66

In the next couple of months, I am planning to have to conduct several interviews with candidates for full-time and intern/co-op positions. I work at a very large company that is well known in the industry.

The problem is that sometimes we don't have enough conference rooms in the facility, so we wind up conducting interviews in "hangout" rooms around the campus. These rooms don't necessarily have desks in them, and generally feature lounge chairs or couches. While this is fine for coworkers who know each other or when the door to the room is open, this often feels like a hotel room interview I had years ago when the door is closed and relative strangers are interacting (see the AEA and AHA ending hotel room interviews for context).

As a mid-20s white male, I think I would be absolutely fine sitting in a lounge chair or sofa while being interviewed, but I could very easily see how others would be far less comfortable (I work in "industry" so most management are men as well, this could be very weird where two or three men 25-50 are interviewing a single college-age person, gender identity/assigned sex regardless).

I could see keeping the door to these rooms open being a possible mitigating factor, but I don't think that goes far enough, and interviews are generally preferred to be private. Additionally there are relatively few women or non-cis-presenting or identifying males that can be present for these interviews.I have thought of asking people who may not have any direct contact with a potential hire to be in the room, but this takes away from work that could be done otherwise, and would require a justification to management.

I have thought of bringing these interview practices up to management as potential reasons that our recruitment rate is so low, but my sense is that our facilities staff is stretched too thin as it is, and I don't know that my observations would be acted on.

TL;DR: how can I make potential new hires feel more comfortable during interviews in an extremely relaxed/comfort-oriented and potentially private environment?

  • When you interviewed with the company, where was it held? Have you asked your manager if there are any other spaces or offices you could use instead? – David K Sep 18 at 15:52
  • 6
    "As a mid-20s white male, I think I would be absolutely fine sitting in a lounge chair or sofa while being interviewed" - Am I the only one that doesn't get what your being white has to do with anything? – pushkin Sep 19 at 22:12
  • 1
    @pushkin My guess is, it could make you feel uncomfortable. I am white myself, but I spend a year in a mostly black city in the USA. I went to a high school where more than 95% where black. While the power dynamic is not as bad with high school kids, I sometimes did feel uncomfortable, for example when playing sports. I easily felt singled out for my skin color. Now I imagine a fresh black college graduate sitting in a room of "old(er) white men". I would probably feel more intimidated than I would anyway given the situation. – Pudora Oct 2 at 8:30

11 Answers 11

247

I would ensure that a meeting room is available for these interviews. Perhaps bump people out of meeting rooms as they could rearrange/or use the lounge.

I would do this also because an interviewee is also deciding if they want to work for you. It looks very unprofessional to have a meeting in essentially a break room.

  • 11
    Exactly this. I worked at a company where room bookings where not that strictly obliged to. However, for interview everyone immediately vacates rooms, or whatever is necessary. – Bernhard Sep 18 at 5:49
  • 5
    Absolutely. The interview itself wouldn't bother me (white male, 20's for what it matters). But it would come across as unprofessional. Not the best impression to make. – Dylan Meeus Sep 18 at 9:03
  • 4
    @Ed Heal I appreciated your answer and it is certainly valid and correct, but as an employee of three years at a 5k-6k person site, how am I supposed to know who to bump or when? I can't ask to move customer meetings or large project meetings to huddle rooms, and other people 5+ management levels away from me are also trying to conduct interviews. How do I actually "bump" someone out of a conference room they have already booked? – agentroadkill Sep 18 at 14:28
  • 28
    @agentroadkill: If you're not HR, put the matter to HR. If you are HR, put the matter to whoever is in charge of room reservation. If whoever you kick the problem to cannot solve the issue, escalate to your manager. – Matthieu M. Sep 18 at 14:30
  • 7
    I was in a similar position where the "interviewer pool" were in consensus that it seemed unprofessional to have interviews in common areas, so we raised our concerns to HR/recruitment and then just politely declined any calendar invite for an interview that didn't have an associated room booking, which helped escalate the problem and they did the ground work of ensuring rooms were available. – anotherdave Sep 19 at 10:04
111

facilities staff is stretched too thin

Does your company not have a room booking solution? If so, just print out a piece of paper with text "Room blocked from time X to Y on date Z for interviews". And paste it outside a decent meeting room in advance. When you need the room, just ask the people to vacate.

