An important lesson about job interviews you’ll never forget

Apr 20, 2017

If there’s one important lesson about job interviews you ever learn let it be what I am about to share.

Today I was speaking with my brother-in-law who told me a story about a man he met in the gym this week.

The story is a familiar one but will remind us of an important lesson about job interviews.

Well, my brother-in-law got talking with this man – let’s call the man Brian.

Brian owns a large company with over a hundred employees but said things did not look great for him on the way to where he is today. He had been a troubled youngster. He didn’t do that well at school, in fact he left without getting good grades. Between the ages of 17 and 20 Brian drifted from one petty crime to another and frequently got into trouble with the police.

Brian decides to get a job

Eventually, however, he decided to make something of his life and to get himself a job. After a few dead-end positions, he travelled to London where an uncle offered him a position with his own company. However, Brian turned it down saying he wanted to try to make it on his own merits and started looking in local newspapers for positions he could apply for.

The job that caught his eye was for a position with a health food company. He applied and was asked to come for an interview. Due to the remote location of the company they arranged for someone to meet him at the nearest station and to drive him to the depot.

The man who picked him up was friendly enough. They chatted all the way to the depot and seemed to get along on well.

Showdown in the interview room

After a short wait in the reception area, Brian was invited into the interview room. Imagine his surprise when he found out that one of the people to interview him was that very same driver who had picked him up from the station.

But the surprise didn’t end there. The driver introduced himself as the CEO of the company and said that Brian would not be required to do an interview after all. He explained that he would not be hiring Brian for the position.

“Why?” asked Brian. “Did I do something wrong? Am I being sacked before I’ve even been given the opportunity to start?’

The CEO smiled and explained that he had interviewed Brian during the drive to the depot and found him to be a good fit for another more senior role he had in mind.

“You have a good work ethic and lots of ideas,” said Mr CEO. “The role you applied for is for a do-er but I also need a thinker, someone like you, to help me run my company.”

So, before Brian even got the job he was promoted.

A tall tale that’s not so uncommon

Now this may sound like a bit of a tall tale but it happens all the time. Many years ago, a manager at a company I owned found herself in a similar position. She was conducting a series of interviews for an editorial assistant position. Before the interview, she popped to the bathroom and met one of the interviewees arriving. He looked a bit lost so she asked if he was okay and he replied in a short and off-standish tone that he was fine. He had no idea who she was so imagine his face when a few moments later he walked into the interview room and saw that his fate for the job he was to be interviewed for was in her hands.

Perhaps she looked like the driver. Or the cleaner.

The thing is, dear graduate, whenever you go for a job interview you never know who is watching you. It is better to consider yourself as not just being interviewed by one person, but by the whole company. Your interview begins in the car park or the moment you approach the building.

I know of companies that go to the length of asking the receptionist and other employees for their feedback on candidates’ behaviour outside the interview room, because it’s often when interviewees are off-guard that you get a true sense of who they are. The interview room is too staged, too tense even, to really know what a person is naturally like.

Take this piece of advice and apply it to the next interview you go along to. It may not help much – but then again, you never know.

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