What is one of the toughest jobs in any company? A job that is vitally important to the success of the company, yet few people ever get good at? As I’ve foreshadowed in the title of this post, I’m convinced that the art of interviewing presents the great imbalance in most companies: it has an outsized impact on the long-term health of a company, yet few companies invest anything in developing the skill.
And to be sure, interviewing is a skill. Like many sports, it’s easy to do badly and hard to do well. I have a number of thoughts about how to interview well, but in this post I want to isolate on how to practice – or more accurately, how to recognize the abundant opportunities to practice.
When we think of interviewing in the professional world, we think of sitting across from a candidate, perhaps in some office setting, and engaging in Q&A to determine if you want to hire the candidate for a job.
How are you ever supposed to get good at something you only do sporadically, if at all?
The answer: start interviewing others outside of work. Start today.
If, like me, you believe that one of the hallmarks of a leader is curiosity then now is the time to interview someone in your industry, someone who you want to emulate, someone who has developed insights that you could benefit from. In short, start taking people to lunch or chatting with them on the phone or Skype.
But don’t just “show up” (which is what most interviewers do). Arrive with a plan. What do you want to learn? What are your objectives? Have your questions at the ready. (FYI. for a great set of starter ideas on this, go here.)
Anyone can do this. In fact, I think everyone should do this. It doesn’t matter if you’ll ever interview someone in your life for a job. Young people in particular do not take advantage of this, despite the fact that most people would be delighted to share their time and thoughts with a young person. Here’s an excerpt from How Google Works, a book I wrote a series of blog posts on (For the first post, go here):
“The only way to get good at interviewing is to practice. that’s why we tell young people to take advantage of every opportunity to interview. Some of them do but most of them don’t, preferring to spend their time on things they think are more important. they don’t realize what a great gift we are giving them. Come on, we’re saying, you can practice the most important skill you can possibly develop….They ignore us. Getting people to interview is like pulling teeth.”
My advice: set up a time with someone to interview (in person if possible, over the phone or video chat if necessary). Pick someone today and make the invitation. Arrive prepared. Be considerate. Capture the details in writing. And, of course, don’t forget to follow up with a thank you note.
There is a ton of incredibly interesting information locked up in the heads of people around you. Its your job to find it.