Look closely. The little things count.

Over the years, I’ve interviewed a lot of people, and because I’ve recently been interviewing for an open Field Service Engineer position, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Although I’ve had my share of “misses,” I generally feel pretty good about my process. For me at least, an important part of that process is to have dinner with the candidate at some point.

Dozens of subtle clues play out during the course of a meal that will help you answer the question, “Is this the right person for the job? How will he/she represent our company?”

For example, how does he treat the establishment’s staff? Is he condescending or does he show common courtesy? If he is rude here, my guess is that he’s going to treat a customer’s employee out in the warehouse the same way. At the same time, if something’s truly not right with the meal or service, does he speak up and let someone know this isn’t acceptable?

Does he have some semblance of decent table manners? Good manners won’t get you the job by any means, but checking your cellphone every 5 minutes will lose it for you. I’ve seen it happen.

If I’m interviewing someone in their home city, I always have him pick the restaurant. Is it appropriate for the occasion? If the establishment takes reservations, does he take the trouble to make them? That shows he’s thinking ahead. As a preliminary interview, I once met a candidate for dinner in his home city as I was passing through the area. His resume looked good, and over the phone he expressed a “strong interest” in working for Franklin Electric. He picked one of those well-known chain restaurants with the business model of “get em in, get em out”. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but when I arrived, he was already seated in the bar section, and seemed more interested in the game on TV than in talking about the position. All and all, it wasn’t the conversation and strong interest in Franklin Electric that I was looking for. But, the good news was that I needed to eat anyway, and I learned everything I needed to know without wasting any more time on a formal interview.

There have been other cases where I learned things at dinner that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. Years ago, the candidate showed up for dinner in a nice, well-pressed shirt. Problem was, it was one of our competitor’s shirts, and the candidate didn’t even work for this competitor. Had he forgotten who he was interviewing with? It’s still a mystery to me why someone would do that, and it was very bad form.

Another case of very bad judgment was when one candidate, over the course of the meal, spilled a bunch of information that was confidential and full of gossip. He just couldn’t stop talking. He was no doubt looking to impress us with his level of inside knowledge, but it completely backfired. All I could think of was, “we just met, and you can’t wait to tell me this stuff; how could I ever expect you to keep information that is proprietary to Franklin Electric?” Ironically, things had been going quite well up to that point. I think it took the atmosphere outside of the office for that part of his character to manifest itself.

If you are close to making an offer, and you can arrange it, have dinner with both the candidate and the spouse. Once, I was just about to extend an offer to someone and I was having dinner with him and his wife. I offhandedly asked her, “So, are you excited about this?” Her reply: “Well, since you asked, I’m not happy about it. Not happy at all.” We were able to work through it and it ended well, but that was the time to get it out on the table.

Picking the right person for a job is hard, and you only get a snapshot during the interview process. Every data point helps, and dinner or even just lunch can give you a lot of data points. I highly recommend it.

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