I work at a very large company that is well known in the industry.

Flag it to the HR that by not providing proper meeting rooms for the interview, you are giving a bad candidate experience.

Interviews are 2 way street, and its not just you judging the candidate, but also the candidate assessing whether this is a workplace they would like to work at.

If I was one of the candidates interviewing at a larger employer, and if I got a small overcrowded room, I would definitely pass. Because what large corp/ HR can not find a room when the interviews are scheduled at least days, if not weeks in advance?

  • 21
    This. A large employer that cuts corners on things like conference rooms probably has the wrong attitude toward necessary expenses in many other areas as well, and would not be a pleasant place to work. – TKK Sep 18 at 16:13
  • 1
    @TKK - or is experiencing high growth while waiting for a new facility to be ready for move-in which the point my company was in a year ago. I ended up doing some interviews at a coffeeshop nearby (and warned the candidates ahead of time (about the interview venue, and the high growth and constrained facilities -- didn't seem to stop us from hiring quality candidates) – Johnny Sep 19 at 14:56
  • @Johnny OP doesn't mention anything like that. Their company is just being cheap. – TKK Sep 19 at 15:44
30

There is a difference between intimate and casual. It sounds like what you have are too many casual spaces.

My current employer has combinations of "huddle" and "team" rooms. I would never conduct an interview in a "huddle" room, which is often some chairs and maybe a table, and none of the furniture is "office furniture". The "team" rooms are small conference rooms, typically seating 4 to 8 people, but with normal "office furniture". Those spaces aren't particularly intimate because intimate is more than "doesn't seat a lot of people". Intimate spaces tend to have nothing which creates space between the interviewer and interviewee, and are more for 1-on-1 meetings between people, or where a small number of people might be using a speakerphone.

All that said, and the real reason I'm answering, is your question sounds as though you have little or no experience conducting interviews or setting up spaces to conduct interviews. The best way to ruin an interview is to not know how to conduct an interview. I've interviewed at "hipster" companies and their HR staff had the good sense to schedule the interviews in proper meeting rooms with tables for me to put my notepad or iPad so I could take notes, and the interviewer could have my resume and other materials handy. None of the interviews were conducted anywhere near a Foosball or ping-pong table, a smoothie bar, espresso machine, or anything else which created an overly casual atmosphere.

  • 2
    Tangential to the thread (and your answer is excellent): I'm a little surprised they would consider it good practice to bring a tablet device to an interview. It's certainly 100x better than bringing a laptop to an interview, but still seems to be a bit of a barrier to rapport/engagement. – CynicallyNaive Sep 17 at 18:31
  • 3
    @CynicallyNaive - No more so than bringing a note pad. Or do you think that's a bad idea as well, and if so, what do you suggest? – Julie in Austin Sep 17 at 18:33
  • 21
    If an interviewer didn't bring anything to record information on I would take it as a sure sign that the position was already filled or they didn't really want me. – DetectivePikachu Sep 17 at 18:41
  • 5
    Since an interview is an opportunity for both sides to sell each other, a tablet or laptop could be a useful tool for the interviewer to present information about the company. While it's reasonable to expect the candidate to have done some prior research, a tablet could be used to provide a brief demonstration of the company's product (especially if there's not a publicly accessible version the candidate could have seen before) or otherwise illustrate what the company has to offer. – Zach Lipton Sep 18 at 1:19
  • 2
    @ZachLipton Exactly. Previously this was done with laptops, sometimes combined with beamers, but nowadays tablets are slowly taking over that field. – Mast Sep 18 at 7:13
11

I work at a very large company that is well known in the industry.

The problem is that sometimes we don't have enough conference rooms in the facility

These two statements don't play well together. It sounds like there's a bigger problem to solve here: either your company does not have sufficient facilities for its needs, or your co-workers are misusing conference rooms, for example as working spaces.

For your current situation, the best thing is if you can get some general consensus that interviews are a high-priority use of space, and should bump other meetings. If this is not possible or if you have trouble getting it implemented consistently, I would suggest you ask to be allocated funds to hire a suitable room, for example at a co-working facility.

