A Phone Interview Technique

I got off the phone a few minutes ago with a young in-house recruiter for a financial firm looking to hire a corporate event planner.

“Why are you looking for a career in event planning?” she asked.

I had her LinkedIn page open before me and stared at her young face, framed by shiny blonde hair. She had graduated from college just two years ago and had, at least according to the experiences listed, a better sense of what she wanted to do than I did.

“I’m not sure what career I actually want, but given my options and my background and the aspects of certain jobs I’ve held that didn’t make me question the point of life, I think event planning is something I rather enjoy and am fairly good at.”

That was, more or less the answer I actually gave, though I didn’t include the part about not knowing what career I actually wanted and “questioning the point of life.” Most people want event planners to be direct, upbeat and bubbly – for the most part I am – but asking after one’s purpose in life would give the opposite impression.

She seemed satisfied with the answer and moved on to her next: “How would you define the culture at this firm, from your research and what you’ve read so far?”

I thought about the firm’s neglected website and the few middling reviews that had been posted on Glassdoor.com, and the scant reportage on the company’s founder floating around the internet. Word hard, play hard, seemed to be a thing, so I repeated this back to her, tacking on a few hyphenated adjectives of my own I thought would be fitting: “fun-loving, open-minded, goal-oriented.”

I admit, I said, that I wasn’t too familiar with the firm’s actual services – finance-y things which surely involved infinite databases and complex algorithms – but the language of culture-building, and how a strong vocabulary for said culture could be used to unite an entire company regardless of everyone’s different functions, that was something I spoke well. I had worked for a TV company but didn’t care to own a TV the entire time that I worked there, until friends from the engineering department surprised me with a large, flat screen, fully loaded with all the company’s video streaming accounts for being an effective liaison between them and the CEO, to whom I reported. A small testament, I felt, to my success in that role.

“Thank you for that thoughtful response,” she said, and asked a few more questions to which I replied with equally thoughtful responses. Or at least I thought.

She signaled the end of our conversation with a clearing her throat and “Do you have any questions for me?”

Yes I did, I said, how would she describe the culture at her firm?

“Ah good question.” And she, whether having been trained to say so specifically for this interview or because she simply was that self aware, said she could list a few things that she was certain her colleagues would also say. They were all good qualities for any firm to have, but none were unique to the firm itself.

The point of the position, she reiterated, was to define and enhance the firm’s existing culture in a way that would belong exclusively to the firm. They needed someone with a discerning and critical eye to figure out what these things were and then spell it out to people both within and without, via events and company initiatives. The creation of the role, spearheaded by the founder and his newly implemented Culture Core, was that they wanted not only to maintain the culture as the company grew, but also to ensure it was adaptable to the inevitable changes that would take place.

“Does that make sense?”

I nodded into the receiver, wanting to say that it was a familiar if not the exact struggle I had every day with both my myself and my writing. I’ve learned now that the two, while they remain close, ought to be separated. Instead I said, “Yes, that makes total sense.”

We said our thank you’s and hung up and I chewed on the young recruiter’s rhetorical last question.

It did make sense: the desire – or more accurately, the need – to define and maintain a culture. A culture of work and values. And for me, personally, of internal values. Of writing or not writing. Of thinking and not thinking. Or of thinking too much and not doing. Or doing but not really knowing why. There was nothing dishonest about my answer, but just because I understood did not mean I was a shining example of it in my day to day. It’s something I’m still trying to figure out for myself. But the young recruiter did not need to know this.

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