Last night's episode of The Apprentice is the one I least look forward to and yet I suppose it's the one that creates 'exciting' television. I guess.
Perhaps it's human nature to want to witness the ripping apart of the innocents, but I have to say I have never been comfortable with this style of interviewing.
I think the format in itself is terrific; interviewers with specific expertise putting candidates through their paces. It's the manner in which it is done that I find almost distasteful.
The cruelty, attacking and downright meanness creates humiliation, fear and confusion in a group of people who have worked bloody hard to get this far in the process.
I suppose it has to do with preferred styles. Lord Sugar is abrasive and adversarial; therefore his 'trusted advisors' are also abrasive and adversarial. Or that's what we see on the telly.
One particularly cruel moment was when Claude Littner praised Solomon for having the best CV he'd seen and then threw him out of the interview because of his business plan. So for the sake of a few minutes of dramatic television, we were witness to the complete humiliation of someone who is bright, eager and enthusiastic.
It was unnecessary.
It would have been just as easy and equally compelling to say something along the lines of “You have a great CV Solomon, with none of the usual exaggeration. On the other hand, your business plan leaves a lot to be desired. I can’t really have a conversation with you about it because it’s incomplete. Are you able to fill in any details, or shall we simply call it a day and you can chalk this one up to experience?”
Interviews do not need to be so aggressive.
Unfortunately, many businesses do hold interviews very like that which we saw on the programme. Years ago I worked with someone who said he was brought into interviews in his firm solely to frighten the candidates by asking 'left field' question in order to trip them up.
At Impact Factory we believe that the whole interview process is stressful enough without interviewers stripping people of their dignity and putting them through such a gruelling process.
Of course interviewees have a responsibility to come well-prepared, present themselves as credible and show determination, willingness and a desire to work hard to get ahead in the world, no matter what the job is they are applying for.
To begin with never send in a CV with blatant porkies included. It's true that most organisations aren't going to be as rigorous as Lord Sugar's trusted advisors, however, to get a job based partially on a lie could come back to take a chunk out of your bum; additionally, you will have it hanging over your head that one day you might be found out.
Having said that, I think there is an equal responsibility on the part of interviewers to facilitate getting the best out of their candidates, not scaring the wits out of them.
Here are some things you can do if you find yourself in interviews that are confrontational, intimidating and downright nasty:
Slow things down. When someone is barking at you, it’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of finding a good answer immediately. Then you can become tongue-tied, awkward and your mind could go completely blank. What you want to do is slow the pace right down so you don’t feel ‘hustled’. You can lean forward slightly, look the interviewer in the eye and say, “I like that question. Let me take a moment to order my thoughts.”
Take your time. You can slow the process down by taking a drink of water or say you’d like to refer to notes you had made earlier and take your time going through your CV and any other supporting documents you have. Or both. The idea is to avoid rushing your answers so that you retain some of the power in the interview dynamic.
Avoid getting defensive. It’s also very easy to go into defensive mode. When people are attacked they really do go into fight, flight or freeze behaviour. We saw each option displayed during the programme.
Return fire with fire. If you are desperate for the job and are willing to tolerate this style of interview then you can fight back.
Bianca stood her ground and announced that she believed her personality was being attacked. Even through her tears she didn't back down.
You, too, can stand your ground and give as good as you get, even calling the other person’s behaviour:
"That feels quite rude."
"I feel as though you've made a judgement without hearing the whole story."
"I’m not sure you’ve heard my answer. Would you like me to summarise?”
And so on.
Turn the tables. Often one of the purposes of this style is to take the wind out of your sails. We believe that you can do a little switcheroo and take the wind out of their sails, and one of the most effective ways of doing that is to agree with something they say that's derogatory and then leave a space of silence.
For instance, if your interviewer says something along the lines of, "Your CV is full of holes," avoid trying to defend it, getting tongue tied and looking as though you are hiding something.
Respond along the lines of, "You're right, it is full of holes."
And then shut up and wait to see what happens.
If s/he says, "This reads like bullshit to me," you can say, "You're right, I can see that in your eyes it does look like bullshit." And silence.
The silence technique is designed to stop you from defending yourself and it tends to put the other person in the position of defending what they have just said. They may come back at you with a demand that you explain yourself, at the same time you will have come across as far more confident, stronger and less of a pushover.
Walk away. You don't have to wait till the end of the interview and tolerate abuse. If you realise that this kind of company culture isn't for you, you can take the bold step of closing the whole thing down by saying, "You know, I don't think I'm right for this job nor is this job right for me. Thank you for your time, but I don't think there's any point in carrying on. Goodbye."
Scary idea, huh? I've done it and it is remarkably liberating.
Finally, You have to ask yourself if any job is worth being treated like that?
The justification is often that if you can tough it out during a gruelling interview process then you have the backbone necessary to do the job.
Bollocks I say!
Interviews that strive to trip up, trick and undermine a candidate's confidence are a clear indication of a company's culture. Lord Sugar did say it was "dog eat dog" and that is an indication of his belief, values and company culture.
We don't think business has to be dog eat dog, and we know many who aren't. We certainly have loads of clients who are at the top of their game in their very competitive industries and who have kinder, more generous, more humane cultures that that which have seen over the past eleven weeks.
I know, I know, I keep saying that I'm aware that this is an entertainment programme and therefore there is much that is edited out that might give us a fuller picture.
However, editing out stuff still can't make up for the fact that the four interviewers last night demonstrated the aggressive kind of interview techniques that obliterate rather than encourage.
Check out Impact Factory’s range of Assertiveness and Communication Skills Training. Impact Factory also offers one to one Interview Skills Coaching and one to one Career Coaching.