Don’t Treat the Interview Like a Test

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Having children recently out of college, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in interviewing: New job seekers are preparing to “pass” interviews as if they were tests.

I understand that knowing a lot about a potential employer can demonstrate your interest, but it has gotten to the point where preparation sometimes begins a year before an application is even sent in. Job seekers are memorizing the types of questions usually asked and how a company wants them answered.

This is because some companies really do make interviewing all about how well you answer their questions. These companies put processed answers ahead of relationship chemistry. They are focused on getting the right answers while missing out on the right chemistry fit.

I, on the other hand, judge a strong fit by understanding how often a hire believes the work is “hard” rather than “inspiring.” Hard work drains your energy while dampening your long-term effectiveness and inspiration. Hard work is why the phrase “Thank God it’s Friday!” (TGIF) originated. On the other hand, when you do inspiring work and have healthy relationships with your colleagues, you will be more prone to appreciate TGIE — “Thank God it’s every day!”

The Vicious Cycle of the Test Mentality

Some individual companies are particularly coveted by young job seekers for their financial rewards and growth opportunities. These companies, however, can often be the kinds of companies that treat interviews like tests. Many of these companies measure not only how well their test questions are answered, but also how well a candidate stands up to the pressure of the moment. It is not unusual for these companies to subject candidates to a full day of back-to-back interviews.

These companies aren’t really concerned about relationship chemistry. Instead, they’re  wondering: How willing is a candidate to continually put in 80+ hours of work a week? How quickly can they complete their assignments to improve our billable hours? How well can they put up with criticism from a partner or client?

The candidates who make it through the interview internalize these values. They become accustomed to the company’s harsh way of working, and they pass this work style onto future hires. As they rise through the ranks of the company, they focus on results while caring very little for relationships. I’ve met too many executives who are driven to succeed but do not know how to lead. To these executives, leadership means dictating orders, often with a threat that instills fear, negating the inspiration necessary for long-term success.

I know of an advertising agency led by an owner who had inherited the agency from his family. The company did well but was known as a sweatshop. The owner cared only for results and little for the stress put on his staff. The agency was successful, but as time moved on, its success diminished. Turnover and burnout were commonplace.

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I worked with one of this agency’s senior-level employees. She was exceptionally talented, but her work consumed her. Her dedication gave her money, accolades, and promotions, but as the years went by, she realized this was not how she wanted to live her life. She had passed the interview test all those years ago, but later she came to understand what she had passed into was burning her out. Finally, she walked away from the company and took a multiyear sabbatical to become human again. She left the bad memories of her chosen profession and now helps others enjoy more balanced lives.

It’s a Field Trip, Not a Test

So if it’s wrong to treat the interview like a test, what’s the better approach? I recommend interviewing for relationship chemistry with a field-trip mentality instead.

Think of a peak moment in your life when you felt your values like curiosity, discovery, and adventure were empowered. Field trips (and vacations) are, in my experience, very conducive to such peak empowerment experiences.

Whether you are the candidate or the interviewer, embrace that peak moment before walking into the interview. If you leave the meeting still feeling inspired, then some shared values authentically connected you with the people you met. If, on the other hand, you leave uncomfortable, then there may not be a very good fit between the candidate and the company.

You will be much more inspired at work if you spend every day working with people you feel authentically connected to. We could all avoid the vicious cycle of stress caused by poor relationship chemistry if we all approached hiring with a relationship-first mindset.

Barney Feinberg, PCC, CPCC, CPA, is the founder and CEO of The Chemistry Factor — Executive Coach and Recruiter. Follow him on Twitter: @chemistryfactor.

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