes waiting on her desk to be reviewed. She is also interviewing for 7 other available positions at the same time.

After the interview I went home, did some top-notch painstaking research on some issues related to the needs of the university, and sent her a thank-you letter that included my research findings. The research I presented in the thank-you letter was powerful. I felt that I needed to express that I did have knowledge about the job and would be able to contribute in a meaningful way because I did not get the chance to talk about it during the actual interview. I also wanted to take away any doubts she might have about my abilities just in case she actually gave my resume a second look and realized I have no direct experience.

Anyway, the interview was Friday afternoon and it's now Tuesday afternoon and I have not heard from her. What do you think of her interviewing technique? Do you think that she is still interested ? Is it too soon to follow up? Was presenting the research a good strategy? What's the likelihood that I stand a good chance getting this job?

Well, first, the fact that it's been two business days and you haven't heard from her means nothing. Get in touch with her at the end of the week if you still haven't heard anything.

Regarding her interview technique, there are two possibilities:

1. She is a terrible interviewer who doesn't realize or care that she's supposed to be asking probing questions about your experience.
2. She recognized that you were under-qualified for the position and didn't consider you a viable candidate because of it, and so she filled the time by talking about things that interested her instead of conducting a serious, probing interview. (This scenario assumes that someone else selected the candidates for interviews.)

Either of these is reasonably likely. In this case, however, I'm strongly leaning toward #1, because she let the interview go on for two hours. When you're doing the courtesy interview (#2), you don't let it go on that long. Well, actually you might if you're inefficient and inept and don't value your time or the interviewee's. So I guess I'm back to thinking either option is reasonably likely.

Her mention that she'll want you to come back to meet with the rest of the staff could be genuine or it could have been said in the way people use "I'll call you" on dates they don't intend to call. (If it's that, I don't condone it, but plenty of interviewers say that sort of thing because they don't know a good alternative.)

So here's what we know for sure: This woman is either interested in you and a bad interviewer, or she's not interested and she's inept and inefficient. Either way, she fails interviewing.

Now, on to the more important question: Should you want this job? I'm skeptical that you should, because it does sound like you're under-qualified for it, based on their stated requirements. Be brutally honest with yourself: Are there good reasons for requiring experience in a similar post? If so, and you don't have that experience, are you sure this is a good fit for you? Remember, the goal isn't just to get the job, but to get a job that you'll excel in. Is this that job?

If you do advance in the hiring process, use your next conversations with them to get a really good idea of what the job entails and how your success will be measured. Don't get sucked into any more 90-minute conversations about Turkey. If your interviewer isn't giving you a real interview, start asking your own questions about the position, what they're looking for, and what it takes to do well in it.

If they're inept at hiring and are truly willing to hire someone without the experience they say they're looking for without doing a serious interview, you'll need to do their job for them and figure out for yourself if they should hire you. What you don't want is to find yourself in a job that you struggle with. Good luck!


Anonymous said...

I also would just like to reiterate that two business days isn't much time. She gave you some clips of useful information:

1. you're the first person to have interviewed for the position.

2. she has 60 resumes to go through.

While I agree with everything AAM is saying, I think it's important for you to continue your search, and realize you may have to wait several weeks to hear back. I've done HR in higher ed: every process I had to deal with was slow and inefficient. I'd go so far as to say wait until next week to touch base.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your analysis and comments both of you. I think you're both "on the money." I'll wait and see what happens but I hope she considers me for one of the several posts open if not the one I interviewed for.

Rachel - I Hate HR said...

I love your comment about taking a job you can excel in. I constantly have friends send me high level HR job postings tell me I should apply. While they have faith in me I know my limits and at this stage I'm not ready for a high level HR job.

almostgotit said...

A new Ph.D who would be a dean with authority over all the other academics in your unit? Wow. Even if you got this job, I'd be very concerned about the sort of mandate you'd have (and respect you'd be given) by all of these folks who'd be reporting to you, most of whom would have more academic experience than you do.

Some perspective: a close relative of mine is a mere academic department head (who reports to a dean) and it took him 22 years of teaching, post Ph.D -- including working his way all the way up through the tenure process to full professor -- before he could get there.

Maybe it's a real different sort of school? Hmm.

Anonymous said...

I think you're right Almostgot it.