This year, I have had a number of interviews at other charities. After being at the same organisation for 7 years and having not had an interview for almost 4 years it was a surreal, illuminating and nerve wracking experience.
As well as teaching me about my own strengths and weaknesses, it also taught me some useful lessons for the future about things to consider when interviewing people.
I’ve pulled out my top 5 lessons below.
1. Make information easy to access
I approach interviews like an exam and like to prepare thoroughly. Armed with multi-coloured sharpies and flashcards I have scoured organisations websites to try and get a feel for who they are and what they do, furiously making notes as I went along. I found it interesting just how difficult it was to find out key information at times. Finding annual reports often became a less exciting version of “Where’s Wally?” and I became convinced that the mission of some organisations was actually top secret. I know that job seekers aren’t the core audience of charity websites. But, job seekers are motivated visitors and if they are struggling to find out information then you can guarantee others are too so it is worth giving this some thought.
2. First impressions count
When you arrive at a job interview the reception staff are the first people you meet and the first impression you get of an organisation. I’ve been really fortunate at Mencap as we have some of the nicest reception staff you could imagine. Josie, in particular, is automatically loved by all who meet her. As such, I think I took it for granted that all receptionists in the charity sector would be similar. I was wrong. Whilst the majority of receptionists I met were friendly and helped put me at ease, some were quite different. There were occasions where I was ignored, told off and generally made to feel unwanted. Needless to say, it didn’t leave me feeling invigorated when I went into the interview! It made me realise how crucial these initial interactions are in shaping how people feel about an organisation and how important it is to make sure reception staff are well briefed ahead of interviews to help set things off on the right foot.
3. Ask some human questions
I was surprised by how some interviews were purely role focussed and didn't really explore who I was as a person. It gave the impression that it didn't matter who you were or what your motivations were as long as you could do the job. When interviewing other people, I've always felt I've found out the most about someone from open ended questions that allow them to discuss what excited them about the role and organisation. It's easy to rehearse questions to do with a job description but much harder to prepare questions about you as a person (in my experience). Whilst making sure someone is competent is key, you also need to know this is a person that fits within your organisations values and culture, or challenges them (both of which have their pluses and minues).
4. Don’t say it unless you mean it
Waiting for the phone to ring after an interview is reminiscent of the early days of dating someone. You stare at your phone (or email) urging it to ring only to be overcome by a wave of nausea and excitement when it eventually it does (probably to find out it’s actually a call about that “accident” you were in recently). So, as with dating, if you say you are going to call by a certain time/date then do. Seriously. People would much rather know that you're "just not that into them" than be left in limbo.
5. Make feedback meaningful
Anyone that has interviewed people knows how awful it is when you have to call someone and tell them it’s a no. You feel like the worst human. However, you need to forget about yourself in that equation and focus on the person on the other end of the phone. The person who has put in the effort of applying and coming to interview. The person who has probably already rehearsed their acceptance speech in their head. What that person needs is to know how they can turn a no into a yes in the future. They need you to offer constructive feedback that they can build on. They need to know they are still of value. Whilst telling someone they did nothing wrong might make you as an interviewer feel better it is of no use to the person on the other end of the phone. Take time to come up with some helpful pointers that allow them to take away something meaningful from the experience.
Anyway, those are just a few of my thoughts based on my experience. I’d love to hear others thoughts and experiences on this topic. Over to you...