It’s an interview, not an interrogation

The art of having meaningful conversations with job candidates

An empty, poorly-lit, interrogation room with a two-sided mirror and in front of it two folding chairs facing each other on either side of a table.

3D rendering by ekostsov/Adobe Stock

Not too long ago—though it feels like a lifetime—interviewing happened in person. A candidate would be invited to your studio for an interview. You’d show them around, let them see how people interact, catch a glimpse of the work, casually connect, and basically do human things.

Before even a single interview question was asked, the candidate could get a feel for the company and the people who work there (hello, fellow rebels). Because you had invited them to “your place” you’d allowed them to get a first sense of whether you, this place, and its people could be a fit.

What determines fit?

How does the design rebel sitting across from you decide if this is a good place to be? There’s a range of contributing factors, but in my experience the key element is trust. When all is said and done, what it comes down to is, “Can I count on this company, and on you as a leader, to provide me with an environment that lets me be a design rebel, that allows me to take risks, that trusts me to do my job, and empowers me to be successful?”

It’s all about trust

Stephen Gates talks in depth about the key role of trust in Episode 88 of his “Crazy One” podcast. Stephen presents the different types of trust, helps us understand where it is important, how to assess the various aspects of it, and some of the best ways to build it, as well as understanding human-centered transformation. I highly recommend listening.

Trust needs to be earned. There’s no shortcut. However the groundwork for that can be laid right there in that first encounter, the interview—aka “the conversation.” Admittedly that has become much harder to do in a world where the studio visit and the chance to get to know each other in person has been replaced by a call over Zoom. It will come down to you, the face on the screen, to make the case, to make your partner in this conversation feel welcome, and to not make it feel like an interrogation.

Hello, fellow rebel

Here are five key ingredients that I recommend weaving into your interview to show your candidate that a fellow design rebel is sitting across from them—one who can be trusted. These ingredients are meant to complement the five “design rebel checklist” questions:

1. Check your ego at the door

The interview is never a place for you (or your panel) to show off how knowledgeable, talented, or skilled you are, or even worse, that you know better. Instead, show some vulnerability. The person sitting across from you is suffering from imposter syndrome, and so are you. That’s always a good place to start. Talk about something you’re focused on learning or share examples of what you’ve learned since starting this job.

2. Connect

Rebel, meet fellow rebel. Show up as your most authentic rebel self. Find moments to share who you are as a human and as a leader. Talk about the detours you took to get to where you are. Nobody wants to work with a person they know nothing about. This is not a blind date. This is your first step toward building trust.

3. Leave the sugarcoating at home

If you, your team, or your company are facing challenges, which you likely are, don’t sugarcoat that. Be transparent. The person sitting across from you is likely to have a highly accurate bullshit detector—just like you, they’re an empath. If you’re being asked honest questions, give honest answers. Admit to the struggles and share how you face them. Design rebels make great allies.

4. Take risks

To be a design rebel means taking risks and knowing that someone (aka you) has their back if they do—no matter the outcome. Share examples of times when you and your team have taken risks and how taking risks is encouraged, supported, and rewarded. No risk, no fun.

5. Remember, you want to hire people smarter than you

As you close the interview (or in a follow-up), reflect on what you just learned. This presents a great opportunity to be authentic or vulnerable once more. Share what you learned in this conversation and express your appreciation for it.

If you’re an interviewer and some of this resonates with you, please give it a try. If you’re an interviewee, I hope it helps you see how much we care.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

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