How to Interview with Friends

Handshake, originally uploaded to Flickr by SvadilfariReader J wonders how she can turn a temporary job into a permanent job, but is nervous because she already knows the interviewers…

After being laid off from an in-house counsel position several months ago, I obtained a part-time, temporary position in the same industry. After being here a couple months, the company opened up a permanent, full-time Associate General Counsel position. The job description is broader than what I am doing as my temp assignment, but I believe I am well-qualified. I also really like the company and my co-workers. I submitted my resume, and HR just contacted me to schedule interviews for next week.

What makes this situation unusual is that my interviewers will be the GC and others with whom I already interact on a daily basis. I think I interview pretty well; I have been offered nearly every job I have interviewed for since graduating from law school. But I am very nervous about this temp-to-perm scenario.

Congratulations on making it through to the first round of interviews! We’ve talked about how to change jobs within companies before, but we haven’t really talked about how to interview with your current colleagues and coworkers.  To be honest, I’m not quite sure I understand your nervousness — this sounds like a great situation from all angles. From my perspective: your interviewers know you and your work product, you already know a bit about them and how to play the interview, it should be easy to figure out what the interviewer is “really” asking, and you probably have a better understanding of the new job and its demands. When I interviewed for my last legal job (at the non-profit), I already knew my future boss, having interned at the non-profit during law school and having kept in touch with her through the years.  I viewed that as a positive thing because I knew what to expect on the interview.  Don’t get me wrong, I did my homework, just like I would have for any job interview: I scoured the non-profit’s website, I read up on the particular area of the law that they wanted the new position to focus on (I read an entire treatise the nonprofit had put out on the subject, actually), I went through recent newsletters and publications to find other new cases and issues to discuss at the interview, and I did my best to figure out what was “missing” or what I could add.  (And yes, I wore a suit, even though I knew it was a business casual office.) I always advise anyone going on a job interview to focus on what you bring to the job, but here that “let me help you” vibe was magnified because I was excited to show my potential boss how I could make an impact in the job, how my background would be perfect for the position, and how my approach to the job would be the right one.  I also went into the interview with the theory that if she didn’t like my approach, or if she found another candidate who was better qualified — well, so be it — and I like to think that we would have stayed friendly even if I hadn’t gotten the job.

You haven’t said whether or not the new job will be replacing your temporary job — or if the temp job will still exist after they fill this position.  If they do fill the position with someone else, do your best not to be bitter about it, and carry on like the professional you are.

It is a little weird that the company didn’t come to you directly to let you know you should throw your hat into the ring for the position, but that possibly can be chalked up to corporate bureaucracy — maybe jobs are created and advertised through a specific process.  In any event, I might do some extra preparation for what might be your perceived “weaknesses” — if you haven’t done X before in this position, for example, I would make sure I had a number of specific examples of times you did X in previous jobs.  If there are new skills required, explain what your approach would be to learn those skills — and tell or remind the interviewer (again, with specific stories whenever possible) about how you’ve already learned Y and Z in the past.

Readers, what are your best tips for interviewing with friends and coworkers? 

Comments

  1. Miss Priss :

    I work at an agency that has to treat every interviewee the same and advertise all positions. When I interview for a promotion, it helps me to know that the interviewer may be familiar with me and my work products but may not be aware of every detail or the project from start to finish. We usually have an HR person participate, so I gear the content of my answer to them and less to my interviewer.

  2. Threadjack – I often hear the word “cute” used to describe clothes and outfits, as well as, “You look really cute today.” I hate it. Am I the only one who would rather be called put-together, pretty, or dare I say ‘hot’? Buttons are cute, grown women, I sure hope not. Is this just me or do others feel this way too?

    • Ha – honestly, to me if someone says you look “hot” at work, that means you are not dressed appropriately! To each her own (my view is likely skewed by the fact that I work in a conservative law office).

      • I probably should have clarified that I was referring to both work and personal time. If someone called me hot at work it would take all my self-restraint not to punch them in the nose.

    • I think “cute” is a shorthand for all of those things, which people use because, unlike “hot,” it will probably not result in a sexual-harassment suit. It has a much less sexual context than “pretty,” even, so honestly…I think you need to get used to it. No one’s equating you with a quivery-nosed wobbly-eyed baby bunny rabbit because they call your jacket cute.

