Monday, 26 May 2014

Interviewer versus interviewee

It was several months ago now, but at the start of this academic year we needed to appoint an evening-only assistant to replace someone who had resigned. Just as we did the previous year when appointing a library apprentice, the college librarian and I both went through the applications. Eighteen people applied and using a generic matrix procedure from HR, we shortlisted five candidates who were then invited for interview.

Within the college, job interviews are conducted by a member from HR and the head of the appointing department (plus a member of the senior management team if necessary). However, the college librarian personally knew one of the shortlisted candidates; in order to ensure fairness in the selection process he withdrew from the interview panel. This meant that I was offered a position on the interview panel. Although I have been involved in the competency testing part of interview days, I had never before been on an interview panel.

I remember, years ago, a previous line manager of mine saying how they felt under great pressure to appoint the right person when conducting interviews. This was said to me almost ten years ago; I’d remembered it as I thought it a surprising thing to say, but this year I finally felt it myself. I was acutely aware of how nervous I feel as an interviewee, and so a main concern was to put candidates at ease. I dressed smartly but purposely chose not to wear a suit, whereas when I am the interviewee I will always wear a suit. I hoped that creating a slightly less formal atmosphere to the interview was a way of trying to find the best in them. I also tried to encourage them to expand on answers in a conversational way. The HR person conducting the interviews with me said I was doing it too much and should leave it as a basic Q&A session rather than a discussion. I did as asked, but I’m not entirely comfortable with that style of interview technique.

Just as with the shortlisting, we used a matrix to ‘score’ candidates. The college librarian and I tailored this to the specific questions asked so that we knew in advance what answers we were hoping to hear. I found this made it far easier to cross-reference their responses and make valid comparisons.

What surprised me most was how much I really enjoyed being part of an interview panel. I didn’t imagine for one moment that I would! I enjoyed meeting different people, seeing their enthusiasm and trying to bring out the best in them. Having been on the other side of the interview desk has encouraged me to reflect on my own performance in interviews. It made me realise how important it is to show your personality – whether that be through enthusiasm, jokes or colourful clothing – so that you stand out from the crowd. Interviewers see so many people in a relatively short space of time it can be difficult to prevent them blending into one. Being on an interview panel consolidated something I’d always suspected - if you’re memorable, you’re almost halfway there!

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