Open Coffee Mid Ulster

You know the drill. You wake up in a panic. You shower, you don the immaculate (and maybe a little uncomfortable) pinstripe suit, you eat a light breakfast, you battle the traffic, you arrive promptly at 9.15am. Just as your clones arrive and take a seat, you are ushered into a cool, featureless room, where three, remote figures shake your hand monotonously. One is the regulatory director, one is the approachable employee who will be one step above you on the ladder and the other, who knows – he has wispy grey hair, bad teeth and is wearing a dreadful camel, cord suit. He never speaks or meets your eye.

You are grilled about your education achievements and career choices for thrity minutes. You legs are seizing up for fear you may not have regurgitated their inane mission statement correctly. The more progressive the business, the more likely you might be treated to a quick tour of the premises, while bored employees try not to catch your eye. You shake all three limp hands, made more awkward by the camel-suited guy who is left-handed. You leave, nervously eyeing your twitching clones.

Some of the more ridiculous questions I have been asked at interviews during my time as an employee:

  • So, what made you apply for this job (asked by all but the most creative of interviewers)? I always immediately think of my rent and electric bill. Why else?
  • Could you explain to us a situation in which you’ve had to use your skills?
    (At an interview where it was clear from my CV that I had no experience.)

And, my absolute favourite:

  • Are you pregnant, or likely to get pregnant soon?
    (I decided that we’d talked enough at that point and left.)

Recently, we had to meet a few people who we might use as freelancers. You may have come across our blog posts or online adverts asking for freelancers to contact us. We’d had experience before of meeting people in a typical office setting and felt it could have gone better, for all concerned.

So, we plumped for an easy-access, on the bus-route cafe, near the city centre. We advised potential freelancers of the casual and informal venue and stressed that it was NOT an interview.

The professionals we were meeting all turned up in smart/casual gear, which was excellent. So far, so good, I thought. They’ve taken the hint. Most were very relaxed, hinting at the possibility of a good honest discussion of how we could work together.

The venue helped by encouraging a little chat-chat to begin with, one impressive freelancer even feeling comfortable enough to ask us how our holiday had gone and another few having already purchased a coffee and chilling out a little by the time we got there. My feeling was we got the real personalities, not a heap of trite phrases about how the customer is important and gibberish jargon. People were free to tell us their particular style of working, what motivates them and to express their passions openly.

Honestly, I’d conducted ‘proper’ booted and suited interviews before and always found them a little stressful, as we hampered ourselves by asking very similar questions to each person. And, we were constricted by time. This time though, we adopted a person-centred approach, consciously making an effort to meander through the questions we’d loosely discussed beforehand, without feeling too hampered by conventional jargon, methods or remembering all the important stuff. If something interesting or different was mentioned, or we seemed to tap into someone’s burning convictions, we ran with it. The usual questions got answered along the way, via a fire in the eye or a typical Northern Ireland expression. Those who were most knowledgeable in their subject or skill were careful to reveal the extent of their background. People are not dumb after all and they know what another professional needs to hear.

I’d highly recommend this method of finding out who someone is, over the traditional interview, any day. It may not suit for heavily regulated workplaces I agree, where consistency and record-keeping are the concerns. However, I feel there definately has to be some way of extricating ourselves from the mundane, soul-destroying, relentless “Next, please.” approach. Any takers anyone? Perhaps the candidates themselves would like to comment? Feel free.