Toward De-gamification of Job Interviews

This week Barry Hessenius wrote about the process of interviewing someone for a job.  One of his points was not to use other people’s interview questions/generic questions you pull off the Internet. Just like borrowing another organization’s bylaws to create your own, those questions don’t suit the specific needs of your organization.

The other point he spent a lot of time on was trying to be clever or tricky with the questions you ask rather asking questions about things you need to know.

 To the extent we are trying to “game” the process with clever questions, the candidates will likewise try to game the process with answers they think fit our line of questioning.  We don’t want the interview to be a contest of gaming each other.  We want it to be a frank, candid interchange between us; honest, transparent and fair to all.

Our obsession with everybody in the entire field needing to be a leader; our preoccupation with educational benchmarks in the form of degrees, which we equate with automatically being able to do the best job); and our laser like focus on where an applicant worked before – all color our thinking when we determine what we should ask of our finalists.

The two things he says you need to know are 1) whether the person can do the job well regardless of where they worked before. You are interviewing them for  future performance, not the past. 2) Are they a good organizational fit.

I have been going back and forth in my mind about whether there aren’t more than these two things you need to know. I haven’t decided yet, but I do agree that his plea for simple, directness makes sense.

He also seems to strongly lean toward taking responsibility for the whole process yourself rather than engaging a consultant for the same reason you don’t use other people’s questions–their priorities are not aligned with yours.

He advocated for a process that is a discussion rather than a one sided Q&A. That brought up a memory of an interview I was invited to observe and provide feedback on. One of the opening questions was “What do you understand the job of X to entail?”

What I liked about this question is that it addressed whether the candidate had done research on the job and organization. In this particular case, the person being interviewed expressed questions they had about certain aspects. (I read about X program, I was wondering if that means you do…”) This seemed to lead to a more conversational dynamic.

The interviewers did have specific questions that they were keeping track of, but by the time they started to run through them, they were able to acknowledge that at least a half dozen had already been covered already. I appreciated that approach because I have seen interviews where interviewers apologize for the obligation to ask questions that have already been answered.

I was also thinking, even if “What do you understand the job of X to entail,” strikes people as falling in the “trying to be clever..” category, it can still be useful for determining if you wrote a good job description. It could be smart to ask a couple people from the community who aren’t intimately aware of what your vacant position does to review the job description and even do research on the organization as best they can. Then ask them what they understand the job to entail.

If a person who lives in your community and participates in some of your activities can’t answer that in a manner that hits on all the things you want a candidate to notice about your organization, it is probably prudent to make some rewrites.

If your test candidates as a group seem to orient on the parts of the position that are low priority, again you may want to either rewrite or review what if website and promotional materials are inadvertently drawing focus away from those things that are really important.

Given that many arts and culture non-profits may not have the budget to have a human resources person on staff, running a couple questions and a job description by outside members of the community to gain these sort of perspectives may not be a bad idea.

Especially if they ask, “can one person do all things things?” or “wow, a job with this much responsibility must pay $80,000” when you are paying $40,000.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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