Interviewing, Sadistic Bosses & Putting the Employer Under the Spotlight


Colin Doree
Managing Consultant – Marketing, CRM & Data

Practice makes prepared

Interviewing is hard work. It’s something, for most, we don’t practice often. Even those used to interviewing and hiring others every day will find it hard once the spotlight is pointed in their direction.

Being able to second guess what kind of questions, based on the role being interviewed for, will help a little. But you can never get it 100% right and there’s always a curveball to look out for. Like a brain teaser designed to make you think and show you can work through an unexpected problem.

Outside of the initial meet and greet, or screening interview. There’s 2 main forms used by businesses. They either look to measure Behavioural and Potential, or Experience and Evidence based. With the latter being the most popular.

These are typically under the form of competency based interviews.

The Experience and Evidence based interview asks you to provide evidence from your past to show how you have faced and handled similar challenges or issues. If you’re interested in learning about some examples of these types of questions, you can find them here.

Competency questions are designed to put you on the spot to reflect and consider your experience; drawing just one example to meet the brief, and do so in a pressurised environment.

It can be really hard, especially if you’ve not interviewed for a while, getting suitable and powerful examples to spring to mind, and to provide a variety of these to demonstrate depth of experience too is important.

This is why practice is so crucial.

Consider in reflection, some of the things you’ve achieved in your career. What challenges did you have to overcome? How did you do them?

At the time, many of the things you did could have been subconscious or instinctive. Or indeed, just natural to have done something that way. So they fall to the back of the mind and not reflected on critically, or in much detail.

However an interview forces you to become conscious of those subconscious actions, and to walk them through in a structured format, so someone not in your shoes understands what you did, and why.

Be a S.T.A.R.(L)

The typical best practice model to answer any question is to follow S.T.A.R.(L):

  • Situation – describe succinctly the issue at hand. Don’t be too verbose, it just needs to be one or two sentences long.
  • Task – This is the part where you make it clear exactly where you fitted in to the situation, and the specifics of the responsibilities you held.
  • Action – Now it’s time to explain what you actually did and why. Don’t be vague, showcase your contribution properly so the picture is clear to the interviewer.
  • Result – Time to shine, show the difference you made. Again, be specific.
  • Learning – This goes beyond the traditional model. But sometimes S.T.A.R. answers could have negative results, or outcomes you recognise could be improved upon. So you could explain what you learned and how you might apply this in future to achieve a better outcome.

Signs of a sadistic or narcissistic boss

The Brain Teaser

These evil little questions arise, and despite Silicon Valley giants like Google dropping them a number of years ago, there are firms out there who still love to throw in these curve balls. Often under the guise of wanting to “see how people think”, a study by the US Journal of Applied Psychology in 2018 showed these forms of questions were often preferred by hiring managers who also demonstrated sadistic or narcissistic personality tropes.

It’s been proven numerous times the ability to answer these types of questions doesn’t coincide with their ability to do a job well.

They can, however, show an insight to people’s general awareness, as without it sometimes you can’t answer these at all well. Especially with the limited amount of data provided in the questions themselves.

Take this example:

How much money does the London Eye make on average a day?

To approach answering it you’re going to have to make a lot of reasonable assumptions, which will connect with some element of commercial awareness, but unless you’ve seen or been on it, and have at least a basic understanding of Merlin’s business model (the owner), you’re going to come unstuck very quickly.

For example, if you’re not familiar with the, you will probably consider:

  • Opening hours/days
  • How many pods there are
  • How many people per pod
  • Hourly rotation
  • Seasonal variations on visitor numbers
  • Price of a ticket and maybe family discounts

But if you knew the venue and Merlin’s packages, and indeed business, you may also throw in:

  • Broader pricing and offer structure (since they sell stand alone, in advance, on the day and via package deals)
  • Merlin Entertainment’s annual passholder programme – and the fact most can go free, or for a £1 pre-booking fee per person
  • Corporate entertainment sell through rates, costs, etc.
  • Special events, e.g. weddings, fireworks
  • Fixed and variable costs – power, staff, maintenance, taxes, etc.

There’s more, but this gives a starting point to the idea of trying to give a rounded answer….

The trouble is, most will likely consider the first 5 points. Limited by their own knowledge of the venue and Merlin. It’s not their fault they don’t know the unknowns. But they will be penalised by not knowing more, as they can’t show really out of the box thinking.

The question is also ambiguous. It asks how much money is made, not just ticket sales. So you may need to include costs to give a rounded answer. Many people will forget this.

Interviewing – Throwing the spotlight on the employer

Of course, most feel the interview process is all about putting you under a microscope and deciding whether you’re the best cog to fit their machine.

But it is a two way street, and right now, we’re seeing very revealing evidence which shows some employers who would have been choice picks for people just a month or so ago, are now places people might want to think harder about whether to keep them on that pedestal.

There’s examples arising in this pandemic of employers who have spent decades building this external image of being the ultimate ‘employee centric’ operations, only to have immediately hung their staff out to dry, just as soon as the first challenges arose.

Then there’s others who have an untenable positions in front of them, yet have gone beyond the pale to retain staff on full pay. Despite areas of their business not being able to operate what may end up being months.

So consider asking a few questions of your next prospective employer, uncover how they really value their staff when the chips are down.

Leave those who turned their backs on their people when they needed them the most. Including those who had mechanisms available (certainly in the UK) to help, such as the Government funded Furlough, yet chose not to engage with them. So those people were left out in the cold at a time when few jobs were available, and indeed, many industries went into hibernation.

So ask questions like:

  • What was the biggest challenge you faced? How did you look to overcome it?
  • What actions and initiatives did you take to protect jobs and your staff during Covid-19?
  • What behaviours did your leadership team demonstrate when they had to make hard decisions?
  • Who challenged your leadership and how did they respond?
  • When did you take those actions? (i.e. immediately, tried to weather the storm, or waited too long)
  • How did you communicate important changes with your employees?
  • What business values did you/your business demonstrate during that period?
  • Did you offer a top-up to the 80% Furlough initiative so your staff could make ends meet?
  • How did you support your staff through those changes and look after their well-being?
  • Aside from those you chose to let go, how many other people left the organisation and did you ask why?

Should there have been a change of leadership since, it will be prudent to ask how they might have approached it differently. Or what planning they’ve put in place since, should another situation like that occur in future.

It will give you a great insight into whether that’s the kind of place you want to be part of, and whether the employer really does value their people.

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