There is a useful lesson in managing up here. It is quite plausible that if presented with the three options, "have a meeting in a hangout space", "give interviews priority for conference rooms", or "hold interviews offsite" they will choose option 2 and take steps. If option 3 is not part of the package, they will choose option 2 and not take the necessary steps. This is why I recommend including option 3 - not because I think it's a good option, but because including it will force action.

  • 2
    In theory I see your point but in practice, I'm not surprised this happens at a large company. I work at a smallish (~100-150 headcount) office of a "Fortune Fifty" company in the US. Our approach to booking conference rooms in this facility is completely haphazard, and we probably also don't have enough in aggregate. (I suspect overbooking and not releasing is a big culprit.) There are various historical reasons, mostly stemming from our decentralization; point is, large companies have a wide variety of organizational challenges among them. – CynicallyNaive Sep 19 at 19:08
  • 1
    @CynicallyNaive I'm not surprised that a big company can have this problem. The point is, a large company should be able to recognize this problem and deal with it. In principle, any company should, but if there's any point in working for a large organization it's that there's some hope of getting away from the amateur mistakes, and graduating to the big-time mistakes – Jon Kiparsky Sep 19 at 20:06
  • Fair point. All the same, sometimes the added resources from a large company are offset by a bureaucracy that creates silos where amateur mistakes persist. And sometimes small companies are started by those with enough experience to avoid the amateur mistakes. – CynicallyNaive Sep 20 at 19:36
5

I think you’re overthinking this.

Personally I would much prefer to hold an interview in a relaxed informal space with sofas. This would help break through the “Job Interview” discomfort, and give you a far better idea of who you’re meeting than sitting stiffly around a table in a meeting room and asking questions like “What is your greatest weakness”.

  • I can see no reason why the content of the interview should be significantly different based on the furnishings of the room the interview is conducted in. If the interviewer wants to ask question X, they are likely to (and should) ask X whether the room furnishings are ABCD or GHIJ. Mind you, this has no bearing on whether X is a good or appropriate interview question. – a CVn Sep 19 at 8:56
  • @aCVn Fair point, but people will be more or less at ease in different settings, and this will affect the way they behave – s3raph86 Sep 19 at 8:58
3

If you are concerned about such things, how about having a couple folding chairs and a (maybe also folding) table that you can take into any room for the interview time? Upright postures and a table between you (also for papers/ coffee if any needed during interview) would add some sense of a work environment vs leisure.

  • If I went to an interview with a large company and was shown to a room with a few folding chairs and a folding table, that would definitely give me pause about working there. I'm not saying it would be an instant "no", but it certainly wouldn't be presenting the company in a positive light. – a CVn Sep 19 at 8:58
  • @aCVn that probably holds true for interview in a leisure room as well. However, I am trying to suggest something within OP's limits. If he explains the reason for such setup upon interview, that could be enough. But that probably depends on the person interviewed. I am not much interested in plush surroundings, nor I feel impressed by them. If they were inadequate I would probably ask to be shown actual workplace. – Gnudiff Sep 19 at 13:04
3

This could also discourage candidates with "invisible disabilities" -- nothing that would interfere with the job if they can work in a normal chair, but a bad knee could be a sports problem, and many people have problems with their back, knees, and hips as they age.

I am picturing these "lounge chairs" as being lower to the ground and softer than normal office chairs. These can be awkward for people with the above issues to sit in and get out of gracefully. Depending on how low they are, corporate skirts may sit awkwardly on their legs, and the candidate may feel uncomfortably exposed.

Please have meetings in a meeting room.

  • 1
    Yes, yes! If by chance some poor woman feels obligated to show up to an interview in a skirt, how professional would it look to either party to be exposing half a thigh to the interviewer? How would you like to be tugging on your skirt constantly as you slide down into the 'comfy' pillows, with the inevitable upward creep of the skirt, and accompanying bunching of the jacket? Men's formal clothes are not meant to be comfortable, but imagine how much worse this could be in a skirt and heels.. – user90842 Sep 20 at 0:04
2

This really depends a bit on:

  1. the concrete layout and what you understand about an intimate room
  2. the type of interview you want to conduct
  3. the company culture

1) How intimate is it, really?

