Somewhere in Hollywood is a building with pale green carpets and plain white walls. I sat in that room with a dozen other boys like me, child actors, committing my lines to memory and building my emotions into a rage. When my time came, I stood in front of the casting director, the director, and a camera, and I read my lines with such fury and anger that they had to ask me to scale it back. It was a great interview.
A few days later, the call came. They’d loved me. The interview had been great. They wanted me for the part. But I was too tall.
That was interviewing. There was always something. Especially during those awkward teenage years when I was growing so fast that my photos couldn’t keep pace with reality. I was too big for the kid parts and too young for the high school parts. I was too this, not enough that. I got the part, they changed the concept, I lost the part. I can’t tell you how many times I was this close to working with this famous director and that famous actor for a movie at that major studio.
What I learned about interviews was that they were about judging and being judged. They were about a hundred kids and their mothers packed in a small room working their way through a process that would whittle the herd down to one lucky kid who might get the role that would make them a star. And when I got to be an adult who interviewed for “real-world” jobs, those interviews felt much the same.
Over the course of my career, I’ve been on the other side of the table many times. I’ve been the interviewer instead of the interviewee. I can’t recall ever having been trained to that role. It always seemed like the occasional job responsibility. Program this, help the customer with that, and, oh yeah, judge this person so we can decide whether they get to work or not.
I guess, what I’m saying is that it has always felt kind of cold and heartless. I know it shouldn’t be, but nobody really trains you how to do it better. What training does exist almost seems like it’s tailored to drive home the point that your job is to be a passionless interrogator intent on getting at the truth that will help you know, without a doubt, that you’ve hired the right candidate for the job.
This week, I sat in an interview again. But it was different this time. Maybe it’s years, now, of practice. Maybe it’s my different perspective, my aim to help others and to mentor. I don’t know. But as I sat there, I felt less as though it was my job to judge the fit of the candidate to the job at hand, and more my responsibility to fit the job to the candidate.
It’s a subtle difference in perspective, but I think it’s important. Candidates are good people who want to work. They’ve gone to school, they’ve compiled a resume of past experiences, they’ve dressed up and practiced, all to impress me because they hope I will give them a chance. They want a chance to work, to grow, to make some money to put food on their table. The problem of an interviewer is seldom that the candidate is unwilling or unable to do the job.
The real problem is finding a candidate who will become an employee who stays and who continues to grow. That requires a candidate who is motivated by what I, and my company, bring to the table. Part of that is the basic stuff – the salary, the benefits, the workplace. Most of it, though, is the job itself. Is it work that is intrinsically interesting to the person on the other side of the table?
As I prepared for and participated in the interview this week, this was what on my mind. I asked questions aimed at understanding this person’s aspirations and interests. What did this person want to be known for, what did they want their coworkers to say about them? “Go see ___. They are great at x!” What is x? Conversely, what aspect of themself does the candidate want to work on that they feel they need to improve?
And then, I looked at the role at hand and asked myself whether it was a role that would help them achieve these aspirations. Was it a role where this person could really get good at x? Would this role be one that aligned well with their desire to improve in this other area?
As an interviewer, I have a chance to make someone’s life better. Obviously, it’s better when they are working, and I would love to give a job to everyone who wants one. Barring my ability to do that, though, I can help improve lives by helping candidates find a job that really speaks to them. I’m hiring a candidate not just for this job, but for the next one, too, the one that this job will prepare them for.
I hope that the candidate will stay, of course. I hope they’ll thrive in this job. I hope that they will grow in the job and feel invested in it. All of that, though, is far more likely to happen if this is the right job for them. If this is the right job for them, they will want to stay, they will want to grow, they will work at it because it interests them, and they will find joy in the job.
Interviewing is a chance to help others. It’s a chance to help people find the job that will help them become what they want to be. And that’s something I care about.