Job Talk: Some very good workers give lousy interviews
Dear J.T. & Dale: I wish you would write about job candidates who might be highly qualified for a particular position but who lack perfect interviewing skills. Some individuals suffer from lifelong social awkwardness, and sometimes it's more than mere social awkwardness, such as being on the autism spectrum. People with even a mild version of this disorder often struggle to master basic social skills. As for carrying out a successful job interview, the obstacles can seem — and even be — nearly insurmountable. I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3 but nonetheless got through school and eventually earned a master's degree. It took more than a year of struggling through interview after interview before I finally managed to land a job. This problem deserves more attention. — India
J.T.: I agree, India. And thanks for sending us information on Temple Grandin, who authored the book "Thinking In Pictures — And Other Reports From My Life With Autism." She had a successful career as an animal scientist and wrote of her success, "I've had to get everywhere I've gotten through the back door." What the "back door" comes down to is networking, but with a twist: Instead of just getting introductions, you need to get work samples passed around as an introduction. That way, the first impression is your work, not your interview persona.
DALE: There also are some terrific bosses who have learned to look for talent beyond first impressions and even beyond personalities. I wrote about shrewd hiring strategies in my book "(Great) Employees Only," and one of the executives I profiled, Brooks Baltich, who runs a thriving insurance agency in Virginia, said this about interviewing a woman for a sales position:
"It was the worst interview I'd ever had. She was so nervous she wouldn't look at me. She finally said, 'I'm great on the phone.'
"I said, 'Well, do you want to go to your car and call me on your cell phone?'
"She said she did."
It didn't actually go that far, because the idea got her to laugh and relax. Brooks spotted something in her, took a chance, and she became a star employee. Wise managers learn to be open-minded about people who don't interview well, looking for gems that other managers have overlooked.
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Dear J.T. & Dale: I just took a new job at a large organization. I was told during the interview process that I'd go to training for two weeks at corporate HQ. I don't like to be away from my family, but I could handle two weeks. I just got an email that states the training is SIX WEEKS! I am horrified! There is no way I am going away for that long. What can I do? — Vance
J.T.: Start by taking a deep breath. Often in larger organizations, there are communication errors of this type. Forward the email to your manager. If your boss responds with an apology and says the six weeks is correct, then ask for a meeting, where you'll calmly explain that you aren't comfortable being away that long and gently mention that had you known this in the interview process, you might not have chosen to take the job. Then, close by stressing how much you love the position and want to be a part of the company, and ask if the training can be broken up over time. By calmly stating your concern and offering a solution, you show that you want to find a way to make this work. If your boss says it's not possible, then I think you need to have a serious family conversation. Could this one time away be worth it?
DALE: YES! That's easy for me to say, of course, but think what six weeks of out-of-town training says about your new employer: They're making a huge investment in you. Grab it. Have your family come visit, or fly home for a weekend or two, but take this chance to learn and to become friends with co-workers from around the country. You'll get smarter and better connected, all on an expense account.
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