The Golden Rule of Interviews

by Derek Loosvelt | April 04, 2016

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Interviews are stressful, fear-inducing, sweat-inducing, mostly unpleasant affairs. And so, when you're on the other side of the desk—in the interviewer's seat—you shouldn't forget this. That is, when interviewing someone, you should treat your interviewee like you'd want to be treated if you were the one being interviewed.

To that end, I found the below advice about how to best begin an interview that you're conducting to be both relieving (to the interviewee in me) and right on (to the interviewer in me). It appears in the latest New York Times Corner Office column and comes from Dottie Mattison, a former Gap, Wal-Mart, and hedge fund executive who's now the CEO of Gracious Home New York, an upscale home goods retailer.

The most important thing is for someone to be comfortable in an interview, because obviously you get to better see who they really are when they’re comfortable. So we’ll probably just start by talking about your family and your day.
And then I want to hear about work you’ve done. Tell me about who you are at your finest. Tell me about your superpower. I’m not allergic to people saying “I.” First of all, everyone’s been trained now not to say it, and to say “we” instead. But you can also see responsibility and creativity when people talk about themselves. I think a healthy ego is sometimes a good thing.

As for the first part above, in my experience, getting an interviewee comfortable isn't something that a majority of interviewers do very well, or do at all. As Mattison says, as an interviewer, you ideally want to see and hear the best that the person across from you has to offer. And you have a short time in which to do this. Yes, you might also want to see how interviewees handle stress and handle difficult situations like interviews, but you won't be doing yourself any favors by creating what's already a stressful situation even more stressful for your interviewee. Which is to say you likely won't get to someone's best work and traits if they sense you're trying to trip them up to see what they can't do, rather than lift them up in order to find out what they can do, can do well, and might be able to do well for you and your company.

As for the second part, Mattison touches on some great advice for interviewees. Typically, when you're interviewing for any position, just like your interviewer has a short time in which to find out what you can do well, you have a very short time in which to get across your best traits and accomplishments and how those will translate into the position you're applying for.

There's no way around it: Every interview is a competition of sorts among individuals. And so, while the ability to work well in teams and be a leader on teams is important, it's also important and even more important to get across what you, specifically, have done (whether in team settings or on your own). Don't forget that those teams you've been a part of aren't interviewing for the job; you are.

Also of note is Mattison's favorite thing to ask interviewees.

My favorite question is “What do you do on the weekends? What do you do in your spare time?” Because ultimately you find out what matters to people, you find out where their passions lie …

I like people who know how to work. Done is better than perfect. So when people tell me about their weekend projects in their house, like the treehouse they built and they couldn’t go to sleep until it was done, that’s a cool thing.

Mattison's favorite question is a good one for interviewers to copy (or to find similar ones to use). It's also one that interviewees should be prepared to answer, and answer well.

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Read More:
Answering the 'Failure' Interview Question
42 Big Four Interview Questions
Beware of This Breakfast Interview Trick

Filed Under: Finance | Interviewing | Job Search | Resumes & Cover Letters

Tags: female ceos | interview questions | interviewing advice | interviewing tips | retail

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