If people need to share a couch with the interviewer, that will feel way too intimate for many people and might make them close up or feel insecure. It might indeed also come over as inappropriate or even insensitive to sexual harassment problems (i.e. candidates might think you chose that room particularly for their interview to get close to that good looking guy/girl). On the other hand, if you can sit in two lounge chairs and have a relaxed conversation, that can be totally fine for most people (you are looking for). This then isn't an issue of being physically close anymore, just one of what room style fits the interview (2)) and represents the general culture of the company.

2) Does it match the interview style

If you want to ask technical questions that might require the candidate to use a whiteboard or write something down, a conference room with a table and/or whiteboard has obvious advantages. If you try to conduct such an interview in a cosy chill room, that might limit the candidates options to present themselves. And they will likely get the impression that you are either lacking proper rooms (are underfinanced) or have no clue how to hold interviews. If however, your interview style is mainly an open discussion about the candidates past, desires, abilities, interests and preferences etc on a not-so technical level, this can fit well.

3) Company Culture

Using a casual room for interviews will give the impression of a generally quite relaxed atmosphere. This will likely attract people who like to work in such a relaxed environment and dissuade candidates with a more "serious business" attitude. Both types can be professional at what they do, this is more a question about the culture they live and prefer. Depending on the industry you are in, such a casual style might match more or less candidates from the overall pool.

Suggestion on how to go ahead

If you are short on rooms and your casual rooms are just casual not intimate (no couch sharing, just relaxed style) consider to split your interviews in two parts: Do the more technical part in a conference room. Give a tour through the building and do the more superficial part regarding the candidates CV, what he expects from the company etc in one of your casual rooms. That way, he sees both, knows your company has a bit of both cultures, can properly present and you don't overuse your limited conference room resources. The order and concrete split up is obviously up to you and depends on your interview style. However, it is helpful if the first meeting is in a non-casual or at least open setting, such that the candidate can get used to the interviewers at least to a certain degree.

If you only have casual rooms where one practically needs to sit on the lap of each other (or where always empty pizza boxes lie around in the open), really try to insist on getting a conference room. Schedule interviews accordingly and, if need be, tell your manager that the shortage of conference rooms is a problem to your hiring process.

2

A relatively small expenditure should allow and adequate level of venue presentation.

Get HR to buy a presentable desk and chairs that can be placed in required rooms when needed. The table or desk could be collapsible without appearing so and without looking cheap and shoddy. Chairs could be suitable standard chairs.

1

As a makeshift measure (that is to say, not ideal and temporary) you can increase the level of formality by adding ritual to the interviews:

  • ensure the room is clean and cleared in advance, then put a notice on the door ("claimed for X" or similar)
  • that also means no radio playing
  • if the room is even a little dark go to IKEA and buy standing and/or desk lamps, no quicker way to signal "bad work environment" than by receiving potential hires in a dark, damp, dusty cave
  • printed materials with technical job information ("this is how we tell ourselves we work", e.g. team structure, coding standards, HR policy) to be touched upon when references are needed and/or a "work sample" ("this is how we actually work") so the new hire gets a clear picture of the company in words, aided by the interviewer ("painting by the numbers")
  • (such a bundle of information is a good thing to have around and to give to new hires anyway, a "new employee starter kit")
  • means to take notes/sketch, at least two pencils or pens and notepad
  • begin with greetings "what do you want to drink", have a container of coffee prepared and if you have to leave the room, direct the applicant to the printed material

The model being roughly, "meeting a professional acquaintance at a coffee shop that's quieter than Starbucks (and that hopefully has better coffee)".

Please don't feed moldy, over-heated coffee to any employee, if people drink it every day the quality should be higher, not lower. A local coffee roaster will always provide you with the best coffee, have them come over to adjust the coffee (roast choice and granularity) to the machine you have available, it's well worth it.

0

I mostly agree with @Ed Heal, you should absolutely avoid doing interviews in break rooms. Being interviewed in a break room would give me the impression of a workplace that is both seriously overcrowded and assigning a very low priority to interviews - both are red flags, at least for me.

I once worked for a company that had pretty much the same problem, it was solved by outfitting the rooms of the responsible HR-persons for interviews. It's not that expensive to put some meeting chairs and table in a reasonably sized office and it looks much more professional then a casual break room.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.