More (Horror) Stories from the Job Seeking World

More (Horror) Stories from the Job Seeking World

My prior newsletter explored the unrealistic expectations that hiring committees often have about the qualities that they seek in their candidates.This newsletter discusses how the interview process can go awry when there is a disconnect between a candidate and his interviewers.

The Back Story

A few days ago, I was talking to a colleague (“Sam”) who is currently self-employed, but has decided that he wants to return to working inside an organization. Sam is a highly skilled, articulate, senior manager who is clear on what he can do and where he would like to do it. In other words, it should be easy to match him with the right organization and the interview process should be fairly straightforward.

Sam recently interviewed with five senior people from an organization that he is interested in joining. On the surface, the interview appeared to go well and the conversation was interesting and substantive. However, the interviewers’ body language sent Sam a very different message about their interest. Every single interviewer spent much of the interview leaning back in their chairs with their arms crossed and their tone of their voices flat. In addition, one of the men sat in that I’m-Taking-Up-As-Much-Space-As-Possible pose, which involved leaning back, crossing his arms, and spreading his legs. You’ve probably run into men sitting like this on buses, trains, and metros. It is often a sign of aggression and/or competition as the person is signaling that he can and will take up more space than you.

What Does Their Posture Mean?

In general, people who cross their arms are signaling that they are uncomfortable with something. I know – you cross your arms when you’re cold. However, there are many different ways we can cross our arms. When we’re cold, we usually put our hands in our armpits or cross our arms very tightly with our elbows close together. (Go ahead, give that a try now. You’ll see what I mean.)

So why were the interviewers sitting like that when talking to Sam? One very plausible explanation is that the interviewers did not want to be in the room. But why? There are any number of possibilities:

  • Perhaps they did not think the company needed to hire someone new.

  • Perhaps they did not like Sam and thought the CEO was ignoring their concerns.

  • Perhaps the CEO had promised them that this time he was going to promote from within and is now going back on his word.

  • Perhaps the timing was poor – the interviewers were in the middle of a major project and did want to take the time to sit in on an interview.

  • Perhaps the head of HR had sprung this interview on them at the last minute.

  • Perhaps Sam was the 14th person they had interviewed for this position and they thought that the powers-that-be were ever going to make up their minds, so it was a total waste of their time.

What Should Sam Have Done?

Honestly, I’m not sure.

If he is truly interested in the job, then he should do what he did – carry on and do his best to respond to their questions. IF, and this is a very big IF, Sam felt that he had established a decent rapport with at least one of the interviewees, he could stop and say, “Could I ask you a question? The way you are sitting makes me think that you are uncomfortable or unhappy with something. Is there something that you think it would be useful for me to know? It’s possible someone would speak up and tell him. It’s also possible that they might have no idea what he is talking about, think that he is utterly bizarre, and that will be the end of his opportunity at that company.

Another option is to say nothing, continue with the interview and, if he makes it to the next level, talk to the head of HR, the CEO, or another contact about what he observed.

This is Actually a Company Failure

In some way, shape, or form, it appears the company did not do what it needed to do to get its people on board with and ready for this interview. If the CEO, head of HR, or whoever is most closely involved is truly interested in Sam, they may very well have lost him. First, the interviewers’ body language sent Sam the message that they were not enthusiastic about meeting with him. And second, their body language put Sam on notice that there may very well be unspoken issues at that organization, issues with which he may not want to deal.

Training Programs

In addition to management consulting, conflict resolution, and executive coaching, I offer tailored programs on a variety of related topics, including how to lead, delegate, communicate more effectively, deal with difficult people, manage conflict in the workplace, manage up, facilitate meetings, manage your career, and network.

Please let me know if there are other topics in which you are interested. If I don’t already have a program on that topic, I am happy to develop one that meets your needs.