Job interviews can be painful. And not just for the interviewee. Many times as the interviewer, I’ve squirmed in my chair enough to look like the interviewee, confusing anyone walking past the room. Why am I in a cold sweat? One simple answer. I’m terrified I’ll make the wrong choice.

Identifying the right person can feel like doing a puzzle blindfolded. You know what shapes need to fit together, but you don’t have a clear vision to get it done. To overcome this, the most important component to address during an interview, and likely the most overlooked, is getting a glimpse of a candidate’s experiences way beyond what his or her resume or LinkedIn profiles tell you. Knowing motivations and previous life experiences should bear significant weight in the interview process.

Jay Z Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair’s recent cover story on Jay Z has a remarkable quote when speaking about how he was able to overcome his past to succeed in every venture undertaken, including his newest stint as a sports agent. When speaking about why he’s qualified to help professional athletes, Jay Z told Editor Lisa Robinson, “‘I know about budgets. I was a drug dealer. To be in a drug deal, you need to know what you can spend, what you need to re-up.’”

Let that sink in for a second.

He’s good at managing wealth and budgeting because he previously hustled drugs to survive. He took a potentially polarizing and scandalous scenario and parlayed it into a life lesson that has benefited him for the good. Certainly, this is an extreme example, but the sentiment has merit.

Now scan your memory for anything that’s come up during an interview that may have given you pause. Anyone mention that they used to be an emergency responder? Devoted yogi and meditator? Loved planning family trips that spanned countries and generations? Award-winning show dog owner?

Those types of anecdotes are the ones that will reveal more about the candidate than asking them to verbalize their strengths and weaknesses. Ask them the most daring thing they’ve ever done. Make them tell you what they did to overcome the biggest hurdle they faced. What hobby or activity re-energizes them?

These are the answers that count and show you that a candidate have the skills to be flexible, versatile, process-oriented or calm in times of stress. Extolling the virtues of past work experience, which still must be done, should be seen as a way to just scratch the surface.

The underlying truth of Jay Z’s statement reinforces what we all inherently know. Each candidate comes to your office with a life bursting with experiences, opinions and successes. Unleash those and you’ll find someone who is a fit for the job now and has the capacity to grow beyond the confines of the position you’re trying to fill.

And if nothing else, it will help dial down the intensity meter during an interview. And sweaty palms are not a good look for an interview on either side of the table.


Mary Bortman is an Account Supervisor for Airfoil, an integrated marketing communications firm with offices in Silicon Valley, Detroit, London and Hong Kong.  Follow Mary on Twitter: @marykesler