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Thursday, April 22, 2010

was this interviewer out of line?

A reader writes: 

At a recent interview, I was asked to explain a project that I completed at my previous employer.

I used the website redesign project as an example since it was an important and valued project for the company. I explained that I did 75% of the project, re-wrote content, and created three possible designs using a web design vendor. Then, per my supervisor’s instruction (my supervisor was #3 in charge of the company, Chief Sales Officer), I gave a detailed presentation to the entire management team of 15. During the meeting, the management team provided 15 different opinions. So, I returned to the drawing board and made some changes. Then, my supervisor and the CEO reviewed everything and provided final approval. As the head of marketing for the company, I had to follow these procedures for many projects.

The interviewer asked why I needed to present my project to a large team and gather so many opinions. He judged me on the management style and operational structure of my previous employer. Since I was not the CEO of my previous employer, I did not establish the operational procedures or review procedures – since I did not have ultimate authority. Don’t you think the interviewer was out of line?

What would you have done?

Well, so much here depends on tone and context. Sure, he might have meant it as criticism of you (which would have been unfounded, I agree). But he also might not have meant it that way at all. I can imagine it being more of a sincere request for more information, or even just a musing on why your company structured it that way. So the question alone, without context or tone, isn't inherently out of line.

Now, if he was judging you for your employer's procedures, and seemed immune to your explanation that you didn't control those, that's a bit unfair. On the other hand, it's also possible that he's specifically seeking someone who has experience doing that type of work with more autonomy, who knows.

Overall, though, this doesn't sound too horrific to me. I wouldn't focus too much on it.


liz said...

The interviewer may also have been checking to see if the interviewee could speak intelligently about the benefits and shortcomings of a particular process. Hard to say without knowing the details of the job, but I can think of plenty of roles that require a person to think critically and be able to give their support (or diplomatic suggestions for change) to a plan over which they don't have complete authority... if this was the point of the question, shrugging one's shoulders and saying "I don't know why I had to do it that way" probably wouldn't be the greatest answer.