Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Interviews – What is the Employer Really Asking?

I grew up in the wine country of Northern California, so I was introduced to a whole new set of sports when I attended UC Santa Barbara in Southern California: water/beach sports. One of these was water polo, a game similar to soccer/football played in a swimming pool, with the teams not being able to touch the bottom of the pool. I went to my first match and sat next to a friend that understood the game, and he told me that what we saw from the bleachers was only half of what was really going on. Underneath the water, far from the spectators’ (and presumably the referees) eyes, the players were kicking each other and generally doing whatever they could to make their opponent’s lives difficult.

I was reminded of this recently in two separate occasions, one of which relates to employment. First, the non-employment event... In Israel, we are fortunate compared to our non-Israeli counterparts in that we receive the Blessing of the Kohanim in synagogue each Shabbat (twice!). During this prayer, the men lift our tallits high enough so that our children can come underneath it with us and receive this benediction. I guess from the outside looking at our family unit under the tallit, it probably appears to be the picture of serenity. However, anyone that could peek under my tallit would be witness to some quite violent actions by my children, suddenly forced to be so close together. Maybe I have the makings of junior water polo players…

More seriously though, I was speaking with someone that was preparing for a job interview. What we attempted to do was understand what was hidden here, meaning what were the objectives of the employer, so that we could then devise a plan for the appropriate responses to anticipated questions. After this conversation and a little research, I think it can be summed up like this.

Clearly, getting invited to an interview means that you have succeeded in attracting positive attention to yourself and making progress in the recruitment process. The employer has shown enough interest in you to invest valuable resources in understanding better your qualifications and capabilities, to ultimately determine if you meet their requirements. There is no shortage of Internet articles about interviewing, and a quick Google search will give you instant access. Doing some research on the “art of interviewing” can help you prepare for these meetings, allowing you to understand better what to expect and why. At the same time, researching the company and the interviewer will also pay dividends, enabling you during the interview to show that you have prepared well.

I have found it easiest to think of the employer’s objectives during an interview to be divided into two categories:

  • Are you qualified for the job? – Here, employers are trying to determine if the candidate can do what is required. The interviewer needs to understand if what is on your CV is accurate, and whether your actual skills meet the company’s real needs. Technical candidates may be required to solve problems. A good interviewer will get the candidate to provide details of their past jobs and accomplishments, asking relevant questions when necessary. So, be prepared to offer these examples of your previous experiences, relating them as closely as you can to the employer/interviewer.
  • Will you fit in with the company? – The interviewer also wants to find out if you are a good match for their corporate environment. Maybe you will be given situations that have occurred previously in the company and asked for your reaction. Some companies expect a lot of overtime, or the ability to work in teams (or work alone) – these then become tangible elements in which you will be evaluated in job candidates. For new immigrants, there are special issues, as many times employers have doubts how a person seeking their first job in Israel will survive in the local workplace, both in terms of culture and language. Your task is to understand the company and its environment as well as you can before entering the interview, so that when these questions arrive, you will be prepared to answer them properly.
And what about the Israel-specific interview questions that you may have heard about, those quasi-illegal queries such as:
  • Are you married?
  • Do you plan to have children?
  • How old are you?
  • Are you religious?

It is quite difficult to decipher what purpose/relevance these types of questions have in the recruitment process. Somehow the Israeli interviewer must put them in the second category of questions, those used to determine if a person will fit within their company. Why interviewers choose this way to try to understand this legitimate concern is a big unknown for me and most new (and veteran) immigrants, but there are plenty of things in Israel which immigrants probably never find good answers to, such as understanding how people can afford to buy new cars and go take regular international holidays when earning Israel salaries, why there are no good Mexican restaurants in Israel… Nonetheless, you shouldn’t be surprised if such questions are posed during your interview. At that point, you need to remember what your objective is (make a favorable impression and get the job!), take a deep breath, and answer the question so that the interviewer will have the feeling from your response that you match the company environment.

And if all else fails, you are always welcome to join me on Shabbat to receive the blessing of the Kohanim, which may improve your job search results. I’m sure my kids will be happy to make room for you under the tallit.

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