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Elements of the Employee Experience: The Interview

July 5, 2021

With this article, we’ll kick off our new series about the employee experience, exploring the current state of various elements of the employee experience (EX) that people encounter at work, implications for the acquisition and retention of talent by organizations, and our vision for what the future holds for the employee experience.

In this series, we’ll explore some emerging workplace trends within the context of hybrid work arrangements, including both work contexts that are on site, within an office, and remote-work contexts. The impact of the global pandemic on the way we work has made these topics more important than ever. The employee-experience element in focus in this first installment of our series is The Interview.

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Bringing Your Authentic Character

People naturally bring different versions of themselves to the various situations or contexts in which they work, emphasizing a broad range of character traits that may map to specific contexts. The context of the interview is no different.

The character of the interviewer should be representative of the place and culture at work. The interviewee should also bring his or her authentic character to the conversation. Questions could arise regarding whether the characters both are representing in that interview are authentic and what gaps might exist between what they are portraying and what is real.

Please consider the interviews that you have experienced through the lens of these questions:

  1. What types of interviews have you done?
  2. How did the interviews make you feel?
  3. What did you do to prepare for the interviews?
  4. Were you able to represent yourself authentically?
  5. Did you get a good grasp of the job itself?
  6. Were you able to understand the context of the work?
  7. Did you have a sense of who would be managing or mentoring you?
  8. Should you have prepared anything in addition to your resume, to help others get to know you better?
  9. How long was the overall interview process?
  10. How thorough was the interview experience?

There is real merit in bringing your authentic character to the interview and revealing the key character traits that are relevant to the role and related outcomes. Authenticity reduces the likelihood that either party might misinterpret the candidate’s fitness for the job and also enables the identification of additional opportunities for learning and development, allowing a candidate to grow into a role over time. Consider how well your resume represents your true self and whether it tells your authentic story in a compelling way that would inspire further conversation.

What can you do to better represent yourself within an interview context, satisfy role expectations, and achieve good outcomes—from the perspectives of both the interviewer and the interviewee?

Aligning Your Resume with Your True Self

Running an organization requires the ability to source and retain talent, hiring people who can do a job the organization has defined in a job description.

The candidates who apply for job opportunities must prepare a resume, or CV (Curriculum Vitae)—which means the course of life in Latin—a short written summary of the person’s career, qualifications, and education. The resume is a story in its own right that attempts to describe the person’s characteristics, historical work activities, and the experience the person would bring to the job opportunity.

The people doing the hiring review candidates’ resumes to determine whether they appear to fit the job requirements, then invite the most promising candidates to interview.

Your resume should convey a reasonable representation of your personality, in addition to your qualifications, provide a way for people to get a clear glimpse of your character traits and values, and show how they connect to the practices and behaviors that you embody in your projects at work. Your behaviors say something about you—how you handle yourself in different situations and who you are. Thus, the resume is the central artifact of the interview process. It helps the interviewer gain a better understanding of your character, including the following:

  • philosophy—What do you believe in? What motivates you? What are your intentions in what you do?
  • relationships—How do you interact with other people with differing characters? What conversations energize or drain you? What relationships are short lived or have sustained value over time?
  • accountability—What responsibilities do you want to own? For what do you want to be accountable? How do you want to inject meaning into what you do—for yourself and others? What specific soft skills or practices could you apply in various contexts to support your work?
  • impact—How do you want to effect your work? What impacts do you want to have on the world and to what end?

During an interview, you have only a small window of time in which to reveal your whole self, as well as to better understand the interviewer and determine whether there is a match between your skills and the job’s requirements, which may be problematic in itself. So your resume’s ability to express your authentic character traits sets the expectations of both the interviewer and the interviewee regarding what the interview could represent.

The interview could also present significant limitations to how much the interviewee can represent his or her character traits during such a small window of time, which could reveal a mismatch or a gap in cultural fit between the job expectations and the reality of the job itself. Does the interviewee really know whether the interviewer truly represents the prospective employer’s culture?

Be aware of yourself before, during, and after the interview and how the experience makes you feel. Also consider how well you are able to represent your character within the context of the interview and the implications for your fitness for the job.

How good a job does your existing resume really do of representing your character and personality in the context of an interview?

Understanding Character and Context

One important implication of applying for a job is the degree of character fit between the interviewee and the organization. Would the role provide an opportunity for your character to shine, as well as for sustainable growth opportunities over time?

We define character as the traits that define you and enable other people to better understand who you are. Your character is deeply connected to your current and past contexts. Contexts are the environments in which you work and live.

Your character could imply your fitness for one or multiple roles within the same or different job functions and contexts within an organization. However, character alone is often insufficient for assessing job fit. The characters of other team members present themselves during projects—especially around key outcomes that you could achieve together. So all of this implies a need to understand not only your own character traits, values, practices, and outcomes but also those of the other people with whom you would work on project teams.

