What Just Happened? Decoding the Job Interview

There is plenty of advice out there concerning what to say and do, during an employment interview. However, I find there is little written about how to sort out the jumbled mess of feelings and observations that you are left with. Even with the best of intentions and lists of potential questions — interviewing is not (and never will be) a perfect process. In some situations, you are not really sure what has actually transpired. In fact, you may leave feeling you know less about your potential future there, than when you began.

Over the years, I’ve experienced a number of job interviews. Interestingly, even with my training, I was a poor bet to predict the actual outcome. However, looking back, I could have nailed down the “gestalt” of the interview. This could have offered a few clues as to what might (or should) transpire next.

To be blunt, many organizations still do not have a clear structured interview process — and even if they do — the conversation might ramble into territories “off the grid”. Paying close attention to these moments may offer you needed clarity. I’m going to share a few of my interview experiences, including what was said and how I felt after reflecting on the interview. I’ll also let you know if I landed the role.

#1 – The Interview as a “Call for Help”

In many situations, organizations are not really sure what they need. You may have responded to a job posting, however when you arrive it’s clear the situation is quite fluid. Ultimately, their actual needs become cloudier as the conversation continues. My read: They are in flux — but at the same time the prospect of challenge and growth increases. Truth: If you end up in an interview smacking of this, inquire about what they need to accomplish right now. Size up whether or not you fill that need, and if you’d still like to pursue the relationship. Assess alignment and your chances from there. My scorecard with this scenario: Interviews 2; Adequate fit 0; Job Offers 0. (Satisfied with this outcome.)

#2 – Playing Close to the Cuff

During the job search process, some interviewers present as so professional, that it is quite difficult to get a read on them as a “human-being”. There is little feedback or emotion during the interview, and you have absolutely no idea where you stand. My read: Chances are you wouldn’t be there if you are not qualified. If this is your potential boss, you’ll likely need to be a self-starter. Truth: You won’t know, until you know. (I left with this is in mind, “I’m never going to step foot here again.”) My scorecard with this scenario: Interviews 1; Job Offers 1. (Surprise.)

#3 – The Passive Aggressive Interview

These interviews feel like a boxing match. The interviewer seems determined to show you every “wart” of the organization and wait to see if you will call their bluff. It’s almost as if you are running a race, and with each successive hurdle you sustain an injury. Truth: I feel as if the interviewer(s) want to be sure that you are willing to endure, what they have endured. My read: the organization is likely unhealthy. So, figure this fact into any decisions. My scorecard: Interviews 3; Invitations to return for follow-up 2 (Respectfully declined.); Job Offers 0.

#4 – The “Non-Interview”

This is really an endorsement for taking shorter-term projects, that could set you up to land a longer-term role. Personally, there have been situations where my career was either “in transition”, I was tied to a particular geographic location or the job market was simply very, very tough. My read: Part-time or project-based roles are great realistic job previews for both you and the employer. Truth: Your network is vital to find these gems. My read: Every workplace situation is essentially an interview, so gather as much information as possible. My scorecard: “Interviews” 3 ; Job Offers 2.

What scenarios have you encountered? What were your strategies to “decode” the interview? Share them here.

This post was first published on The Office Blend on 12/22/15.

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