leadership and interviewing

I was sitting in the local coffee shop writing a few chapters of a book, when two ladies sat down at the table next to mine. Immediately, one of the ladies said very loudly to the other, “Give me an overview of who you are.” She was holding a clipboard tilted toward her so the other woman could not see, with pen poised to start writing. The other woman sank down in her chair and crossed her arms. She gave a short, uncomfortable laugh, looked around, and then offered a very brief response which I could not hear.

I thought, “Well, at least her quiet response should encourage the other woman to speak more softly.” I was wrong. She continued firing off very loud questions, most of which seemed rather personal and inappropriate to me. Of course, I did not know the purpose of the interview. I suppose if she was interviewing to be a nanny or join a Big Sisters program, questions about her childhood and family might make sense. Regardless, I am confident that every person in the coffee shop could hear the questions and no one but the interviewer could hear the answers. Occasionally, the loud woman would laugh and offer some very personal information of her own for the rest of us to enjoy. I do not think the interviewee laughed once.

I imagine both of these ladies are smart, interesting, competent women, but this was not my impression from observing their behavior. The loud woman clearly wanted everyone within hearing distance to believe she was in a position of power, and she seemed to have no concern for those around her. Not someone I would want to work for. The other seemed timid and lacking in self-confidence. Not someone I would want working for me.

Most of us have been in the positions of interviewer and interviewee at different times in our lives. Most of us do not care for either one. However, if approached properly, either position provides an opportunity to exhibit attractive and impressive leadership skills.


As an interviewer, you should have two primary goals: to determine if the interview candidate is a good fit for the position and to get the candidate excited about the opportunity. If you utilize intimidation tactics or have an overwhelming desire to promote your own importance, then neither of these goals will be achieved adequately.

  • A true leader is not self-promoting. A true leader will:
  • Focus on the interview candidate rather than herself
  • Be respectful, friendly, and professional
  • Show interest and actively listen to the candidate
  • Use open-ended questions
  • Allow time for the candidate to ask questions
  • Let the candidate know what to expect next

At the beginning of an interview, it is of course important to let the candidate know who you are and what you do for the organization. It is also important to tell her about the organization and the position for which she is interviewing. However, keep it brief and to the point. I have been on interviews where the interviewer did all the talking and then offered me the job. Although the interview was easy, it did not give me confidence that I would be working with competent people. It actually made the job less attractive knowing the hiring process would not filter out people who were a poor fit for their position.

It may also be necessary to engage in some pre-interview chit-chat if the candidate seems nervous. Sit out in the open with her or on the same side of the desk or table so there is no barrier between you. If you can put the candidate at ease, you will get more useful information from her because she will be more talkative and less guarded in her answers. In addition, she will like you more and therefore have a positive impression of both you and the company. Great start toward achieving your two primary goals.

Make sure you have a reasonable amount of privacy. It is hard enough on a candidate to interview one-on-one without worrying about random people judging her answers. Besides, you never know who might be at the coffee shop. If your interview candidate is interviewing without the knowledge of her manager, then the last thing she will want to do is advertise the interview.

Have a written list of open-ended questions you want to ask, but then actively listen to the answers. If you are busy taking notes, you may miss important clues about the candidate’s qualifications. The answers may also lead you to better questions. You can always refer to your list again for the next question or to jot down a few notes after you have exhausted a certain subject. Often I find that I already covered my list of questions just talking informally with my candidate.

Make sure you allow the candidate time to ask questions as well. If a candidate does not ask questions at all, it could be a sign that they are unprepared, dispassionate or unknowledgeable about the position.

Finally, make sure you let the candidate know what to expect next and in what timeframe. A true leader will follow up whether or not a job offer is extended. It is courteous to let candidates know that the job is no longer open to them and why.


As the interview candidate, it is important to remember that an interview is a two-way process. Most people think that the interviewer has the upper hand because they have the “job” to offer. However, the “job” is irrelevant without the right person to fill it. You bring that to the table. The interviewer’s goal is to determine if you are right for the job and your goal is to determine if the job is right for you. You can just as easily accept or reject a job as the interviewer can offer or withhold one.

So, adjust your attitude to an exploratory one. You already know you are good at what you do. You do not need an interviewer’s approval to justify that. You also know there is a high probability that this is not the right job for you. You may not like the culture or the people who interview you. You may find out there is no room for advancement. You may discover that you have to travel too much. You may decide the job will be too challenging or not challenging enough. The pay range may be too low. Most people have to go on several interviews in order to find the one that is a perfect fit. Look at it like marriage; very few people marry the first person they date!

A leader in an interviewee role will:

  • not be intimidated by a condescending or inconsiderate interviewer
  • exhibit confidence, respect, and a friendly, professional demeanor
  • be prepared
  • ask direct, pertinent, and open-ended questions
  • find out what the next steps are and in what timeframe
  • not take it personally if a job offer is not extended

In the case of the coffee shop interview, I would have expected the interviewee to either sit up confidently and answer the questions with enthusiasm or ask the interviewer directly if they could move to a more private spot. NEVER cross your arms or slouch in an interview. Even if you are cold, it is better to tell the interviewer you are cold rather than crossing your arms and risk them thinking you are defensive or closed off.

The interviewee should be as inquisitive as the interviewer. You need just as much information as they do, so you can determine if this is a place you would enjoy working. Researching the company and management team in advance will help you generate a list of questions to bring to the interview. Practice asking and answering interview questions before the interview so you are less likely to stumble over your words in person. Even if you decide you do not want the job, you still want to put your best foot forward. You never know where you will run into this person again.

At the end of the interview, find out what you should expect next. Confirm when you will hear back from the interviewer and ask for her contact information. Send a thank you note for the interview and if you do not hear anything in the specified timeframe, call to get an update. You deserve closure if they decide not to extend an offer.

Finally, should the job offer not be extended, a confident leader will view this positively. You avoided getting stuck in the wrong job. You are one step closer to finding the perfect job. You are relieved that you still have a chance to find an opportunity where your talents are recognized and valued.

In summary, whether the interviewer or interviewee, be yourself; be confident; and understand your purpose in the interview. Your leadership skills will shine.