a job candidate tried to give us a presentation we didn’t want — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I’m a manager at a large organization and am almost always is the midst of a recruitment process for one role or another. Our organization is big on diversity and inclusion and so our hiring and interview guides are built to stop as much bias from creeping in as possible. In practice, this means that I usually have a set of questions that I plan to ask all candidates, and then I leave time for candidates’ questions. Unless they ask our recruiter, they don’t generally get given any information on the format ahead of time, nor are they asked to prepare anything.

Today however, I was surprised. A candidate walked into the interview room with his laptop, and after pleasantries, proceeded to tell me he had a presentation he wanted to make that would take 15-20 minutes! This threw me off, and I quickly reacted by saying that I felt that would take up too much time and that we would stick to a regular question and answer format — which he actually did quite well at.

In a water cooler conversation with some other hiring managers, others said they’ve seen this happen lately as well. This makes me wonder: should I have allowed him to present? Is this something that job-seekers are now routinely doing?

Ugh, this thing. Yeah, this is something that a few job-search advisors suggest people do. It’s terrible advice, for exactly the reason you identified: As the person who extended the invitation for the candidate to come meet with you, you have specific plans for how you want to use that time. Sitting through a 15-20-minute presentation (which is a big chunk of the time allotted for most interviews) will mess up those plans and mean you can’t get through all the topics you need to cover. And there’s no guarantee that the person’s presentation will touch on the things you’re most interested in learning.

The people who advise doing this also like to say that interviewers who balk at it are overly rigid … which an is eye-rolly argument. Interviewers who balk at this are often interviewers who have prepared for the interview and planned questions and exercises to suss out who’s best matched with the needs of the job — and who are convinced (with good reason) that using their time that way will serve them better than any of the alternatives. They’re also often interviewers who know that treating candidates equitably means that you don’t suddenly change the process for one person and not change it for everyone else (or who at least work for employers who know that).

It’s not rigidity for the sake of rigidity or a lack of creative thinking or desirable openness. It’s because you’ve decided that structuring your interview process the way you do works better than other options.

And that’s all aside from the cheesy salesiness of this kind of attempt to hijack the interview process — which is a type of pushiness that a lot of interviewers won’t respond well to.

You handled it exactly the way I would have advised handling it — “we have a lot of questions to get through and won’t have time to do that” and maybe a suggestion that he email it to you afterwards if it’s in a format that would allow that.

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