The Coffee Shop Interview

by Angela Pitts, Director of Staffing Technology

Between meetings, I stopped into a coffee shop that offers free Wi-Fi to check my email. I scouted out a corner, among other email checkers, that appeared to be quiet. Just as I got rolling on answering emails, two people sat down and start to have a conversation.  It’s rather loud and the gentleman has a bit of an accent and comes across quite over bearing. The woman appears to be timid and a bit nervous. A couple of scenarios quickly come to mind. Before I could fully formulate my hypothesis he starts to tell her about his last interview.  First idea; they are colleagues comparing notes about an open job at their company. 

Wrong. After his several minute decimation of the last person he interviewed, he starts asking her interview questions.

Now I am hooked. I have completely forgotten about my emails or anything else on my laptop. Instead, I start making notes about interviewer etiquette.  A great deal is written from the candidate perspective, but rarely do we take the time to think about what is happening on the other side of the desk.

Back to our story. For ease, we will call our interviewer Jeff.  Jeff asks a question but Jeff doesn’t really want a response. He tells his candidate (let’s call her Jill) what he wants to hear. Jeff is totally dominating the whole conversation.  It’s all about Jeff. Jeff’s experience, what Jeff thinks is right, how Jeff would handle a situation etc.

Meanwhile, Jill is trying to put her best foot forward, but can’t get a word in edgewise. To add to the situation, Jeff displays some very distracting body language.  His posture is all over the place. He is slumping, and leaning back, and leaning in very close to Jill. He can’t seem to find a comfortable position.

Jeff not only appears to be an expert on software, but an expert in career building. He advises Jill what kind of career path she should take and if this job would be a good fit for her or not. He hasn’t even let her answer a full question, but is making assumptions.

Granted, I’m making a lot of assumptions as well. I only witnessed this particular conversation; there could have been several leading up to this.  However, the 15 minutes I observed reminded me, those of us who interview on a regular basis should take an analysis of our style and possibly improve our own technique.

A few reminders for the interviewer.

  • Watch out for weird hand gestures or body language.  We coach candidates to have someone watch them or look in the mirror when practicing, we should do the same.
  • Be aware of asking questions that are way too open ended.  “Tell me about yourself” is a common intro to an interview, and although open ended questions are a great way to gather information, be sure to help guide your candidate towards the area you are interested in.  Some answers can be very entertaining.  but it’s probably not the best use of time on either side.
  • Lastly, be wise when choosing the interview location.  I understand that interviews can’t always happen in the office.  If the interview needs to be off site choose someplace that offers a little bit of privacy.  Remember. you already have a job; your candidate is trying hard to do their best, give them an environment that will set them up for success.

If you are in the staffing realm you should be a pretty good interviewer, however there is always room for improvement!

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