Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues -- everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I recently interviewed for a position that I think I'm under-qualified for. The position is to be a dean of department at a university which requires 7+ years experience in a similar post and a great deal of knowledge about financial markets. I graduated from the top ivy league school in the country and have a Ph.D. in educational administration with varied and limited actual work experience in finance.
During my interview for the position, the vice president of the university couldn't stop talking about the fact that I graduated from this top school. She didn't ask me any questions about my qualifications at all. She was more interested in "selling" the position to me and asking me about my recent vacation in Turkey. The interview lasted two hours and we spent 1 hour and a half talking about Turkey. At the end of the interview, she said she wanted me to come back next week to meet with the rest of her staff. She also mentioned that I was first person she interviewed for the job and that she has 60 resumes waiting on her desk to be reviewed.
After the interview I went home, did some painstaking research on some issues related to the needs of the university, and sent her a thank-you letter that included my research findings. I felt that I needed to express that I did have knowledge about the job and would be able to contribute in a meaningful way because I did not get the chance to talk about it during the actual interview. I also wanted to take away any doubts she might have about my abilities just in case she actually gave my resume a second look and realized I have no direct experience.
Anyway, the interview was Friday afternoon and it's now Tuesday afternoon and I have not heard from her. What do you think of her interviewing technique? Do you think that she is still interested ? Is it too soon to follow up? Was presenting the research a good strategy? What's the likelihood that I stand a good chance getting this job?
Well, first, the fact that it's been two business days and you haven't heard from her means nothing. Get in touch with her at the end of the week if you still haven't heard anything.
Regarding her interview technique, there are two possibilities:
1. She is a terrible interviewer who doesn't realize or care that she's supposed to be asking probing questions about your experience.
2. She recognized that you were under-qualified for the position and didn't consider you a viable candidate because of it, and so she filled the time by talking about things that interested her instead of conducting a serious, probing interview. (This scenario is more likely if someone else selected the candidates for interviews.)
Either of these is reasonably likely. In this case, however, I'm strongly leaning toward #1, because she let the interview go on for two hours. When you're doing a courtesy interview (#2), you don't let it go on that long -- or at least you don't unless you're inefficient and don't value your time or the candidate's.
Her mention that she'll want you to come back to meet with the rest of the staff could be genuine or it could have been said in the way people use "I'll call you" on dates they don't intend to call. (If it's that, it's not a good practice, but plenty of interviewers say that sort of thing anyway.)
So here's what we know for sure: She's either interested in you and a bad interviewer, or she's not interested and she's inept and inefficient. Either way, she's not a strong interviewer.
Now, on to the more important question: Should you want this job? I'm skeptical that you should, because it does sound like you're under-qualified for it, based on their stated requirements. Be brutally honest with yourself: Are there good reasons for requiring the experience they're asking for? If so, and you don't have that experience, are you sure this is a good fit for you? The goal isn't just to get the job, but to get a job that you'll excel in. Is this that job?
If you do advance in the hiring process, use your next conversations with this employer to get a really good idea of what the job entails and how your success will be measured. Don't get sucked into any more 90-minute conversations about Turkey. If your interviewer isn't giving you a real interview, start asking your own questions about the position, what she's looking for, and what it takes to do well in it.
If they're inept at hiring and are truly willing to hire someone without the experience they say they're looking for without doing a serious interview, you'll need to do their job for them and figure out for yourself if they should hire you. What you don't want is to find yourself in a job that you struggle with. Good luck!
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