Tech & Work

Quelling interview conspiracy theories

Do you think the fact that you didn't get that job was due to the interviewer's inability to recognize genius? Or maybe because interviewers just don't "get it." Let's put things in perspective.

Do you think the fact that you didn't get that job was due to the interviewer's inability to recognize genius? Or maybe because interviewers just don't "get it." Let's put things in perspective.

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I hear from many TechRepublic members who are very frustrated with the job interview process. Some are downright hostile, convinced that HR departments are comprised of imbeciles, and that hiring managers the world over are programmed specifically to make their lives miserable.

Job candidates like this wear their emotion on their sleeves. They walk into an interview, and you can almost feel the hostility. That's not exactly the team player most managers are looking for. The person gets turned down for the job, and their suspicions of unfairness are buttressed. It's the ultimate self-defeating attitude.

The truth is that, while it may be tempting to think there are sinister forces at work targeted just at you, it's most likely not the case. There's a lot that goes on in the hiring process from the manager's side that you're not aware of. Because of that, processes or outcomes may appear to be unfair.

Hiring managers are a risk-adverse group. Hiring the wrong employee can be a manager's biggest headache. Think about it: If you hire someone who turns out not to be suited for the position, you have to take weeks and maybe months to try to turn that employee's performance around. If you don't succeed, you have to let that person go and start the whole process all over again. Turnover is expensive in both financial and emotional terms.

So in an attempt to cover all the bases, a hiring manager may call in 10 or 15 people to interview for one position. They're hoping to get the person with the best qualifications who will also fit intellectually and emotionally within the existing team.

As a job candidate, your skill set may exactly match the job description, but so may Person Number 4's and Person Number 6's. You may have felt that you and the interviewer had a great rapport. If he's a good interviewer, he's going to make you feel that way — not to set you up for a disappointment, but because he's skilled at putting people at ease and finding common ground.

Now understand that this interviewer is not a blank slate. He's had a lifetime of experiences that have colored his perceptions in ways that even he may not be aware of. You may have innocently answered one of his questions in some way that unconsciously reminded him of a former employee that he had problems with. If he's aware of this unfair parallel, he can dispel it. If he's not, then that may be the one detail that separates you from the running. Fair? No. Common? It probably happens more than you think. But don't beat yourself up over it. And don't let something like that feed your conspiracy theory.

I've heard enough from my readers to know that they also take psychological shortcuts in interviews (e.g., "As soon as I met him, I knew his type…" or "He reminded me of my ex father-in-law, so we were off to a bad start anyway…"). It's human nature.

Some people have no problem with the interview itself, but balk at the salary offer. Many job candidates think the salary offer exists in a vacuum and feel insulted by it. And, indeed, some are ridiculously low. But the number is not plucked from the clear, blue sky. Every manager has a budget that he has to use (or stretch in some cases) in forming a team. His offer is based on his total amount for personnel, what he's paying existing team members, what kind of return he will get on his investment in you, and the national average for the job title (if he's lucky enough to have his superiors even heed that number).

A low salary offer can be disappointing, sure, but that manager didn't sit at his desk twirling his mustache and making plans to tie a damsel to a railroad track before he made his offer. The offer, or at least a range, was in a spreadsheet somewhere before you even walked in the door.

And, last but not least, try to remain objective. Take a serious look at your qualifications. You may think that meeting seven out of 10 of those qualifications asked for in the job application is a home run, but just know that there may be four or five other candidates who can check off every one on the list. That's not a conspiracy — that is the truth.

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About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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