      • Totally. People are just trying to be nice. Stop analyzing it so much.

        • This. I don’t think through the compliments I give people as I briefly see them in the hall.

          But I do default to “nice” as a matter of course, but I might slip up and use “cute” (god forbid).

          And if anyone told me anything I was wearing looked hot (almost in any situation) I’d probably give them a funny look. But that’s just me.

    • I always like it when people say even more neutral things, like, “I really like that outfit today,” or “That’s a great color,” or, “I think that blouse is very nice! Where did you get it?” I also try to give these sorts of compliments when I like things people are wearing. But, I do think “cute” is meant to be used just as a similar generic neutral term.

    • If someone in the office told me that she liked my outfit because it was “put-together” (or I looked put-together), I would be worried that she thought I usually looked like I got dressed in the dark. I take cute to mean “that is a nice outift” or “I like your outfit,” all of which I’d be more than happy to hear.

    • I know what you mean; cute is for children and animals. I don’t like it that it has become the default word for adult women (and old people – I hear this frequently, and it bothers me, because an old person is still an adult with dignity).

      That said, I regularly still use the word to refer to adult women! It seems to have become the most common way to compliment a woman’s appearance, and it’s hard for me to remember to say a person looks “nice” or to give a more specific compliment. I realize this is completely inconsistent of me. I do try to keep in mind that people who say this, including myself, are probably not consciously trying to infantilize women. As the above posters have noted, I don’t want to over-analyze every compliment, although I do think the words we choose are important.

    • I don’t like to be called “cute” either. There’s something infantilizing about it. I would prefer a compliment along the lines of “You look very nice,” or “Lovely suit!”

    • if someone tells that I look “put together” today, I’d probably be offended thinking that they probably judge me as a hot mess all other days and today is an exception..

  3. Kat wrote: “To be honest, I’m not quite sure I understand your nervousness — this sounds like a great situation from all angles.”

    Kat, I think you missed a key difference. You (Kat) knew the woman you were going to interview with, but if she had decided not to hire you for that job, you wouldn’t have to sit across from her every day, feeling potentially awkward about it. You merely kept in touch with the woman, rather than sitting within touching distance. Big difference.

    The letter writer said that her interviewers are people she interacts with and works with on a daily basis. It could get awkward for all involved if she doesn’t get the job.

    • karenpadi :

      It could get awkward. But it is the hiring committee’s task to not make it awkward. They’ll just need to think more about their hiring criteria and come up with a good reason for hiring someone else that passes the sniff test.

      Reader J just has to go in knowing that if she isn’t hired for the position, that she has to let it go and professionally accept whatever reason they give her for not offering her the position.

      The possibility of awkwardness does not mean she shouldn’t submit her resume and try for the job.

      • Yes, in the perfect world, it’s the hiring’s committee’s task to not make it awkward. If we lived in a perfect world, there wouldn’t be as many questions for Kat or the Hive to tackle, no?

        The point I was making was not that the LW shouldn’t apply for the job, but that I thought it was pretty obvious why there was a reason to be nervous.

    • I’m currently in that situation (sort of). Hired temp at this position, with understanding that I was going to interview for a full time position. Needs changed, now full time position is for more senior person.

      It was awkward for a day or two, then all parties moved on. Maybe if I’m here long enough, needs will change again. If not, at least I’m employed until I find another job.

      • Though, the day the informed me I was no longer in the running, I did leave early and cry when I got home, because it did suck. Not going to pretend it didn’t!

    • Anastasia :

      This.
      One of my coworkers was in a similar situation. She did good work, and everyone knew and liked her, but she interviewed terribly and was not offered the position. It was awkward, and she ultimately ended up leaving after a few months.

      Treat this as you would any other interview where you do not know your interviewers. Don’t assume that your work speaks for itself; be prepared to answer in-depth questions about your experience and background. In the case of my coworker, she told me that she hadn’t felt the need to explain everything in detail, because they see her work every day and know what she’s capable of. The interviewers told me that she didn’t answer their questions fully.

