The Job Interview (Part 02)

October 19, 2020

David Jaques


In the early days of our careers, our experiences with job interviews is always as the interviewee. As discussed in Part 1 of this blog, this can be an intimidating process, for which much preparation is necessary. But as our careers progress, many of us will transcend from the role of the interviewee to that of the interviewer. Let’s assume that you are called upon, or have responsibility for interviewing a candidate.

The first time you are asked to do this can be just as intimidating as being an inexperienced interviewee, and something for which formal training is rarely offered, and you find yourself in a position of power with the ability to influence a decision. One of your first roles as an interviewer may be as a potential peer of the candidate. An example of this would be when one of your co-workers leaves, and the company is looking to replace that person. The hiring manager asks you to be one of the interviewers. The most important thing here, is that the candidate is someone that you are going to have to work with, so you want to be sure that not only is that person competent to do the job and will be a good team member, but that they are also a good personality fit for the department and the demands of the role.

The responsibility increases with your own seniority and the seniority of the role you are looking to fill. Depending on where you are located, there will be different laws to determine what questions you are allowed to ask in an interview. Here in California, it is illegal to ask anything of a personal nature, and the interviewer must focus solely on the candidate’s education, work history, experience and skills. While these restrictions are in place for good reasons, principally to protect against discrimination, they can result in a candidate being hired that may not work out, and there is a risk factor in hiring a person that you may not get to know until after they are hired and have started work. Of course, there is no harm in having a candidate volunteer information, but it is important not to elaborate or question further.

If you are not formally trained in how to conduct an interview, it’s likely that you will learn by experience and the more interviews you conduct, the better you will become. As in the role of the interviewee, preparation is paramount to success and even to the way you host the interview. Firstly, have a clear view of the type of person you want, not just their technical skills and experience, but also their personality and their perceived ability to work with others. Do your research on the candidate, using any information about them that is publicly available, especially their LinkedIn profile. But no matter how well you may be prepared, you will not be able to make an informed decision before that important in-person meeting. You may form a first impression of the person that may change as the interview progresses. A candidate that is very nervous at the beginning, may not initially create that good impression, but during the interview, as they become more relaxed, more warmth and empathy may emerge. As the host, it helps if you try to put the candidate at ease with pleasant small talk, before you start the formal interview.

Aside from technical skills, also focus on the candidate’s soft skills, which include their style of communication and their personality. A very quiet, reserved person may be the perfect hire for the job of a financial analyst, but not for a marketing role. Think about how the candidate is likely to work with yourself, with peers and other co-workers.

I generally take a couple of approaches that work well for me. Firstly, I acknowledge that I have read a summary of the candidate’s experience, but invite them to tell their story in their own words. Most people are happy to talk about themselves and it gives you an opportunity to ask questions along the way. At the end of their narrative, I ask, “So what exactly brings you here today?” which opens the door for them to explain why the job is of interest to them and why they are looking to move on.

I always ask for an example of something in their career to date that makes them feel proud. This is a thought-provoking question and often, people need time to think about it. The answers are always interesting and give some insight into the person’s comfort level in taking risks and acknowledging their success. If they are unable to think of anything, I question their suitability, as everyone should have pride in their accomplishments and be happy to talk about them. Another question I ask is whether they would have done anything differently. There should be no shame for anyone in revealing a mistake that they may have made and with the benefit of hindsight may have taken a different direction. Risks and failures are good things, provided we learn from them and use those experiences for learning and self-improvement. Depending on how the interview is progressing, I often ask where they see themselves in five or ten years. There is no right or wrong answer to that question, I am just interested in their goals and vision for themselves. Finally, encourage the candidate to ask questions.

At the end of the interview, I generally know whether or not I wish to proceed with the candidate and have them interview with other people, or whether I am likely to end the process without taking it further.

Now for some anecdotes of good and bad interviews from my past experience. I remember interviewing to fill a Treasury Management role. My top candidate was a young lady with an incredible educational pedigree and experience with some prestigious companies. This was in the days before social media, so I relied on the resume. From the information on paper, she was my dream candidate. The actual interview was one of the shortest interviews I can remember. Despite her qualifications, she had no personality, answered my questions with few words of more than one syllable, did not make eye contact and had no questions for me. I could not proceed with such a person to work in a very nurturing and collaborative department.

One of my best interviews actually had a disappointing moment that I had to overcome. I was interviewing to fill the role of a financial controller for a fast-growing startup and I was doing all the work myself. In short, I was getting desperate for help. I started the interview process in mid-November and quickly narrowed down my choices to two candidates, one of whom was an outstanding person and, in my opinion a perfect fit for the job. I called her back to interview with other executives and at the end of that process I offered her the job. She told me that this was also her top choice of company to work for, and that she also had an offer from another company. However, she would not be available until January. So, I was faced with waiting for my top choice person for about five weeks, or going with my second choice who could start immediately. I decided to take the short-term loss for the long-term gain and wait until January. It was the right decision.

The interview is simply part of the process towards hiring a person to work for you. It is not a process that anyone should take lightly, as your decision will affect so many lives; your own, the person you are hiring, and the people that the person will be working with. Maybe those days when you were the young interviewee were simpler, and dare I say, easier?

Hi, I’m David. I’m from London, but after living in New York and Amsterdam, I settled in Silicon Valley, California where I’ve lived since 1994. From the relatively safe life of working for a global bank like Barclays, I became fascinated by startup companies, innovation and ways in which the world could be changed for the better. So I opened my mind, became a risk taker and a life-long learner.

As founding CFO of PayPal, Treasurer at Silicon Valley Bank and Director at Blue Run Ventures, I’ve been recognised by the global Fintech community as a pioneer in the payments industry. I have served on the boards of public and private companies as well as a couple of non-profit organisations.

But what about me? Well, I like running, skiing and mountain climbing in my free time; plus, I love to travel and see the world. I have two adult children, a wonderful wife, some cats and a harrier puppy.

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