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My most awkward employee interview moment

  1. Having to help a pregnant lady up who had just fallen off her bean bag.
  2. Repeatedly calling someone James before noticing that was in fact their surname.
  3. Being mistaken for Jonathan Lee of Jonathan Lee Recruitment fame and starting a workshop with the completely wrong audience.

Having done well over a thousand of them, that’s probably not too bad a hit rate. But the last of those was well over four years ago so I was probably due.

Cue my recent flight to Hong Kong and a visit to one of my favourite clients, Cathay Pacific. With a forthcoming project on the horizon, I was thinking about what we could do for them. The inkling of an idea hit me. Nothing profound by any stretch of the imagination, just a content series from 35,000ft. So I thought I’d ask someone if they’d be up for it. Literally as it turns out. I can’t remember the exact way I framed the question, but it was pretty much along the lines of ‘Hi, I’m Jon. I’ve got this idea of something fun we could do at 35,000ft. Have you got five minutes?’

What followed was a somewhat awkward pause while Suzi tried to work out how to deal with my brazen approach, and I desperately searched for a funny way out of it. Not helped by the fact that I was holding my phone and clearly had intentions of getting whatever I was referring to on film.

I am glad to say that my brain engaged my mouth before Suzi was able to reply or raise the alarm. From then on in, things went pretty smoothly. So much so that having started with just Suzi, we were joined – intermittently – by three of her colleagues.

One thing that struck me, as I conducted a focus group seven miles above Kazakhstan, was how reactive they were in responding to my questions. The most pragmatic way of doing employee research is, of course, to find a pre-arranged time in someone’s day. Or use surveys/online communities. That approach, however, affords the interviewee preparation time and when the conversation starts they are often in reflective mode. Even if I do try and catch them out with, ‘If your business was a drag queen, which would it be and why?’

In springing questions on Cathay’s team – whilst they were busily pouring someone a Betsy Beer – I got (I felt) more natural, candid insight. If I was more pretentious maybe I’d dub them ‘Live Interviews’. But I’m not. So I’ll just ponder whether I’ll use them on the next big project. Which, which any luck, will be to recruit astronauts.

Jonathan Lee, Associate Creative Director

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