The Secret Rules For Getting Hired

I'm going to let you in to three TOP SECRET rules for getting hired. These are the hidden techniques used by TOP interviewers…

Never Tell The Candidates The Rules Of Success

I read an infuriating blog post recently: "If someone doesn't send a thank you email, don't hire them".

This is a great way to limit your talent pool. Personally, I've been hiring for a dozen years, and I've never received a thank-you email. So we can already show there is a cultural disparity here.

Did you tell the candidates that they needed to send a sycophantic email to succeed? If not, why not? Is it any different to telling them what the dress-code is? Or that they need to prepare a presentation for the interview?

Perhaps there are some things that you think everyone should just intuit? What biases and assumptions are you making about the people you want to hire?

If you have hidden rules for getting a job, you're deliberately ignoring candidates who don't share the same cultural background as you.

Make Up Justifications For Not Hiring People

These are all things I've heard interviewers say about their "unique" and "quirky" interview techniques.

OMG! No! Let's ignore the rudeness (and potential poisoning of someone on company time). Here's the problem with these "tests".

You haven't set the success criteria. Do you want the candidate to be deferential? To be confrontational? Do you want women to laugh it off, but men to silently seethe? What's the correct response.

Most often, the interviewer just wants a power trip. And because they didn't set the rules of the game in advance, they get to make arbitrary decisions. They hire the person they like best and then make up a post-hoc justification based on the candidates' reactions.

If you mispronounce a name, you're immediately telling the candidate that people with their cultural background are rarely hired, or spoken about, in this company.

Why would people want to work in such a homogeneous culture? Why would they want to work for someone who couldn't even be bothered to search the web for "How to pronounce Nguyen"?

Be Inconsistent In Your Questions

A few years ago I went for a job I thought I was well qualified for. I didn't get it, so I politely asked for feedback.

"The whole team thought you were great. You were probably the strongest candidate overall, but we were looking for someone with experience in XYZ."

I paused for a moment. They continued. "So we hired someone with 6 months experience, because we needed to hit the ground running."

"Actually," I countered, "I have two years experience in XYZ and have taught several training courses on it."

"Oh!" They said shocked, "You never mentioned that."

"That's because you didn't ask me any questions about it!"

Now, maybe that's my fault for not guessing their secret desires (it isn't). Or perhaps I should have read the job spec more closely (it wasn't on there). Or maybe they could have asked the same questions to all candidates (they didn't).

It's tempting to treat job interviews as casual conversations and have a meandering and natural chat.

Don't do that. A job interview is a structured process designed to let you consistently evaluate multiple candidates. If you are asking each candidate different questions, that's not a fair test.

Bonus Rules

A job interview isn't a set of trick questions. You're working collaboratively to see if you can work in the future - not trying to prove your intellectual dominance. It shouldn't be a test to see if they've read the same interviewing books as you.

You aren't doing the candidate a favour by interviewing them. If you select for deference, don't be surprised if you only get obsequious underlings.

There's no point hiring on "cultural fit". If your culture isn't strong enough to handle a little change, or challenge, then it simply isn't sustainable.

What other people think

It's not just me who finds these hidden rules annoying!

Do you have any interview gotchas that you hate? Let me know in the comments!

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8 thoughts on “The Secret Rules For Getting Hired”

  1. Mat says:

    “A job interview isn’t a set of trick questions. You’re working collaboratively to see if you can work in the future – not trying to prove your intellectual dominance. It shouldn’t be a test to see if they’ve read the same interviewing books as you.”

    This! I’ve been involved in so many interviews (on both sides) where the candidate is just being benchmarked against the interviewer rather than an actual job specification. The interviewer asks the candidate very specific questions (do you know the same things as I do), or asks more probing questions in particular areas (do you specialise in the same skills as me).

    I think this is a really easy trap to fall into, but it can be avoided if you start with a clear idea of the role you’re trying to fill that everybody can agree on. Often the problem is there are multiple people involved in the process, all with their own ideas of how it’s supposed to work, so you are naturally going to surprise candidates who are expecting a consistent set of rules.

  2. rob says:

    “if no one knows where the goal posts are, that just makes it so much simpler and easier on everyone when you have to move them”

  3. says:

    After going through a series of horrible technical interviews, I submitted a talk to PyOhio on how to give a humane technical (and, non-technical) interview:

    One of the points I kept hitting over and over again is that we're not testing what they think we're testing, because we're not social scientists and have NO TRAINING in doing these sort of tests.

  4. It’s not universal in the US, either. I think I’ve seen it once or twice and the unusualness was commented on.

    I cannot agree more strongly with your point. Clear expectations are easy and avoid so many unnecessary problems.

  5. I'm UK-based and have literally never heard of sending a thank you note for an interview.
    A lot of companies do seem to have developed an attitude akin to 'You need to bow and scrape to us for the priviledge of getting a job'.

  6. says:

    Funny - I must have read an American book on job hunting years ago then as it said to write Thank You messages after interviews. Feels funny to think I might have been the only candidate actually doing that

  7. We don’t give candidates contact details for the panel - we have a separate person handling interactions with candidates. Send a thank you note all you want, but the panel won’t see it! They also won’t know the million basic questions you asked :p


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