Interview Lessons from the World of Podcasting

I’m multi-tasking. Not something I’m particularly good at, but listening to Marc Maron’s podcast with President Obama I’m reminded how interviewing techniques, questions and the process employers have used for hiring over decades is broken. Employers know it. Job-seekers feel it. Stats confirm it.

Maron starts the podcast rambling about how nervous he is, “I’m panicking all morning,” his attempt to prepare questions, then the President walks into the garage and he and Maron just start having a conversation. It’s about eight minutes in and Maron says, “…wow we just jumped into it.” Exactly. A real conversation.

Ditch the fire response interview. Go for the conversation.

Every college student and graduate who has worked with me knows I think the fire response style of interviewing generates lazy questions that yield canned answers. Maron, and I give props to the President as well for the style and direction of the interview, he just said, “…we just dove in, I went with it.” Wow, they’re covering everything and more you would want in a job interview. Here’s what I’m hearing:

  • Transitioning from high school to college
  • Guns
  • Racism
  • Healthcare
  • Basketball
  • Ageing
  • Family
  • His children (Malia is driving!)
  • His father
  • Michelle’s family Religion
  • Comedy
  • Washington politics
  •  A Hawaii-induced mindset
  • Post-9/11 policies
  • Bin Laden
  • Basketball

Oh did I say basketball?

That’s a lot of ground in an hour. Not what are your strengths, weaknesses, where do you want to be in five years questions.

Breaking for a rant. While listening to the podcast and taping on the keys, I’m googling ‘interview process broken’. I’m not including the person name or the company, because, well, this infuriates me.

“…traditional interviews don’t allow you to know the real person you’re hiring. “I ask questions like ‘what would other people say about you,’” she says. She also doesn’t just ask the old “where do you want to be in five years,” but instead asks where they want to be in 10 or 20. It makes them off guard and you get some really interesting information from them.”

Really! First, the idea that you want to catch someone off guard in an interview is hostile, mean, pointless. Where you want to be in 10, 20 years is the same old tired question. The world can spin off its axis; that about screws that plan. There are so many other ways to find out in an interview what others think about the candidate. Nothing in this person’s interview style suggests they will get to know the real person.

I coach job candidates to go in for the conversation. Get the interviewer off their script so they can really get to know you and the value you offer the company. That’s how you demonstrate fit.

You have to start the dialogue. It’s tough when you’re not experienced at interviewing but it can be done.

The real art Maron and the President display in the podcast is listening.

A good interview, and I think this podcast counts as one ([another google while listening and writing,] downloaded 735,063 times in the first 24 hours of availability, and more than 900,000 times in the first 36 hours,) requires listening. It’s Improv. Interviewing is performance created at the moment it is performed. It’s a dialogue, it’s collaborative and demands listening to each other.

I’m listening and I get that Maron had an idea of what he wanted to cover (notice I did not say ask) in the podcast and the President, with his experience, knows how this stuff goes and flows.

Interviewers also know what they want to cover and learn from job candidates and job candidates know what interviewers want to hear. Except, interviewers and interviewees are so intent on getting the boxes checked off that they half-listen and/or listen to what is familiar. That is no way to learn anything about anyone.

High-five at the end.

I’m coming to the end of the podcast and I just heard one of the best things about it. Maron and the President gave each other a high-five. Yep, they just complimented each other on how well the interview went. That would be an interesting way to end an interview instead of the obligatory thank you and what are the next steps. (Yes, you still do need to do that.)

Try this in your next interview.

  • Answer the ‘tell me about yourself’ question (you know it is the first question you will be asked) but end by asking a question of the interviewer to get the dialogue started. Try, “…and how did you start your career or how would you describe the ideal candidate for this position.”
  • If they won’t play, try it again by saying something like, “I know you have a lot of questions for me, may I ask you something first?” Then ask ad open-ended, thought-starter question to get things going: “What do you think makes people successful in this job/at this company?”
  • Keep the dialogue going by asking questions throughout the interview. I advise job-seekers to never let the interview end with the interviewer saying, “What questions do you have?” Because there’s only five minutes left, that’s a throwaway question. The interviewer does not intend to answer your questions in a way that you will learn anything.
  • If the interview went well, say so, “I learned a lot from you today about this job and company. Thank you for a great conversation.”

Let me know how your next interview goes when you took it from checking boxes to a conversation.

Thanks Marc Maron and President Obama for an interesting conversation and a great lesson in interviewing.


By Jane Horowitz

Jane Horowitz is a career-launch coach and founder of More Than A Resumé. Jane has championed college students in their job searches from colleges and universities across the country, and with majors from engineering to fine arts, from computer design to banking. Jane has made a measurable and lasting difference in college students’ lives.