Confessions of an Interviewer

I gained a reputation for being a tough interviewer at the bank where I worked. It was a slow evolution. I remember always being considered so nice. Oh, maybe that was high school.

My interviewing days stretched back to working as a financial analyst just out of college. After being at the firm for six months, I started interviewing college seniors who were looking to begin jobs like my own. Everyone seemed to have done well in school and in their summer jobs. They were all friendly and nice. So I awarded most candidates top marks on their evaluation sheets. But eventually I realized that even though these students seemed impressive, I didn’t know which ones would make good financial analysts. So I started to ask the tough questions. I would challenge a comment a candidate made to see how he would respond. Or, I would ask him a question about a class or a previous job that would allow me to assess his analytical ability. That small change to my interviewing technique significantly helped me differentiate the candidates. But I still tried to leave candidates with a good feeling about the firm, our group, and hopefully me.

Greg, a candidate I interviewed when I was a senior officer, had already been warned by the junior officers in my group that I might be his toughest interview that day. By the time he landed in my office, I knew everyone wanted to hire him, so I hoped to quickly confirm their opinion. Greg and I had an easy conversation until I asked how well he did in college. He awkwardly spilled out an account of two classes he bombed but described the situation that was interfering with his schoolwork at the time.

After hearing the story, I felt Greg did a good job of rebounding from a bad situation. I knew I wanted him to join our group.

We hired Greg the next day and he started work one week later, the day of my group’s holiday dinner. I was surprised, but impressed, when our new junior hire grabbed a seat next to me at the table. Later that night he laughed as he told me his version of the interview. Greg said he was so nervous when he walked into my office, he began to sweat through to the back of his jacket. He told me he strategically turned to hide his back each time I changed position in my chair. When I asked him about the one topic he had hoped to avoid in the interview, his stomach started to turn. Then at the end of the interview, Greg said he backed out of the office as he thanked me, ran out of the building and threw up in the bushes.

While interviewers don’t try to make you sick, they try to determine your intellectual abilities. So realize that when the interviewer throws you a curve ball, she’s trying to see how you think. Try to be prepared for the questions aimed at assessing your intellect. And consider a preemptive strike; you can always offer an unsolicited description of a situation that shows you have the intellectual firepower to get the job done.