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My favorite interviewee

June 13, 2008

In my last salaried job, I took out an ad to hire managers for a new department. The response was great and we shortlisted 6 people for 2 vacancies. Seeing that my neck was on the chopping block, I led the interview panel.

We knew exactly what we wanted and what we didn’t want. The person had to be slightly dominant, EQ-sensitive, a structured thinker and can comprehend both torturous detail and the big picture. We didn’t want someone with attention deficit disorder. The interview would be the last step after they survived a short written test designed to separate the talkers from the doers.

All the candidates behaved similarly during the interview. They were warm and professional and answered our questions politely. They all knew their stuff.

Towards the end of the interview, when I asked the obligatory “Do you have anything to ask?” question, the response was also predictable. All of them asked about job scope, salary, when will I hear from you, the usual “what’s in it for me” stuff. Most took it as the cue to get up and shake hands.

All except one guy who turned the tables around. After the standard Q&A was over, he pretty much took over the interview. Who’s your most worrying competitor, he asked. How are they responding to your offensives? Do these market issues affect you? Have you considered making this move instead of that? What happened that your published revenue dipped by 5% last quarter? How’s the staff coping? Did everybody have clear KPIs? If you had to choose one, would it be efficiency or effectiveness?

He knew not just my business but engaged in interesting role-play, displaying a sensible balance between talking and listening. The conversation (yes, the interview mode all but evaporated 20 minutes ago) took the better part of an hour and most of it was spent talking about us than about him.

And there’s the difference. Other candidates took the mundane “Do you have anything to ask?” question as a signal to wrap up and go. He turned it into the most powerful moment of the interview, by taking the team down a well-orchestrated expedition on how things could be. And he was smart enough not to drop names of well-connected people cause I would have killed his application immediately if he did. If I was Simon Cowell, I’d give him a 4.8 out of 5.

Long story short, we gave him the job and he went on to do very well. I’ve not met another person as articulate as he was. If only more manager-aspirants had that sort of oomph.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. LC Teh permalink
    June 13, 2008 8:44 am

    Wow, how lucky can you get… sounds like everyone’s ideal candidate.

  2. Damien permalink*
    June 13, 2008 8:47 am

    Yeah that was a fluke, the one and only that I’ve found right up to today. He was an ex management consultant who got tired of advising wanted to start doing.

  3. June 13, 2008 3:07 pm

    You need to stand out in the interview and do something out of the box. One more tip, use a different color paper for your CV, something along the line of pale orange. I am sure someone will notice the difference.

  4. Damien permalink*
    June 14, 2008 8:10 am

    Good point. The CV that stood out most for me had a pizza stain on it. I think it belonged to an IT programmer.

  5. tinytapir permalink
    June 16, 2008 12:37 pm


    Would that I will be lucky enough to have the same sort of interview experience soon. Good managers are the devil to find.

  6. Damien permalink*
    June 16, 2008 8:28 pm

    @tinytapir, thanks for dropping by. Yeah, as my ex HR manager said, finding a good manager is like finding a rich handsome bachelor. Either they’re taken up or they’re gay. Hahahaha…. šŸ˜›

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