Monday, 3 December 2007

Interview criteria

I'd just returned to my desk this morning when a programme colleague asked whether I could do him a favour and help him interview candidates for a job on the programme. I've had a bit of experience in interviewing people, have little difficulty in holding down a decent conversation, and given a CV, a job description, and access to the customer's HR policy, and with a bit of preparation time I'd have no difficulties. I replied in the affirmative. He said, "Good, because the first one is arriving in five minutes and the guy who was supposed to be leading the interviews is off sick."

"Oh... OK. Do you have a CV for this person? What's the role? Are there Terms of Reference? Guidance for interviewers?" Me and my big mouth. I have five minutes to prep for the interview so I don't look like an idiot. Great. At least there are Terms of Reference, so I have some criteria to interview against.

The interviewee arrives. She's five minutes late, by which time I've read the CV, read the terms of reference, and cobbled together a few questions to ask. It's time to don a jacket, a smile, the better of my two accents, and waltz along to the interview room.

We get through the introductions and onto the interview proper. There is no warm-up. My colleague launches into competency questions, ticking off answers against his criteria. As reserve interviewer, I don't feel too obliged to ask many questions. I make a few notes, pick up on a few things the interviewee has mentioned, and, given an opportunity, ask her to talk me through her CV. She talks well. In sentences. Which have capital letters, full stops, and which I suspect she has run a spellcheck on before enunciating. The interview being for an administrative and programme office role, these are all very good signs. I find out more about her through this approach than from her responses to my colleague's more direct "Have you got any experience of taking minutes?" approach, most of which could be answered with brief recourse to the candidate's CV. My usual approach is to give an interviewee sufficient rope for a multitude of purposes and see whether they choose to hang themselves or not. I tend to like the types who examine the rope for a few moments and return it with some questions of their own.

A few more "How would you go about organising a meeting?" questions later, my colleague's parting prod of "What do you understand by Equal Opportunities and Diversity?" was a little off-beat and surprizing. I shouldn't have been surprized. This organisation takes its obligations to equal opportunities and diversity seriously. For example, last week, the programme team was congratulated on its gender mix but criticised for its performance in "the racial dimension". What precisely is the programme supposed to do about this? Should I volunteer to change race? From White, British to White, Other, or perhaps to Does not wish not disclose?

I suspect there's little the programme can do, beyond ensuring that any White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) recruited to the programme in future can provide a decent answer to the question "What do you understand by Equal Opportunities and Diversity?" I don't know what a model answer sounds like, but I hope it was what this lass gave. She sounded like she could do the job, had a good attitude and would get on well with the team. I suspect she'll be offered the job. It's just a pity that, as a non-WASP and given the recent criticism, many people will automatically assume she's been recruited to improve our racial dimension.


KindaBlue said...

Ah, yes. The good old approach to diversity that says you can't possibly have true equality of opportunity unless the diversity of your workforce mirrors that of the population in the local area.

Being so heavily accustomed to the public sector mentality as I am, this sort of thinking seems to be remarkably common - regardless of the fact that it misses the point entirely.

But Why? said...

So much is wrong with the programme I work on that I would have thought criticising our racial diversity should be fairly low down anyone's list of priorities, and the fact that the programme has been running for 20 months with an average of 20 team members (i.e. rather expensive) and delivered very little might be of more pressing concern.

Anyway, whilst I'm having a work rant, I might as well mention that the pace of progress has slowed sufficiently for the more effective uses of my to time to include my new role as second reserve minute-taker (because meetings must continue in the absense of any real progress), replacement map stickytaper, and stand-in administrator interviewer. But we're now making real progress along the racial dimension. Ho hum...

KindaBlue said...

But at least you're leveraging synergies to achieve against a key deliverable, i.e. the social inclusiveness dimension.

[Is it just too radical and left-wing to feel ashamed that one can write a sentence like that?]

DJ Kirkby said...

Excellent description of an interview sessions...sounds all too familiar. I too have sat in on interviews like this and felt the need to 'rescue' the interviewee with sensible questions!

But Why? said...

If delivery meant having a gender-balanced team (what??) and expensive people on the books, we've over-achieved. Unfortunately, and despite one of those things being vital to the good functioning of the programme, they're not the primary objective of this team. And this organisation doesn't like terms such as "leveraging synergies". Even the management board prefers the term "saving dosh".

I'm not sure I was sitting in an interview - at times, it felt uncomfortably like an interrogation. Anyway, we're offering this lass a job. I hope she takes it - she had a bit of personality. We could do with some of that...