Great experiences make up the stories of our lives. When you have a great job interview it really merits retelling. Looking for a job is a stressful experience for so many that hearing a hopeful and positive message can put faith back in the process.
Below I share 8 of my personal experiences conducting interviews. These memorable moments were a series of ‘ah’ enlightenments in my career. It is the feedback that helps leaders affirm they are on the right path.
Overheard in the Waiting Area…
Intentionally, we had candidates wait in an area that they could overhear the employees working nearby. The candidate could get a good look the working area, the computer set up and their potential future teammates. The employees took calls for product support. The team worked together well. They would high five and support each other, loudly. We wanted the candidates to notice this.
In the interview we would talk about the wait and the impression the candidate had, if any. An engaged candidate would have some specific observations to share. It was great to hear if they liked or could relate to what was happening. We planted a seed in the wait and expected to harvest a response from it.
My most magical interview response was from a now current employee of the company. He came in and said he wanted to work with Susie and Philip for sure (our team had name tags on their cubes). This candidate shared he would excel and enjoy the job if he could work with people like those two. He observed Susie have a difficult call and Philip came over and reassured her actions and supported how she handled things.
I will admit that we put animated employees near the waiting area. I could never stage the exact interactions but I knew these employees would be noticed. That interaction was typical for the team but for this candidate it was magical. The candidate longed for the culture we had and it showed in every interview answer. I could not have sold the opportunity the position offered any better than my team already had.
Would you like anything to drink?
The office where I worked, we free drinks and snacks for all employees. I could go on and on about how this perk pays for itself five fold but that is for another stories series. Our reception area was right in the middle of the office. This was where we had our candidates wait for their interviews. Candidates would often witness the team members get up and bring back a snack or drink to their desk.
Our team members knew when we were interviewing and they were great about sizing up candidates along with making them feel welcomed while they waited. The team remembered sitting in those same waiting chairs. On this day while waiting, a team member offered my candidate a drink as he headed to the break room.
I come out to greet the candidate for the interview and they are not waiting. I found him in the break room having a soda with one of our team members. The team member was sharing their interview story and how the perk of free drinks and snacks made such an impression on him. He said the job is hard, the bosses know it and they appreciate us. I’ve never had that before working here. He wished him good luck in the interview.
Rather than gathering my candidate I asked to sit down with them and asked my employee questions. I asked what the greatest daily challenge was working here. After the response, I would ask the candidate how that made them feel, and what their challenge was in their current role. We had a great conversation and I learned two fold; about the candidate and about my team member.
It’s not often that I recall being offered something to drink at an interview. I’m thrilled my team feels comfortable making our candidates feel welcome.
Referral from one who I didn’t hire
I love conducting interviews. Everyone who ends up in front of me worked hard to get there. They have skills, they have moxie to stick through our process and they showed up on time. They deserve my attention and regardless of the outcome; I’m excited to meet them.
Early in the interview, I ask about how the candidate learned about the company and what they know about the work that we do. The answers are predictable, usually. This particular candidate shared that their friend interviewed here and raved about the office, the job, the perks and interviewing with me. They said it was the best interview they had even though they didn’t get the job. That person that we rejected still felt good enough about things to refer and wish the opportunity for his friend sitting in front of me.
His friend was a good fit and we ended up extending an offer and hiring him. Internally we have a referral program and I felt this outside referral deserved some appreciation. I followup up with a call to thank our former candidate. We had a nice conversation about how he was doing. I ended up sending him a gift card, because we really appreciated the referral.
Laughed at end of interview, didn’t realize it started
My goal in interviewing is to have the interview feel like a conversation. I want to make the candidate feel as comfortable as possible so they can do their best and not be nervous. It is my goal to work into the conversations our standard list of questions. At times I end up asking the list out of order depending on the flow of the conversation.
Once I started an interview so casually that I realized 10 minutes in that the candidate was waiting for the interview to start. It seemed the candidate felt like someone else was going to join us or he expected a more formal beginning. He was doing a great job at answering the questions and was casual and comfortable. I decided unless he got out of character I would continue.
We completed the interview and I closed with how it was great to meet him and shared our process that he could expect as we progressed through the candidates. He then looked surprised and sat straight up. He asked when this first interview was going to take place. I told him that we went through all my questions and I had made my notes. He said we were just talking and he wasn’t ready. I said he did great and provided solid examples and stories.
