Bombing the Phone Interview
By Paul Alagna
Earlier this month, on August 6th to be exact, it was the 67th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bomb attack in Hiroshima, Japan. Wouldn’t you know it, I had a telephone interview that very day – let’s put it this way – some days are not destined to end well.
Now, this was not the dreaded Human Resources (HR) phone interview. The questions were technical and were asked by someone who understood the answers. I researched the company, knew their goals, visions, aspirations, and nightmares. Going in, I also knew that I did not have 100 percent of the skills necessary to fill the position.
But, I know my own skills, I know my own talents, and I know I have a learning curve you have to see to believe. Once the Interviewer realized that I did not have 100 percent of the qualifications he was looking for, he became restless. It was a frustrating experience, for both of us. I know, because, at one time in my life, I was the guy on the other side of the desk, asking all the questions; so, I know how he felt.
In the beginning of the interview, his questions were academic. Typically, this kind of back and forth dialogue is great for me. We get to discuss points of view, the pros and cons of the Gestalt of the industry. Suffice it to say, that that part of the interview went well. But, then, the Interviewer presented a twist that bamboozled me. He wanted to know specific features about very specific tools. And, not the popular functions, either. I suspect that these are the kinds of questions trivia tests are derived from.
For example, most of us are familiar with Microsoft Excel. Most of us know how to add a formula to an Excel spreadsheet. Yet, few of us know how to produce pivot tables. After the fourth time of telling the Interviewer, “I’m not familiar with that …” I realized where I had lost control in the interview. He was now bolstering his assessment that I did not have 100 percent of the qualifications he was looking for. So, the interview ended in a hail of Uzi fire.
But, all is not lost. My “thank you” note to him gave me a chance to get the Interviewer to change his mind. And, if the field is close, that may be what puts me on top. My note included the question that I never got the chance to ask him “How important are pivot tables to the task I’ll be doing?”
If they were very important, then he was absolutely correct in his assessment of me; I shouldn’t get the job. But, if pivot tables are not the deciding factor, then he has to review (for a lot, or, a little) his insistence that they were. And I’ll get a second chance to be mentally reviewed; and perhaps even screened, for other projects that might be in the works at his company.
For me, the big take-away from this experience was that I was honest. True, I didn’t have 100 percent of the qualifications the company was looking for; it was evident I was going to need some training. And, yes, I could have lied and told the Interviewer I had what he was looking for, but, I would never resort to such tactics because I have something called integrity.
I just reminded myself that I still have my own skill set; and, in these situations, you can’t always be the winner, you won’t always fulfill the needs of the company completely, but, you can walk away intact.