The Botched Interview (and how to avoid it)

Another time when I was between jobs, a recruiter came up with an interview for me that appeared to be a perfect fit.  

The opportunity was in Germany—a private company big in the plastic films industry, owned essentially by two reclusive brothers.  It was a big general manager or small CEO role for a business of a certain volume. This company had multiple plants, European sales organization, and distributors. They also had a fairly strong position in retailers’ shelves, and a significant branded presence.

My prior work experience included many achievements in a similar realm, covering the transferability aspect.  The recruiter thought so, too.

The only obvious fly in the ointment was that although I had worked in multiple industries and shown the ability to adapt successfully, I had zero experience in plastics.

So, being me, I began to educate myself for the interview.

I researched and studied, and could soon tell you about the thermo-elastic and most other properties of PVC compared to LDPE or HDPE or PET. I absorbed their general uses, and even explored the relatively recent plant-based plastics with their adjustable shelf-lives before decomposing in an environmentally friendly way.

Well, the recruiter submitted me as a candidate and I passed the preliminary review processes without incident, apparently at the head of the list. Then finally I was invited to meet the owners, presumably for the final interview.

By this time, I prepared myself with not only a thorough (if superficial) knowledge of plastics. I also had thoughts on how to grow the business, improve the organizational efficiency, and enhance the value to shareholders.

The two brothers were quite friendly under the circumstances. We established a reasonable rapport early.

As the interview continued, I tried to ask more questions than talk.

My preparation certainly showed. However, I felt a certain distance grow over the course of the discussion—a subtle withdrawal of that initial rapport.

Nevertheless, we parted on cordial terms, and I hoped my perceptions reflected the fears of any interviewee under the circumstances.

They were not.

The recruiter and I spoke within a day or two and he gave me the bad news. We both struggled to interpret the feedback he received because it was mixed, but at last he managed to boil it down to its essence: “You were too well prepared,” he said, disappointment evident in his voice.

It seems the brothers felt I was too much of a detail-oriented person who would meddle in his underlings’ decisions and not let the organization do its job without interference—because I had displayed such detailed knowledge of their industry.

Well, I was pretty astounded. Imagine the criticism “too well prepared.”

In fact, many years later I can see this was not the issue at all. There were numerous issues in fact. For example, culture and behavior: the brothers were German and relatively introverted. I was American and relatively extroverted. I should have had the presence of mind to more accurately mirror their behavior. The balance between asking questions and telling my story was another issue. Despite my restraint, I talked too much, and did not adequately employ the arsenal of Active Listening. Had I done so, I would have discovered their preference for a hands-off, coaching-oriented management style in their ideal candidate.

While there were other aspects, the fundamental truth is I was inadequately prepared in the actual mechanics of the interview. I would have benefited from role-playing and practicing in advance to identify the landmines and avoid them.

An experienced interview coach would have helped me spot many of these potential issues and prepare differently.

This is one aspect of the service we provide at the Barrett Group: Interview Preparation and Compensation Negotiation. It routinely helps hundreds of candidates each year perform better in interviews and negotiate better compensation.

I wish I had known about the Barrett Group before my interview opportunity back then. How about you? Are you as successful in your interviews as you expect? Or are you left wondering why you didn’t receive an offer? I invite you to take a closer look at the Barrett Group’s services. Find out how you could benefit from one of our qualified interview coaches.

Peter Irish
The Barrett Group

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