      Good luck!

    • In search of Bunksters bark :

      If they have a formal bureaucratic process, be careful to hit all the bases in your answers. You can’t rely on “I know they know I know…”. You have to demonstrate in the ivu that you know it. If someone else says it, they’ll get points, and if you don’t, you won’t.

      Good luck.

  4. Another threadjack – I LOVE coat dresses, and I am so hoping that the Duchess of Cambridge’s fondness for them will bring them back in style. I think they are a great suit alternative in the right situation. However, I’m having trouble finding them, and whatever the D of C wears sells out instantly. Any suggestions?

    • Check etsy for vintage ones, maybe?

    • I think they really suit the Duchess of Cambridge, especially because of her job.

      In addition to being lovely, her coatdresses also look like they’re a great way to keep warm in the cool English weather, especially if she’s attending a wedding with an outdoors ceremony.

    • I love me some Duchess of Cambridge.

      • We should get her to read corporette: “a fashion and lifestyle blog for overachieving chicks and DUCHESSES.”

        • Can we talk about her dog for a minute and how its the cutest thing since slice bread? And how her hair is always perfect? And how even her comfy clothes are cute as hell.

          I don’t want to love her. I’m not one of those celebrity/royalty fan-types. But I love me some Duchess of Cambridge.

          • Totally. I’m not really a fan of the idea of a monarchy, even a constitutional one, and yet, I would never hate on the D of C, because she’s fabulous.

            Also, we can’t help who we fall in love with, and as for her husband, he didn’t choose what family he was born into. Some of the rabidly anti-monarchic types really skeeve me out, because their views cross the line into hatred, including hatred of people they have never even met who have done nothing unethical or illegal.

          • I am embarrassed to admit that have a major girl crush on Kate. Pretty smile! Shiny hair! Lovely clothes!

            Have you seen this website?
            orderofsplendor dot blogspot dot com

            She writes about the clothes and jewelry of various royals. Totally a guilty pleasure of mine, especially the tiaras. And honest, I don’t follow any of the other comings and goings of monarchs and such.

          • ARGH. Tech Anon! I have you to blame (thank) for yet another blog addiction! :-)

  5. karenpadi :

    I don’t think the interview process is much different for Reader J than for any other internal candidate. I would expect the questions to focus more on Reader J’s qualifications and experience for the position. I wouldn’t expect questions like “Why are you interested in working for Company?” but instead “What about your experience at Company has influenced your decision to apply for a permanent decision here?” and “How do you expect your day-to-day work to change as you transition positions if you are hired?” Given her insider status, an interviewer will expect more detailed responses than she would an outsider.

    Reader J should also have questions for the interviewer that reflect her current status and knowledge of the company. Something like “How are expectations for permanent employees different from those for temporary employees?” and “Given my current knowledge about Company, one concern I have about this position is [lack of resources/poorly defined goals/other problem put tactfully], is there anything the company is doing to address this?”

    • Those are awesome questions and answers! Honestly, if i was in this position I’d probably try to think up good answers to the “why” questions, and make sure they were in my spiel even if they weren’t asked!

  6. I have done this on both sides of table. It is awkward. You need to strike a balance between overly formal and familiar. You need to respect the formal process and give them what they need on paper to check boxes. But you know them, so small talk is okay at beginning/end more than usual.

    In my case, I was hired into the permanent position. I was actually overseeing projects and directing the boss/colleagues at that time due to circumstances, so it was odd to switch for one hour. But I went through the motions.

    This year, interviewed a friend/teammate for a lateral position on our team. He was upset that the boss included me and the whole thing was awkward for him. I just saw it as going through motions, but he didn’t get the position and it left a bitter taste in his mouth- he has since moved on. The people you are closer to know your true career interests, and that can throw off your ability to give ‘expected’ answers. Be honest and enthusiastic and it will go as well as it can. By all means, respect the process- don’t cut any corners. If they didn’t come to you, someone else may be lined up for it, or they may have concerns about your candidacy you should think through in advance and address.

    • MaggieLizer :

      “The people you are closer to know your true career interests, and that can throw off your ability to give ‘expected’ answers.”

