Interviewing When You Know The Interviewer

Which is easier, interviewing for a job when you’re unemployed, or interviewing for a job when you’re being interviewed by people who already know and/or supervise you?

Just to clarify things before you answer, you might be wondering how you could possibly be interviewed by your current boss for a promotion. Well, it could be that you’re a temporary hire and you actually have to re-interview for a permanent position and compete for it with employees from other departments or even external applicants. Or, you might be applying for a promotion to another position altogether and your long-time boss just recently advanced to a position where – surprise! – if/when selected, they’d become your boss again. So it happens.

Many believe that being interviewed by someone who already knows you would be infinitely easier. After all, they know what you’re capable of, they know the successes you’ve had, how you go about your job everyday, your great attendance and punctuality; the interview will be more of a formality than anything. Making these kinds of assumptions is extremely dangerous and ill-advised.

Why you ask? After all, they KNOW you. Well, the answer is simply that you’re in danger because you may fall into the trap of not fully answering questions with the details and examples you’d give to someone you didn’t know. Instead of providing these concrete examples of things you’ve accomplished you might say things like, “Well, you know what I’m capable of”, or “You’ve seen how I handle problems, and I’ll continue to work the same way.”

On the other side of the table, this person who knows you intimately is struggling. You see they want you to interview to your best, and they may even really want to hire you. The problem? They may be bound to record only what you actually say in response to the questions asked, and you may be scored solely based on what comes out of your mouth; not what they know you to be capable of but you leave unsaid.

I’ve heard from employers who have told me they have passed over people they knew well and who were very qualified, because in the interview itself they scored exceptionally low. Their interview scores were weak because they took for granted that the interviewer would score them high based on their relationship and telling the interviewer what they already knew wasn’t necessary.

This boss who knows you well may be rooting for you to perform highly in the interview, but they may be one of two or three people conducting the interview, and they can hardly act unprofessional and at some point in the interview start coaching you on how to best respond if you’re oblivious to the fact you’re failing to demonstrate and prove you’ve done what you claim.

The best advice I can give you is to prepare for all interviews the same; whether you know someone doing the interviewing or not. Be prepared to compete for the job and if you have to make some assumptions, assume you’ll get no favours on the other side; that you have to give specific examples from your past that prove you’ve got the experience, education and skills demanded of the position you’re competing for. Sure, you might start talking in detail about an experience the interviewer knows just as well, but you’ll be scored highly on referencing that example and for using skill-based language that interviewers are listening for.

I myself went for just such an interview many years ago now. I was a temporary employee in a position and just weeks after starting the job, the permanent posting came out. I literally had to interview a second time with the person who had interviewed me the first time. I was competing with others, and my advantage was that I was currently in the role. I treated the interview the only way I knew how at the time, by making no assumptions of favouritism, giving examples of my work which yes, I knew the one interviewer already was aware of. As I answered, I saw smiles of recognition throughout the interview, as I talked about things I’d accomplished and outcomes I’d achieved in the past; just as I did in the original interview. Only later did I learn that I’d taken the right approach. Another employee in the same situation had also interviewed for the role, (there were three jobs available) and was not successful because they gave short answers and heavily relied on the boss to fill in the details.

You might lose out on a job when you’re an external applicant and the job goes to someone already employed in the company. When this happens, you might assume they had the job already sewn up and the interview was a sham; just a necessary formality where you weren’t given an honest shot at the job. This does happen of course. However, sometimes, you lose out because the internal employee really does outperform you in the scoring system the interviews use.

To improve your chances of success when interviewing, make no assumptions if/when you know the interviewer and they in turn know you. Treat the interview as if you were meeting them for the first time and they know nothing about you. It’s up to you to demonstrate and prove you’re the best person for the job. Use all your experiences to your advantage by citing them and make no assumptions.


One thought on “Interviewing When You Know The Interviewer

  1. I absolutely agree with your opinion here Kelly.
    A similar situation happened to me once before.
    It didn’t end up in a positive way, lol.


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