Many years ago, I had a very unpleasant interview experience. My interviewer (AKA, the big key decision maker) hurried me into his office, asked me a few questions, and only half-listened to my replies. He then proceeded to accept five calls during the hour-long session. Yes, five calls, I kid you not. He would end a call and apologize profusely. Then he would ask me to remind him where we were in the process. So, I politely complied and did what we people from Queens call a “do-over.” I repeated a few key points so he could remember what we were discussing before the latest interruption. When the disruptions continued, I started to feel like a television Soap Opera announcer who’s charged with giving their audience a brief recap of the season’s prior episodes. “When we last saw our heroine, she was doggedly pursuing expressing a complete thought!”
This interview was a disaster from start to finish. And needless to say, I didn’t take the job. However, that experience did prompt me to create my favorite post-interview coaching prompts: “If this interview is the first ‘date,’ what’s the rest of the marriage going to be like?”
I’ve used that prompt on countless occasions over the years. But I had forgotten about Mr. Five Call Taker until I read How to Spot a Bad Boss During an Interview” in the Harvard Business Review. It promptly unearthed that awful memory.
I agreed with the author’s guidance. She suggests “trusting your gut,” “asking questions,” and “doing research” about a potential boss. However, I do have one additional suggestion. Use the same logic you applied when considering a dating relationship: “Is this person worth the commute?”
Think about it. Interviews and dates have a lot in common. it requires preparing yourself emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Think about all Zoom “reveal” moments you conducted and how you had to learn a lot about hair, make-up, sound, staging, and lighting over the last year. Then you had to engage in an array of interactions, which resulted in you being chosen or rejected.
During COVID-19, when an interview was over, you could click on “exit meeting” and walk away from your laptop. You didn’t have to travel and embark on the job hunter’s version of the Hero’s Journey Home.
Now potential employers are asking us to emerge from our Zoom rectangles. So, we can have an in-person meeting with our possible relationships. When you have that face-to-face meeting, ask: “How is this person showing up for me?” Because your interview reveals a living story in action that starts at “hello.”
So as of June 30, 2021, my new interview thinking prompt is “Is this relationship commute worthy?” (i.e., otherwise known as the schlep!)
Can you visualize this potential boss person representing you in the best possible manner, championing your team and projects, and advocating for your group during challenges? If you see that that the person on the other side of your socially distanced conference room table can’t commit to giving you their focused attention during the interview. Forget about it! The answer is no and this relationship will not improve with time.
So, observe how your interviewer describes or interacts with others. Hear with your ears and listen with your gut when your meetings end. Remember, you deserve a productive, working relationship that works for you.
I will end this post by sharing a story that captures the type of professional commute-worthy relationship I wish for you.
When my boyfriend (and now husband) and I dated during and after college, he would travel from his residence in the Bronx, take the NYC subway and buses for two and ½ hours so he could visit me. He would arrive at our kitchen door where he would withstand my mother’s old school, European glared greeting. That’s the kind of grit and commitment I am talking about! You want to work for someone who understands the value of “showing up” in professional relationships.
Remember that unfortunately, bad interviews will happen. The challenge for us is learning how to use them as a learning opportunity. When that occurs, do seek guidance. So, you can obtain an objective perspective. And also, identify what author Brene Brown refers to as the “magic-in-the-mess” process.
Then play your interview experience forward in a positive way. Send your interviewer a note and a link to my book. You’ll be doing them a big favor. Just saying.
Julienne B. Ryan is an applied storyteller, speaker, trainer, coach, and the author of “The Learned-It-In-Queens Communications Playbook — Winning Against Digital Distraction” She likes to find humor and irony in everyday situations and uses it to guide her clients’ communications, teamwork, and productivity!