What is he on about, you may wonder. Prompted by Lisa Reiter we are asked for our memories of interviews. I’m a bit Churchillian here. Re democracy he said, in 1947:
Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
I’m the same with finding the right candidate for a job – interviews are appalling and pretty useless unless you look at all the other methods – online tests, Rausch inkblots and psychometrics, workshops and role play.
I carried out many interviews. Well over 150 in all my years as a lawyer. I’ve done it as a trustee of a charity and for help at home. I’ve been interviewed for employment and pitching for work. And never did I feel I really knew what I would get as an employer or feel confident the interviewers really understood me or what I had to offer. A lot of personal chemistry and bluff.
Easily my worst interview on the hiring side was during a bomb scare when we were all sent to the basement restaurant in case a car bomb went off blowing glass into the building. The sense of farce was exacerbated by two of the panel not showing and my colleague and I not having any notes on the candidate. We were also surrounded by dozens of other people nervously talking and giggling. We gave the young man a job, probably more because we had handled it so badly. He came to a social event a week before he started with us – remember this was an after work do so everyone was in a suit or equivalent – save he was in ripped jeans, a string vest and with large gold neck chain. We pretty much knew then he wouldn’t work out.
Some I remembers:
I remember being interviewed for my first proper legal job and being comforted by the partner in a brown suit, striped blue shirt and hush puppies – if he could look so bad, I could fit in.
I remember passing my interview to go to grammar school, having failed my eleven plus, by showing my depth of knowledge of Paddington Bear books.
I remember sitting waiting to be interviewed for a piece of work and noticing I had put on one brown and one black shoe that morning.
I remember being warmly greeted on another pitch by the interviewer as a long lost friend and wondering at this effusiveness until fifteen minutes in I realised we had sat next to each other for a year at the college of law. He recognised my name and I hadn’t his. My powers of bullshit saw me through.
I remember that of the two interviews I had where I was offered articles (the training contract you need to become a solicitor), one comprised an awkward half hour where the interviewer found various ways to touch my legs and thighs, eventually sitting so close we were almost straddling each other. I took the other job.
I remember we interviewed a candidate for a post as assistant solicitor by video-link shortly after the equipment was installed. Six of us took part, mostly for the novelty. At the end I turned off the link and we conducted a debrief. Unbeknownst to any of us, I had left the sound on. Happily and unusually we said nothing libellous.
I remember participating in an interview for a partner joining from another firm; this was a big commitment on both sides and taken very seriously except I dozed off and only awoke when the candidate said goodbye.
I remember being co head of the international real estate group (boy did we love grand titles – I tried to have then call me The Grand Vizier or Great Mufti if they preferred but they wouldn’t buy it). One of our roles was to prepare potential partnership candidates in our group for their day of interviews. One year my co head, a German from Hamburg, flummoxed me and the three candidates (two Germans and a Frenchman – sounds like the start of a gag) by playing the Fawlty Towers episode, The Germans, as a way of explaining something of the British mindset and humour. The Frenchman’s comment? It was a shame Napolean failed.
To be fair I have been in many interviews and met some of the most charming, intelligent and erudite people. Some we employed and some succeeded with us or we helped them on their way to better things. And I learnt a lot about myself – mostly that you learn more if you do less talking than the candidate.