      Great comment, and I think it works both ways. There are a lot of questions I would have as an interviewee that my interviewers may or may not answer honestly – quality of work assignments, work/life balance, hours expectations (even if there’s no formal requirement), etc. If you’re friends with your interviewer, she may be more likely to give you honest answers and, even if she’s not, it may be easier for you to spot the “This is the company-approved response” answers.

  7. Anon Canadian :

    I had to interview for my promotion last year. My supervisor was very supportive, but some of my coworkers didn’t think I deserved the new position. They didn’t tell me directly but I over heard them one day, they have a high school-like clique. Anyway, the hiring process at my university is very bureaucratic and there were other people interviewed for the position. So it was possible that I wouldn’t have gotten the promotion.

    I agree with what other commentors are saying: definitely make sure that you treat the interview formally, but play up the fact that you are familiar with the position/company. That way even if there is someone that might give you a run for your money with skills/qualifications you might come out ahead just based on your “subject matter expertise”.

  8. Anonymous J :

    Hi folks, this is the original poster J. Thanks to everyone for all the advice! I actually had my interviews this afternoon, and didn’t see Kat’s post until I got home this evening, but the comments here line up with what I was already thinking which was nice. To clarify one point: the GC did come to me directly to tell me about the new position, and he said I was welcome to apply. If I am not offered the permanent position, they will probably keep me on in the temp position for a short while to finish my projects and ease the transition with the new person. The GC has been very honest and up-front with me the whole time, which has been nice.

    In any event, I still did all my homework, and I did wear a suit. :) I treated it just as formally and professionally as I would have any other interview, and I think it went well. One of my interviewers (another member of the legal group) had told me a while back that the GC is looking for experience in a particular area, so I was able to emphasize my relevant experience.

    karenpadi:

    “Reader J should also have questions for the interviewer that reflect her current status and knowledge of the company. Something like “How are expectations for permanent employees different from those for temporary employees?” and “Given my current knowledge about Company, one concern I have about this position is [lack of resources/poorly defined goals/other problem put tactfully], is there anything the company is doing to address this?””

    I think I did this kind of thing pretty well in the interview. I (hopefully) showed that I already understand a bit about the business and the legal needs, while (again, hopefully) also showing my genuine interest in the position.

    Again, thanks to Kat and the Corporette hive mind! I appreciate all the great input.

    -J

    • “To clarify one point: the GC did come to me directly to tell me about the new position, and he said I was welcome to apply.”

      That’s encouraging. Good luck! And if you don’t get it, try not to take it personally. Just work on getting experience and a good recommendation. Or something else may come up at the same company.

  9. I have to add this… don’t answer your questions as if the interviewers “should already know” what you know how to do.

    I interviewed a candidate for a temp-to-perm position a couple of years ago. She was a superstar temp. We all “knew” she was the one for the job. But her interview was horrible. Any other person who interviewed half as badly would have been an instant no. She didn’t “sell” her knowledge or contributions at all.

    In the end, we didn’t fill the position right away because we couldn’t justify hiring her once her interview had taken place. We held it vacant for another month, re-interviewed her and some other candidates, and she got it. In the intervening period, a member of the interview panel chatted with her about her performance so she knew how to do better.

    This was for a government position—so lots of red tape a private firm might not have. But still, I will always remember never to assume people know how “good” I am.

  10. I know someone who worked in a temporary position, filling in for someone who was taking maternity leave. She applied for a full-time position after several months and didn’t get it. She was extremely nervous while preparing for the interview because she was concerned that she wouldn’t be taken as seriously as another candidate because she had been doing temporary and contract work.

    In addition, a company may scrutinize an applicant for a F/T position much more than someone who’s working as a temp.

    “It is a little weird that the company didn’t come to you directly to let you know you should throw your hat into the ring for the position …”

    It’s not necessarily weird. The company might not look to fill its ranks from its temp pool. And the fact that the company didn’t ask the writer to interview would tend to make a temporary worker nervous at the outset. And of course, the company might not have asked the person to interview because they didn’t consider her a viable candidate.

    • I’ve since read that in this case the company invited the writer to interview. Obviously a better position to be in.

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