He laughed and said he must have been so nervous he didn’t realize what was happening. He said was just talking to me like I was a person. (It’s great to be accused of talking to people like they are people!) It was the easiest interview he didn’t realize he took part in. I felt it was a great compliment and that I received what must be the genuine answers. We hired him based on that conversation / interview.
Interview at coffee house – bought a drink
At the beginning of hiring for a start up I was in the tough situation of not having an office yet for the people I needed to hire. The focus was to hire 5 people and I decided to have my interviews at a local coffee house. I told the barista and manager what I was doing, they had no problem and said they would let me know if any confused customers came in looking for an interview.
I bought a drink for each candidate I interviewed. This made me have a bit more discipline in my phone screening my candidates and it provided some revenue to the coffee shop for using their space. It was unusual not to have an address for our company and I was thankful that these employees were willing to take a chance on us.
Greeting each candidate and offering to buy them a drink was much more insightful than I realized it would be. I watched their decisiveness, how they accepted a gift and their selection process. It was reassuring that each person thanked the barista. They were very specific in or after the interview to thank me for the drink. I received more thank you’s about those drinks than I would in a regular interview cycle. The employees I hired from that group went on to tell the story of the free drink that came with their job to the employees who followed them.
Presented a present for presenting
When we interviewed for a training position we would have our regular behavioral interviews and for our final 2 or 3 candidates, we would have a show me interview. I don’t want to take advantage of anyone’s talent or time so we set the expectations in the first interview; this was a process and if you make it to the final few we would expect a demonstration on a topic of your choice. The great candidates would start their wheels turning and would share how excietd I would be to see their presentation. They had confidence.
We would provide a room and any supplies or technology necessary for the demonstration. We had a friendly but objective audience of the candidate’s future peers evaluating the presentation. I have witnessed some really interesting presentations over the years. Those final presentations almost always determined who the job offer would go to.
I never doubted our transparency up front about the level of engagement to win the position. No candidate ever let us know that their time was wasted or abused. For those who didn’t make the cut, I would send a hand written thank you note with a gift card to a local coffee house. I genuinely appreciated the effort made for the interview and the time they took for our process. Not once but twice I’ve received a thank you for my thank you after turning down a candidate!
At a company open house, I had a chance to meet one of my manager’s parents. I had heard so much about each of them; they both had incredible careers behind them. His mom who was a recruiter for doctors and must have done thousands of interviews. She came up to me and said I had the best interview line she wished she had used. She recited the line and I was stunned. I obviously made an impact on her son since he told the story to his parents about our interview.
There are those times when you are in an interview and you know you are talking with a candidate who will be a finalist, even in the first minutes of meeting them. I needed a new manager to join an existing team. Fit was the top criteria; the candidate had to bring something to the team in their personality that would add value to the others. The candidate I had in front of me stood out from the others who made it in to talk with us. He loved innovation, he was imaginative, he wondered out loud and spurred conversation. I knew he would be great.
The line I said came out because I couldn’t say he had the job but sincerely wanted him to know he was spot on. I said, “[name], I’ve been waiting for a candidate like you.” My intent was to convey that he had something special to offer and it was what I was looking for.
That was the line his mom recited to me. It felt good to know my message was received in the interview. He connected with me and we worked well together when he joined the company.
Birthday Presents for Two
I do my best to accommodate candidates who are currently working by interviewing at off times, weekends, early mornings and evenings. I had an interview on my birthday a few years ago which wasn’t a big deal for me. This interview was interesting because it was for a recruiter who would be taking over most of the interviewing I did. It was a bit intimidating to interview someone who I wanted to be better at interviewing that I was.
At the end of the interview she worked to close me for a decision. She said she wanted to make today special because she knew it was my birthday based on my LinkedIn profile. As a present to me she would start whenever I needed her too.
That was a cool close and an interesting way to work in the fact that she had done her homework. It was the sort of technique was what I was looking for. I wish I had that line, and I sort of did.
I knew her birthday was in two days. So I said to her, I can’t make a decision like this on my big day but I promise to get back to you in two days with news for your big day. Touche.
Each year on our birthdays we celebrated another year of working together as well as our birthdays.
Have you been a part of an interview where there was a moment that stood out in a spectacular way?
Please share it with us.