Q: I went for an interview early in January, and thought I did fairly well. I didn’t get the job and I’m very disappointed. Looking back on it, one thing bugs me – they kept asking me about my current job, questions like how we do certain things, key customers, and so on. I tried to tell them as little as I could apart from giving out about one or two things we do. Was it all just a fishing exercise by them? Both companies are in serious competition with each other? (DT, email).
A: When the Irish man went on Mastermind, and answered ‘pass’ to the first three questions, his friend roared from the audience “good man, Paddy, tell them nawthin’…”, writes Liam Horan, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.
You found yourself in a tricky situation. Tell them nawthin’, like Paddy, and you run the risk of not offering enough evidence to acquit, sorry hire, you. Give them too much and you wonder if you’ve done your current company damage and whether that fact will get back to your current company – as well as feeling a bit silly for being ‘used’ in this way.
A candidate walks a thin line when going to interview in a rival company. My approach would be to err on the side of caution – we can say a great deal without saying a lot, if you know what I mean.
So, don’t name customers. Simply say ‘one customer’. Don’t mention figures that are not publicly available. Don’t reveal specifics of target markets, marketing campaigns and the like. Be generic, but, in so doing, you must still show yourself as being knowledgeable.
If it came to it, I would use a line such as “as you can appreciate, I can’t elaborate on that here.”
You want them to see you as someone they should hire – but, until they do, they’re not going to get the family secrets.
You want them to believe that your knowledge in the current company can one day be put to good use in their place – but they must hire you first.
You want them to know that you’ve got an understanding of loyalty – if you sing like a canary to them in the first interview, you may do the same in a future interview after you’ve spent a few years working with them.
Was it a fishing exercise?
In all likelihood, yes. It may not have started out as that. They may genuinely have thought about hiring you. And you may have been a close second behind the winner.
But in the spirit of ‘while I have you here’, they probably tried to pump you for all the information they could. They tried to take their chance. All is fair in love and war.
You’re the only one who can truly answer if you gave too much away.
How we handle our current job is important in interviews. A skilled interviewer will tilt the head to one side and nod you into singing like the aforementioned canary. Some people are just good at getting us to talk.
Be wary of that type of person in interview. An interviewer is not your best friend. Neither are they your therapist. Be professional. Shy away from criticising your current boss. Keep family secrets under wraps.
Make them hire you first and you can take it from there then.