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How to tell when the interview you're attending is completely pointless

There are good interviews and there are bad interviews.

Good interviews are those in which there is a job, for which there is sign-off and which you may be able to occupy if you perform well.

Bad interviews are those in which there is no specific job - and which even if there is, there is no allocated budget for. Worse, they are interviews in which you have been invited along simply to provide intelligence on the market.

Here's how to establish you're in a Bad Interview, and what to do about it.

1) The interview for a job which hasn't been signed off

The interview for a job which has not been signed off typically occurs when a line manager has decided he/she has got a vacancy to fill without seeking full approval from the proper quarters.

"Line managers interviewing without proper sign off is quite common," says Andrew Pullman at HR consultancy PeopleRiskSolutions. "For trading roles in particular it's not uncommon for line managers to arrange a pipeline of potential candidates just in case someone leaves.

"Alternatively, sometimes line managers just want to see if there are any good people out there and will seek sign-off if they find someone," Pullman adds.

How to handle this:

It's difficult to ask explicitly whether your interviewer has sought the proper permissions for the job you're interviewing for.

However, you can still extract this information if you go about it gently.

"You can always say, 'I've been to a few interviews where there hasn't been full sign off and I'd just like to check where the land lies - have you made a commitment to hire, or are you still evaluating and analysing your needs,'" suggests career consultant Sital Ruparelia

If you're not comfortable with this, Ruparelia says you can ask what the timeline for the hire is, who initiated the hiring process, and whether they'd accelerate the hiring process if they found the right person.

"Weave these questions into a conversation," he advises. "It's about body language as well as what they say. If they start shifting around a bit, you'll know things may not be quite right."

Advantages for you:

It will always be worth attending these interviews if you're out of the market. If you're still working and need to take time off, do not bother.

2) The interview for a job which is ill-conceived

Sometimes, interviews will take place without the interviewers even knowing fully what kind of role they're interviewing for.

"You get people interviewing for jobs which haven't been properly thought through," says one head of recruitment. "Line managers will kick off the process without a proper job specification. In some cases, it's the interview process itself which helps clarify what they're looking for."

How to handle this:

The best method of sifting out these interviews is to ask for the job specification in advance. If there isn't one, the job doesn't really exist.

You can also ask questions to establish the amount of thought that's gone into the hire. For example, Ruparelia suggests you ask what the reason for the hire is and what will happen if they don't manage to fill the role. You can also ask who you'll report to, whether the team will need restructuring, what the targets for the new role will be, and how your performance will be measured.

Advantages for you:

These interviews will always be worth attending if you want to work for the organisation in question.

"If you get your foot in the door and the chemistry works, you may find an organisation hires you opportunistically," says Pullman.

3) The interview whose sole purpose is to gather intelligence

These are the worst interviews. Frequently perpetrated by recruitment firms trying to add to their database or unearth new business, the intelligence gathering interview will be characterised by a lot of questions about your colleagues and other interviews you've attended.

"They can be quite crafty at getting information out of you," says one HR consultant. "The questioning will be all about who you know and who does what, rather than about your ability to do the job."

Organisations are guilty of intelligence-gathering interviews too. "This often happens when a bank is thinking of launching a new product," says Ruperalia. "They'll interview 5 or 6 people just to see who's doing what and what the strengths and weaknesses of their rivals are."

How to handle this:

Asking any of the questions listed in numbers 1 and 2 will throw your interviewer off-guard and force them to concentrate on the (possibly fictitious) role in question rather than pumping you for what you know.

Advantages for you:

It will almost always make sense to get on the right side of a recruitment agent if you're out of the market. Equally, it will almost always make sense to get on the right side of an organisation you really want to work for.

However, it does not make sense to jeopardise your existing role by revealing information to competitors. Nor does it make any sense spending hours talking to recruiters who are principally interested in personal gain. Avoid this at all costs.

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Se
    Seen It
    1 March 2011

    I've seen all three. I even saw one case where senior management signed off on a job and a candidate, then withdrew their approval AFTER the candidate had resigned from his old job. No reason, they just decided we could do without anymore help (then they sold the company).

    Of course, the second situation worked out pretty well for me in my current role. After the interview, the interviewer said he was going to rewrite the job spec to suit what we'd discussed. I started two weeks later.

  • An
    23 February 2011

    One firm is particularly guilty of this, as are a few others. They constantly fish for information and one has to wonder what else they do all day.

  • Ce
    23 February 2011

    "People are our greatest asset" and still yet most firms do not have the time to recruit and develop this "greatest asset". What a load of rubbish the recruitment business has devolved into. Most are unqualified and it pays great insult when you have to be interviewed, sometimes for hours, and selected by individuals who do not know the length and breadth of areas they are trying to fill. Organizations, please stop paying lip service only to people who make up your organization. The benefits that accrue from finding the right person for a role far outweigh any other in terms of lasting benefit for the business.
    A good exercise would be to measure how well an organization values its employees simply by understanding the processes involved when they hire. Personally, I have always based my decision to join a firm on this and when I have got it wrong have paid dearly.
    My advice, if you really do believe that you are very capable then chose your next assignment carefully without haste. Pay attention to detail. Its usually a good predictor of the quality of your next challenge. Good luck!

  • Ya
    23 February 2011

    Shug - Its time to change the country's name to reflect the enormous shift that has occured in the past 3 years: Small Britain should be the new name.

  • Sh
    23 February 2011

    @XFiles - the Great in Great Britain is a geographical reference - no more..

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