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Why Interviews Are a Dumb Idea, And How to Master Them Anyway


If you’re looking for work here in Indianapolis (or anywhere in the civilized world), chances are you’ll need to go through an interview. Personally, I can’t stand job interviews. Not the actually experience of sitting down, but the entire concept. Interviews are a dumb idea. They are one of the most foolish practices in modern business.

Job Interview
© Flickr User Books18

Interviews are designed to get a feel for how candidates present themselves. We ask questions that probe someone’s personality, their history, and try to predict how they might react in future scenarios. We prepare for them by studying the company, boning up on common questions, and mentally psyching ourselves up to be the best version of ourselves.

But that’s almost never what work is actually about. Instead, most of the time our jobs are about getting things done. If we were really interested in what people could do for us, we were would to see their portfolio of work and more importantly have them complete some sample project on a contract and contingency basis.

Plus, the interview experience is more like a performance than it is like the day-to-day experience. A candidate will never be as prepared and impressive on a typical day as they can be during that moment of corporate theater. Interviews are a farce.

Okay, But So What?

I can rant about the problems with interviews, but I’m not going to end the practice. It’s a reality of life. But just like you benefit from knowing that what you see on the screen is “only a movie,” pulling back the curtain of interviews can teach you some lessons. For example:

The purpose of the interview is to engage, not to conform. If you only give standard answers to standard questions, you’ll fail to impress the interviewer. If you maintain a flat tone of voice and fail to show any initiative, you’ll bore the other person right up their decision to “reject” you. Instead, be interesting. Ask questions, show that you’ve done some research, and gently challenge some preconceived notions.

Prove you can do the work. Whether you’re applying for a position as staff accountant or a staff attorney, your technical expertise is important. It’s true that these items should have been covered in your resume, but there’s nothing quite as comforting as someone who claims to be an expert on paper demonstrating that they know what they are talking about (without being condescending.) When you tell stories or express plans, use the occasional technical term. Offer the occasional definition. Show that you really do have that speciality.

Ask about onboarding and orientation.. “If we decide it makes sense for me to come and work for your company,” you might say, “what will we do to ensure that I can provide value as soon as possible?” The largest direct cost of an employee in the first six months is getting them up to speed. If you can become productive sooner, you help allay the fears of the interviewer.

Also, Don’t Share My Rant

If you are interviewing for a job, don’t spend the interview talking about the stupidity of interviews! That’s like telling your date that you hate dating. But if you work for a company or are supposed to interview new candidates, spread the message. Interviews—especially if they are brief and the primary determiner for hiring—don’t make sense. Instead, ask people to perform a few weeks of sample work. Ask to see a portfolio. See what they’ve done and what’s they can do, not how they act to impress in a scheduled conversation.

(Unless you’re hiring actors. Then, the audition matters.)

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About the Blogger: Robby Slaughter is a productivity speaker and expert. He is a principal with a AccelaWork, an Indianapolis consulting firm.


Tue, May 6 2014 » Uncategorized

2 Responses

  1. Kristin Seed May 6 2014 @ 12:35 pm

    I interviewed to work for Jeb Banner – personal assistant position – at SmallBox here locally in Indy. After the typical submit an application, he took a handful of qualified candidates and offered to pay them each $100 for what he estimated to be four hours of work so he could see their capabilities in specific areas.

    I thought it was a great idea. I didn't get the position, but I'm sure he got the best candidate fitted for the job at that time.

  2. robbyslaughter May 9 2014 @ 7:06 pm

    Great story, Kristin! I'm sure Jeb finds this to be a small investment with tremendous returns. Not only does this give him a sense for what it's like to work with the person, it helps the applicant see that their value makes sense.

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