Friday, October 10, 2008

Play within a Play

At what point does a job applicant become too smooth?

We say we want articulate responses, but there are times when the answers sound rehearsed. We sense we are watching a performance instead of a person.

Employers can blame themselves for the rising number of slick applicants. The market has caught on that being genuine can be dangerous. The applicant who responds to "Why do you want this job?" with "So I can pay my rent" may be given high marks for candor and low ones for judgment.

For their part, the interviewers are often restricted from asking questions that might give a glimpse of the real person.

As a result, the job interview turns into a drama in which the players improvise while fulfilling certain roles and the drama itself is a casting session. It is a play within a play.

The applicant's strategy: If I want this job, I will say the things (within limits) that I think will make you want to give it to me.

The interviewer's strategy: I will try to determine if, underneath all of the answers that are given to make us want to hire you and which we may truly want to hear, you can be trusted, will not embarrass us, and will fit in.


Cultural Offering said...

We hired a fellow years ago who fits the bill you describe. After the experience was over and he left, everyone who interviewed him - including myself - said that he seemed too slick in the interview. Of course, we gave him the benefit of the doubt and paid for it in many ways.
We checked our basic powers of discernment at the door. Expensive lesson learned.

Michael Wade said...

Updated comment: Every time that I've overruled my intuition, I've regretted it.

Our mind is like a computer that is processing various messages and sending us alert signals ... and then we ignore them.

Mark said...

Thanks for the interesting post which resonates strongly, I suspect, in most organisations. And yet... I wonder exactly how much prep work on interviews is done by many organisations. I've been watching the graduate recruitment market for many years and I am constantly appalled at the general lack of preparation that organisations, with notable exceptions, put into their interviewers. There almost seems to be a "well I was interviewed, how hard can it be?" attitude.

At more senior levels I suspect that an element of "box-ticking" pervades so that the organisation can "prove" that the process was fair and/or that the latest selection tools are used. To such an extent that the real selection gets lost in the milieu.

I accept that a slick candidate can worm their way in, but it is the selector's job to have a clear agenda and drill through any obfuscation. No excuses.

And to trust their intestinal fortitude.

Michael Wade said...


Excellent point. Interviewing is a skill and far too many interviewers are untrained. One of my business parners is an extraordinary interviewer. It is fascinating to watch him bore in on an applicant's smooth answers. He is, however, highly trained in that topic.