Taking a moment to reflect on your own character is an important practice. We do this by understanding the following:

  • the context—Describe a context, including the people, a place, and a time. Explore what was happening within that context and how it made you feel. Examine the implications of your character traits and whether that context enhanced your ability to express your character in a healthy manner and or had the opposite effect. Then, ask why? How well are you able to express your character within the interview context?
  • other peoples’ characters—What are the character traits of the people interviewing you? What do their traits tell you about the organizational culture? How are the interviewers treating you? Does their behavior align with the values and beliefs that manifest through your own character traits?
  • roles—What role would they expect your character to play in the job? With what other people would you interact in that role? This implies a need to understand the embodiment of values and practices that would connect with your character traits, within the context of the work.

Generally, interviews do a poor job of providing a context that would help you to better understand yourself, the character of the interviewer, or the character of the organization.

Encouraging a Deeper Discourse

In many respects, an interview is just a conversation. The interview’s structure can drive the conversation toward specific outcomes and provide a way for people to get to know one another’s character, as well as the character of the team and the organization. A lot depends on the type of job for which a person is applying, the contextual requirements of that job, the expertise it requires, and the level of experience and performance necessary to do the job well over time.

To encourage deeper conversations, you should consider the following:

  • mutual interests and questions to explore—People who are taking the time to be part of a conversation want to gain a mutual understanding of each other. The people in an interview context have prepared some questions to stimulate their conversation and advance their understanding of each other.
  • topics and scenarios—Preparing a range of topics of discussion and scenarios that are pertinent to the position and the interview helps you explore other perspectives on what the position may demand.
  • joint intentions and outcomes—Do the people having the conversation have a common understanding of the outcomes and deliverables that relate to the role? Ensuring this can help set the interviewee up for success from the get go.

Deeper conversations can help us better understand the character traits of other people. They also provide opportunities for exploring scenarios in multiple contexts, enabling us to see how people would perform within them. A deeper discourse opens up opportunities for learning and enables you to identify gaps in your practices that would require additional practice over time.

Meaningful Outcomes for 21st Century Transferable Skills

People prefer to work in places where they feel that they are trusted and valued by their peers and the leaders to whom they report—where their work is appreciated and recognized—not where they feel they’re being watched all the time. People want to work where they can add value, with people who value meaning and see work as time well spent. They want to live a life that is worth living. To create meaningful work outcomes:

  • Be a catalyst for shaping healthy cultures for individuals, teams, and organizations.
  • Help people spot implicit practices and convert them into explicit practices with the help of Practice Cards.
  • Motivate people to take responsibility for injecting meaning into their work and building, strengthening, and deepening healthy relationships and behaviors.

We are seeing a trend that indicates a gradual transition away from workplaces that focus only on productivity measures and deliverables, to workplaces that provide opportunities for people to identify their transferable skills, build character, and inject meaning into what they do.

Transferable skills are skills to which you connect and that you can contextualize into multiple roles. To collect transferable skills, you need to be able to spot them across many contexts at work and know where to apply them, at the right times and places.

In Make Meaningful Work, we believe that the following five foundational leadership practices are necessary for a healthy culture:

  1. Enabling active listening to build awareness
  2. Sparking curiosity to solve ambiguous problems
  3. Fostering good relationships to enable contextual adaptability
  4. Promoting diversity to navigate complexity
  5. Building the confidence to make meaningful decisions

These practices are critical for any organization to sustain a healthy culture. You can represent each of these practices on a Practice Card. Creating each Practice Card offers an exercise that can help you to connect with that practice and contextualize it into your own work culture.

Designing and creating a healthy employee experience enables an organization to attract and retain talent, which is critical to the success of 21st century workplaces. Organizations must provide spaces for people to pause and engage in deeper reflective learning and development. They need to provide meaningful tasks and the toolkits and spaces that let people more deeply practice their soft skills and sustain better cultural outcomes both within and outside the organization. 

Principal Design Researcher at Apogee Asia Ltd.

Hong Kong

Daniel SzucOriginally from Australia, Dan has been based in Hong Kong for over 20 years. He is a co-founder of both Make Meaningful Work and UX Hong Kong. Dan has been involved in the field of User Experience for more than 20 years. He has lectured on user-centered design globally and is the co-author of two books: Global UX, with Whitney Quesenbery, and Usability Kit, with Gerry Gaffney. He is a founding member and Past President of the UPA China Hong Kong Branch and was a co-founder of the UPA China User Friendly conferences. Dan holds a BS in Information Management from Melbourne University Australia.  Read More

Co-founder and Principal Design Researcher at Apogee Asia Ltd.

Hong Kong

Josephine WongJo is a co-founder of both Make Meaningful Work and UX Hong Kong. She grew up in the multicultural city Hong Kong, with her Chinese-Burmese father and Chinese-Indonesian mother. Fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English, Jo collaborates with global teams, conducting design research and usability testing. She is passionate about the environment, political and economic systems; and discovering how we can live healthier, happier lives without adversely impacting less fortunate people. She is a member of the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) Hong Kong Chapter. Jo attended Melbourne University, completing a Bachelor of Social Science Information Management.  Read More

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