career, interviewing, job search, recruiting

Never assume an interview starts with the first interviewer

Most people have been on a job interview at least once–if not many more times–in their life. So we know the drill. You get dressed up. Do a little homework on the company and the interviewers (if possible). Review your resume. Print a few copies of your resume on nice paper. Make sure you don’t smell like cigarettes, coffee or onions and that you don’t have spinach in your front teeth. Stand up straight. Smile.

But do you know when the interview actually starts? It might be earlier than you think–and it could decide your fate before you ever sit down with the first ‘official’ interviewer.

Case in point: Zappos is widely known for having created a strong, unique company culture–and placing cultural fit first and foremost in their candidate evaluation process. When Zappos flies candidates into their Las Vegas headquarters, they have a driver pick them up. The driver is asked to provide feedback post-interview on whether the candidate was nice to them; if they weren’t–they won’t be hired. Would you think a limo driver might be part of your interview loop?

When I ran recruiting for an accelerated 2 year finance leadership training program at a Fortune 100 company, we would interview 40+ soon to be college graduates for full time positions in one day. Accomplishing this required a lot of volunteer help from current members of the program. We gave the volunteers polo shirts so they would be easily recognized. One year, we had a candidate say to one of the volunteers, “Did you have to pay for that shirt?” When the volunteer stated that he had not, the candidate said, “That’s good–because I’d never pay to wear something that ugly. I wouldn’t even wear it if it were free.” Two of his fellow candidates were standing next to him, visibly uncomfortable at his self-destructive comments. Guess where that feedback got delivered–immediately? Yep–straight to me. Want to guess if that candidate was hired or not? (That wasn’t even his best line of the day, actually: That would have been, “Unlike women, I understand numbers. . .” which was stated to a hiring manager in an interview.)

In my team, our Recruiting Coordinator is more of an associate recruiter–she recruits on requisitions and evaluates candidates daily. It always surprises me when she gives feedback that an onsite interview candidate has treated her in a condescending or dismissive way. And you bet that takes taken into account when deciding whether that person should be considered further.

The same goes for email communication. Just because you’re not communicating with the recruiter or hiring manager doesn’t mean that person isn’t a decision maker–so make time to think about your response, craft it carefully, and don’t quickly send a response from a mobile device.

Some people will think this is intuitively obvious; based on the example above (and many more experiences) I assure you it is not. Don’t ever think that the receptionist or cab driver isn’t a possible decision maker–because they are.



4 thoughts on “Never assume an interview starts with the first interviewer

  1. I toured Zappos a few years back and heard that story as well. That’s a company that understands their culture and how to protect their long-term vision.

    I think its a great point to highlight for prospective candidates. When I was recruiting, I would ask our receptionist about some of the candidates to find out how they treated her. How do you say “candidate be aware” in Latin?

    Posted by David Barwick | May 9, 2013, 10:09 am
    • You’re right, Dave. I remember working with the staffing agency when we would each take a shift covering the reception desk at lunch. Never failed to amaze me how many prospective candidates (or even employees!) would treat that person like crap. You need not guess what the outcome was when they would do that.

      Posted by Jon J-B | May 9, 2013, 10:48 am
  2. Thanks for the trip down memory lane with your stories! I think more and more, companies are recruiting on “culture fit” and it starts from the moment a candidate submits a resume and starts interacting with the company, whether it be the limo driver, interview scheduler or the receptionist.

    Posted by Jennifer White | May 9, 2013, 11:17 am
    • Absolutely, Jen! And you’re very right–it’s an easy way to see what someone is really like (and hence might be like as an employee) when they aren’t in ‘interview mode’.

      Posted by Jon J-B | May 9, 2013, 11:19 am

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