How to Manage a Job Interviewer Whose Knowledge is Outdated & Unfocused
September 28, 2012 6:16 PM   Subscribe

I am presently going through interviews for an IT consulting position with a nationally known firm. I've been through two extended phone interviews. The initial call with the recruiter went great, but I just had a call with one of the main staff members and it was a train wreck. Extra library/MLIS snowflake details...

Keeping this anonymous because I need some input while still going through the interview process.

I am one of those library/MLIS folks who have switched over into working with IT, especially with helping organizations do a better job of managing their digital information. Anybody who's got the background but also been working with technology can probably agree that there is a screaming need for better organization/management, but that there is still a lot of jargon and misinformation out there. For the past 2 weeks, I've been interviewing for a job with a well placed IT firm to come on board as one of their specialists in this area, and I'd be pretty stoked to be in a position where I could use my library/organization skills to actually make systems work.

My first interview was with the main recruiter from HR and it went really well. I went through the job description and wrote up notes for each bullet point as examples of my work experience and education that related to it. We had a good conversation and she said I was a strong candidate for the position. The next step is to do more interviews with their staff and after the first one, I'm wondering what my take-away should be from that meeting.

If you went to Library School (or have worked in a library), did you have tech guys whose experience is based in 1960s/mainframe computing? These were the professors that my advisor told me to avoid because their knowledge was based on a completely different worldview and model than what's happening in technology during the present day. Well, the interview I had yesterday was with a senior staff member who is that guy. And who this position would report to until he retires in a few months and would be expected to mentor. My concern is not that somebody is old or that they cut their teeth in technology 40 years ago. It's that his knowledge of the actual area of expertise and specifically the standards/practices that come out of the Library/Information Science appears to be zero. Instead a 45 minute phone call turned into a 90 minutes of him asking me details like why I had my undergraduate major in X topic, what year I graduated from high school, why I had taken a certain job not related to the position, "let's do role playing," and absolutely nothing about the specific topic at hand. I tried to politely ask him when it was my turn for questions what his knowledge/experience was in the area and got the story about how he was "an old hand" because he's worked on an ANSI standard related to it back in the early 1980s. Oh and when I was asked about a specific technology I'd managed for a project, he kept interrupting me with "Is that the Cloud?" and when I tried to politely say no and steer it back to the more relevant details, he kept trying to push the point.

So far I've been told that they'll be scheduling more calls and I'd at least like to talk to the other staff members. But after that call, I'm wondering how this guy is going to evaluate me given his behavior and lack of actual knowledge as was stated in the job description. Also if he's that bonkers in his approach (which surprised me because it's a reputable firm), what can I expect for the rest of the calls? Or was this just a courtesy situation where he's retiring anyways, but has to be included in the process?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They specified more than one, and given that he's retiring, I'd take it as more of a "fit" interview where they're letting him have a say in the process out of respect, but someone with more technical expertise will be interviewing you after.

If you don't get an interview with a more technical person, it could well be that you are the technical person they're bringing in because they don't have one, so it's not necessarily bad.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:31 PM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Heh, wow. Don't worry about playing the "ageist" card in your description here, people retire (or more accurately, "expire") from tech in their 40s for a reason.

As a programmer, I do my damnedest to keep my skillset relevant to the modern world, but make no mistake, it takes me I would estimate an hour every day just to stay on top of the news in my field, plus quite a few hours every week actually evaluating and learning new tools. So when someone in IT decides they just want to coast to retirement - Within five years you end up with someone with too much seniority to outright fire but too irrelevant to the modern world to do anything but babysit legacy code.

That said, as for whether or not you should worry about your interview - If you get to talk to other "real" IT people, then no, don't worry. If you want reassurance that meaningless questions don't invalidate your own skills, then no, don't worry. If, however, you really really want that particular job and talking to Mr. Mainframe counts as your most direct contact with an SME with that company - Then worry; but also, don't worry because if they consider him an SME, you don't want that job. :)
posted by pla at 7:00 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the length of the interview is a good sign. It seems as if the more you talked, the more engaged he became and that's a positive development.
posted by raisingsand at 7:02 PM on September 28, 2012

He may have input to the decision, but his point of view, blindspots, and attitude are likely well known and somewhat discounted. I would proceed with confidence. Have good responses ready in case someone else revisits his substantive concerns. Do not mention his weirdness.
posted by lathrop at 7:43 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

He may have not really known what to ask you (not having knowledge of your skillset, etc) and was just grasping at straws, mostly trying to get a feeling for who you are as a person. I once had to do this once. I interviewed someone I would have to manage who had technical skills I knew nothing about (which is why we were hiring them). It's an awkward position to be in, and he's an old school programmer so.... you know... not to stereotype, but... he might not be the most adept at diffusing awkwardness. If I were you, and I had a second chance to make a good impression on this person, I'd make a point to be able to say, "So since last we talked, I became really curious about X-old-school-thing that you mention. It's definitely not my area of expertise, but really interesting because I found out it presaged x-new-school-thing I am really passionate about." Give yourself the chance to seem really passionate and, ahem, geeky about what you do (always good for a job interview) and humbly passionate about the history of what you do (extra geeky points plus a bit of respectful homage to your forbearers).
posted by lalalana at 9:28 PM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

My guess is, he knows you're supposed to be heading toward using 'the cloud' and he was trying to assess whether you were qualified to take them there without really understanding it himself. His lack of understanding being, you know, why they're hiring someone.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:04 AM on September 29, 2012

Hoo, do I know these fossils well. I worked in Telecom as a Data Network Engineer, and it seems that if a guy left the phone company for the private sector, their knowledge stopped and set in that moment in time. They're the Miss Havershams of the tech world.

You screwed the pooch on this one I'm afraid. The only thing to do with these guys is let them gas on about their glory days, and encorage them to tell their war stories. Any attempt to steer the conversation to current technology or to even show them that they're dinosaurs is destined for disaster.

Hopefully the guy won't have anything to say about it one way or another, but reverse places with him. How would you feel if some young person came in, interrupted you, took you off of the topic you wanted to talk about and kept bringing stuff up you knew nothing about? You might be resentful.

If you run into anymore of these guys, just let them talk. The more people talk to you, the more they like you.

In the future follow the lead of the interviewer, let them dance you around the floor they way they want to do it. Only ask your questions when you're invited to.

Take this knowledge forward with you on other interviews with guys in the company.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:17 AM on September 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

« Older Neurological? Psychological? Just plain clumsy?   |   So because I have this I've got to be how old? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.