Interview viewers: this is how you react correctly as an applicant

Jan 1, 2021 Job interview

You probably know it from one of your last interviews: You are sitting on one side of the table and several company representatives on the other. Often there are two, sometimes more, as in the case of applicant Jessica seven. People who just sit there. Observers who take notes but do not participate in the conversation. I think that viewers have no place in job interviews. Why “voyeurs” are taboo there and how you as an applicant deal with them:

Jessica had applied for a position as a clerk at a public sector employer and shortly thereafter received an invitation to an interview. When she arrives there, the employee from the HR department picks her up at the reception and takes her to the meeting room. She enters and can’t believe her eyes. It’s a huge room with paintings on the walls, high stucco ceilings – like in a museum. In the middle of the room is a long, heavy wooden table, at which six people are already sitting and looking at you expectantly. On the other side of the table, a heavy chair – your place.

“Don’t worry, we’ll both have the conversation, the others just sit there.”, explains the man from the human resources department who picked her up.

And so it happened. While he asked Jessica, one after the other, exactly the questions that were on his piece of paper, which everyone else had on the other side of the table in front of them, Jessica kept quiet, wrote down their answers, and occasionally nodded benevolently when they did she looked around in conversation.

She tells me that she found the situation very stressful from the start. It already started with the fact that she was unsure whether she would have to greet all those present, who were sitting there lined up at the table, individually. And during the conversation, too, she was paralyzed by being eyed from all sides. She felt like the little employee in the dock there. As before in an oral exam in which she had to find the right answers to the pre-formulated questions under the strict gaze of her teacher.

Jessica withdrew her application before she received any feedback on the interview. She was bothered by the way she was shown there, and she was sure that this employer was not for her.

Spectators make job interviews a drama

Jessica’s experience is not an isolated one, albeit a very extreme one. It is normal today that you, as an applicant, sit across from several company representatives. In particular, where several committees have a say in filling vacancies, as is often the case in the public service and also in large corporations.

Basically, there is nothing wrong with having multiple interviewees on the employer side; on the contrary, it is beneficial for both sides. Whether for reasons of equality and documentation of the application process from the company’s point of view or the possibility for applicants to get to know several employees at the same time.

But as soon as participants in the conversation become viewers with no speaking, the conversation turns into a performance – like in a drama.

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Imagine meeting someone interesting at a party. You get into a conversation, exchange ideas, laugh together and find out what interests you about each other. Other guests around you are also talking. Completely normal, right?

And now imagine the same conversation situation with this interesting person, while the other guests of the party are sitting around the two of you, just listening and writing down what you say to each other. Completely unimaginable, right?

Job interviews with viewers are nothing else like Jessica experienced. Only that in this type of conversation we evaluate it as normal and at the same time accept the situation as unchangeable – on both sides. “That’s how you do it!”

Perhaps you are now saying “You can’t compare that, a party isn’t about anything”. It is certainly a different situation and a different framework whether you have private or professional conversations, but in my opinion, three things are among the basic requirements for a good conversation: Genuine interest in the conversation partner and his or her point of view, balanced speech on both sides and eye level as an expression of a personal attitude. All of this is prevented in job interviews by the presence of spectators.

Make viewers involved

When I moderate team workshops in companies, one of my statements at the beginning is: “There are no spectators here today, only participants.” It is important to me to establish a workshop culture that allows those present to open up and to address topics in a protected setting that they often sweep under the carpet in day-to-day business. “I don’t take part, just watch” I sometimes hear from managers. Not a good basis for your employees to open up. I therefore always include such “spectators” and if someone does not want to actively participate in a workshop sequence, he can decide to leave the room as long as it is.

Turn viewers into participants in job interviews as well. As an inviting recruiter or person in charge of the department, actively involve your colleagues in the conversation instead of prohibiting them from speaking.

How would you, as an applicant, have felt if the employee from the HR department had said: “The interview will mainly be held by both of us, but my colleagues would also like to get to know you and may also have a few questions for you. And so you can get to know your future boss and some colleagues from the team today.”

And you, as an applicant, also have the opportunity to turn uninvolved bystanders into real conversation partners. Actively involve them in the conversation from the start. Look at your answers and ask them specific questions, for example about their role in the company, their perspective on the team, current topics from the industry, or whatever is important for you and your decision for this position at this employer is. Make use of the knowledge, opinions, and experiences of everyone sitting with you at the table. Nobody can and will forbid you to speak to the “observers”. And if you do, you know how things are going there in the company.

Spectators make conversations about the performance. Recruiters and applicants put an end to this spectacle! A good job interview is an exchange as a real dialogue on an equal footing and the chance to get to know each other better, especially as a person.

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