Be Prepared for Conversation, Not Interview

A new 2010 graduate told me about a non-traditional job interview for which he feels he was unprepared.  The prospective employer spent the entire hour asking and following-up on questions about the candidate’s hometown, summer jobs and extra curricular activities–not one question about his college curriculum or experience relevant to the job opening. 

Fortunately, the applicant launched into a discussion of his part-time jobs during high school and college and the variety of activities, including Boy Scouts.  He wonders if there’s an omen in the fact the interviewer asked no job-specific questions.  I assured him that the novel interview approach is becoming increasingly popular since everyone can read a resume, but such questioning can elicit important insights regarding work ethic and personality. 

Today’s New York Times Corner Office column confirms my point of view that bosses are increasingly asking non-job specific questions.  Steve Hannah, CEO of The Onion, asks non-traditional questions.  He says he wants to know where an applicant comes from, how many children are in his/her family.  “I want to know where you fit in and what your role was,” Hannah says.  “I want to know what your mother and your dad did, what influence they had on you.  I find that, without overstepping my boundaries, most people like to talk about themselves.”

Hannah said he wants to know if the applicant is “entitled” or whether they worked hard, excelled at school, held summer jobs, whether they got the jobs themselves, and if they got promoted. I want to know if you’ll work hard. Hannah says, “I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. I want people who really want to work hard. And I absolutely loathe a sense of entitlement.”

Before your next interview, take a few minutes to think about your childhood and how you might describe it in such a way to underscore its relevance to the job you’re pursuing. 

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