I was part of an interview team, talking individually with four candidates for a communication research job. Human Resources had provided us with a set of “behavioral interview” questions, which meant we would be asking things like “What’s the biggest failure you’ve ever experienced?” and “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
We followed the HR guidelines, but I asked one additional question, and it turned out to be the differentiator.
“What do you think of our web site?”
Three of the four gushed about how wonderful it was. The fourth said it was rather boring and uninteresting.
Guess which candidate we hired?
The job interview is a staple of organizational life. Whole libraries and consulting industries have been built around the interview, with the “behavioral interview” serving as the current interview canon.
Rather than ask someone how they overcame a career setback, I’d prefer to ask them who their favorite poet is.
Imagine being asked that in a job interview. Imagine asking that in a job interview.
And yet there may be more sense in a question like that than those behaviorally correct questions we use today. You’d learn something unexpected, for one thing. Or you’d learn that a candidate doesn’t like or read poetry, which is not a disqualifier, bit it might speak volumes about how a candidate handles the unexpected.
Job interviews, for both the interviewer and the candidate, contain drama, anxiety, tension, hope, fear, uncertainty — all those emotions and realities that make for great poetry.
And like other aspects of work life, interviews contain their own inner poetry. An interview is the result of a mating dance of organizational need and individual desire.
In an interview, questions and answers are both imagined and practiced before the actual event. Both interviewers and candidates do this, searching for the right words that will crystallize thoughts. Sounds something like poetry?
Interviews are verbal langauge — and poetry is meant to be read aloud (or that was the original intent, anyway).
Interviews, like poetry, are ultimately about ideas, even though they are ostensibly about people. Behind the people in an interview are ideas about careers, employment, the future, and organizational goals and objectives.
And like poetry, interviews are about capturing attention, being different, standing out in a good way or a novel way.
An interview can be considered the creation of a poem. Interviewers and candidates come together, and a relationship is born, sometimes only briefly. But each interview is simultaneously an organizational and personal poem.
Tell me a poem, a story
of a favored poet or poem,
one who changed your life,
your mind, opened up
possibilities, or made you
feel secure as your anchors,
your moorings, were removed.
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