Building the Proper Atmosphere (Part 1)

Fill in the blank: “Admiral Rickover is the father of the _________________.”   The nuclear navy?  The atomic submarine?  Yes, both. He is also known as the father of the “Stress Interview.”  He would nail a chair to the floor and say to the job candidate, “pull up a chair, Captain,” and wait to see what the candidate would do when the chair wouldn’t move from where it had been nailed.  Putting candidates under pressure or stress in the interview in order to gauge how they’re going to handle the pressures or stresses of the job is a flawed and inadequate technique.  All the research makes it clear that putting candidates under pressure in the interview is only successful in predicting whether they can handle the pressure of an interview — the results cannot be generalized back to the job itself.  This doesn’t mean, however, that the goal of predicting how a candidate will react under pressure isn’t a valid one.  If the job has identifiable pressures and stresses, there ought to be a way of finding out whether the candidate will be able to deal with them.  However, this is best accomplished without using techniques like that described above.  What kind of overall tone or atmosphere is most productive, then?  To begin with, not only an atmosphere of tension, but even a stiff, formal or constricted atmosphere should be avoided.  Ideally, you want to achieve:

  • A conversational tone
  • A relatively informal atmosphere
  • Reduced tension and anxiety
  • A sense of mutual trust and respect

The Business Value of Setting the Stage for an Interview

Why bother with creating the right atmosphere?  How does it improve the interview process?  Well, to cite just two reasons (there are others), it gives a positive impression of your organization, and it increases the offer acceptance rate of talented candidates.  The benefits of setting the proper tone are often passed over by interviewers, but there is clear evidence that it’s worth doing.  When you conduct a targeted selection interview you are bringing a stranger into a brief, but very memorable contact with your organization.  Whether you interview 10 people for everyone you hire or only three, the fact remains that the vast majority of candidates don’t come on board as employees.  Where do they go, all those people who were interviewed but not hired?  They go to competitors, to clients, to related industries or government agencies; they are potential users of your products or services; and they all carry with them an impression of your organization based on their one human contact with it:  the interview.  This may not be a fair way to evaluate a complex organization, but that’s what people do.  If they experience the interview as one in which they were not fully heard or fairly treated, they carry a negative attitude and message wherever they go.


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