What’s in an Interview?

job interview

There is a lot in the wind these days about women–particularly young women–who interview in the museum field and fail to negotiate. I don’t know if it’s true. Or rather, anecdotally we know it happens, but that’s different from having the statistics to prove it’s true. Maybe repeating women don’t negotiate is another way of blaming salary inequity on them. If only you’d asked, you would have the same salary as your male colleagues. Lest you think I’m making this up, be sure to check out this article: Transparency and Gender Bias

That aside, we thought we’d build on last week’s blog on the value of staff, and talk about the value of an interview. This was prompted, in part, by Fast Company’s article  about odd job interview questions. You can find it here: Weird Interview Questions. As you’ll see, these are questions prospective employers asked applicants. Some are specific to the job. Obviously, if you are hiring a Whole Foods meat cutter you want someone who has spent more than a nano-second thinking about efficient ways to dismember things. Ditto for the propulsion analyst and hot dogs. But what should museums, science centers and heritage organizations ask to find out how their applicants think? And do you ask those type of questions?

One of our interviewees in Leadership Matters, Bob Burns, the director at Connecticut’s Mattatuck Museum, reported that he sometimes gives interviewees a mock disaster scenario and asks them what they would do. Why? Because Bob isn’t a micro-manager. He knows he wants an independent staff and he is prepared to offer them authority and responsibility, but he needs to know they can cope. One way to find out is to ask what happens when an elderly volunteer has a heart attack just as three buses arrive for a school visit. Nightmare, right? It might be an opportunity to find out that in another life your prospective candidate took EMT training, but you’ll also hear her think out loud and perhaps get an inkling about whether she thinks logically and can move an idea forward in a linear fashion. So as leaders preparing to hire, consider questions that demonstrate how an individual thinks, behaves and responds. If the job description calls for her to lead a team, perhaps she should run a meeting for you–agenda provided, of course. If she is an educator, should she give a mini-lecture?

On the other hand, if you are the interviewee, do you interview strategically? Do you ask questions that go beyond content; questions that address how people work? Do you ask how new ideas are launched or how the organization deals with change? How often does it (department/team/organization) meet as a group? How much autonomy will you have? You get the gist.

You can interview at the most idyllic place in the world, but the objects won’t save you if the leadership is crippled. And if you’re a leader, money is too tight to invest in the wrong person. Do you want the person with vast experience, who seems like a loner, or the less experienced person who charmed everyone and could probably get the staff and the objects out of a burning building? The final, final message: Interviews are short; don’t squander the moment.

And share your thoughts,

job interview

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2 Comments on “What’s in an Interview?”

  1. Jessica says:

    Interesting article and incredibly timely for me. I have had two interviews for a job last week and am about to be flown down for a third. I need to remember that being agreeable isn’t always the best move. I need to ask questions such as the ones above. It is hard for some women because they have subconsciously been trained to be agreeable and not make waves. I must remember that it’s okay to do what has to be done. Thanks for the article.

  2. Ilene Frank says:

    Timely post as I head into interviewing several candidates. I would much rather engage in a conversation than a back & forth Q&A session. To foster that, one needs to craft compelling and thought-provoking questions. A good reminder for me to take a moment to pause and think and plan for the quality of the interview I want to have.


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