Demystifying job interviews

This is my column today, December 4, 2006, at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

As a human resource management practitioner, I conduct job interviews for a living. I don’t interview people all day long, but conducting job interviews and determining the overall fit between a candidate and a post and between a candidate and the organization is something that I have been doing for almost 18 years now. Those of us in the HRM profession cannot imagine a selection process without a formal interview, which is why I am quite aghast at the refusal of the five associate justices of the Supreme Court to submit to a public job interview. It seems that there are still many people in this country, particularly those in government, who think that submitting to a job interview is beneath them.

I do not actually blame them. There are many misconceptions about the nature of a job interview, foremost of which is that a job interview is akin to an inquisition. It is really unfortunate that in this day and age, there is still this misplaced belief that a job interview is a battlefield, one where the interviewer (or interviewers in the case of interviews conducted by a panel) and the candidate are adversaries rather than professionals who are on the same side.

The truth is, a job interview is and should really be a collaborative process where both parties help each other determine whether a candidate qualifies for a post. A job interview should be a cordial process of screening people by focusing on their qualifications, rather than of picking faults. It need not be a gauntlet or a third-degree inquisition.

During the 2004 elections, a group of HRM professionals under the auspices of the Personnel Management Association of the Philippines conducted a public job interview of the candidates vying for the presidency of the Republic. The project aimed to provide a forum where the presidential candidates could showcase their overall suitability for the post they were aspiring for. The job interviews were conducted by a panel of select HRM practitioners who have earned their stripes in the trade. Although the public job interviews proceeded, it did not gain enough media mileage mainly because only four of the six candidates submitted themselves to the process. The leading candidates, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the late Fernando Poe Jr. did not submit themselves to the process, citing generally the same reasons that the five justices gave last week.

People can hide behind procedural gobbledygook and cite all the self-righteous reasons for snubbing the public job interviews. I will not nitpick on these points except on one. I do not agree with the reasoning that since the chief justice does not act as chief executive of the Judiciary, there is no need to conduct a job interview. A job interview can be tailored to suit any position.

If conducted properly, a job interview offers many benefits and is an invaluable tool for selecting the right candidate. And in this particular context, interviewing the candidates for a very critical public post such as that of the chief justice of the Supreme Court strengthens public accountability and transparency, two concepts that are sorely lacking in this country today.
By foregoing the public job interviews, which by the way is part of the guidelines of the Judicial and Bar Council, we all—and I mean all of us: the five associate justices, the media, the Filipino people—missed out on a golden opportunity to push transparency and accountability in this country one step further.

The buzz generated by the issue highlights one important point: That people are more empowered today and want active participation in the goings-on in government, particularly in the selection of government officials. The Supreme Court cannot keep on isolating itself from the mainstream. The high court and its magistrates cannot continue to live in an ivory tower, particularly in light of recent events where the court’s role as final arbiter of critical issues in the country has been painfully brought to the fore.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that there is intense interest not just on the composition of the court, but on the selection of specific justices because of the critical role that swing votes have come to play in its decision-making processes. Thus, I think that at no other point has the need to provide a human persona and dimension to the Supreme Court become more imperative. The public job interviews could have responded to this need. At the very least, it would have helped Filipinos get to know the candidates as individuals rather than as mere statues in black robes.

But I empathize with the five associate justices. Sadly, our collective experience with the way public hearings are conducted in this country has been anything but worthwhile. We’ve seen too many horrific instances of public hearings becoming free-for-all mudslinging and senseless posturing. Public hearings in this country have a sorry history of combing the dregs of our shortcomings as a people. So the trepidation of the five associate justices is well founded.

The really disappointing fact is that the whole thing could have been a win-win exercise if only some people, particularly those that compose the council, did their jobs better. Some strategic thinking could have helped. For example, the guidelines for the public job interviews could have been agreed upon earlier and made known to all. To begin with, the 30 minutes allotted for each of candidates could have been reconsidered. Thirty minutes is not even enough to interview someone applying for a clerical position. How much more for a chief justice of the highest court of the land?

Safeguards against highly subjective, partisan, or yes, irrelevant and downright stupid questions could have been put in place. Better still, the job interviews could have been contracted to an impartial group of experts (say, HRM or management experts, ahem).
A job interview need not be an irrelevant, unnecessary, and annoying process. The thing is, we need to do it correctly. There is a science to it. Nowadays, there are actually ways to make this exercise more productive for all.

* * *

As I write, our local networks continue to assault us with stark footages of the extent of the devastation wrought by typhoon Reming. I have no doubt that media is simply reporting the wreckage as they find them, but I have mixed feelings about the macabre and gruesome reportage. The preoccupation with body counts, limbs, decaying bodies, misery, ad nauseum must be traumatic to viewers. Watching the various newscasts make one wonder if there is a contest among the networks as to which one finds the most gory situations or the most heart-wrenching wail.

I am not advocating that networks sugarcoat their reportage. Surely, though, there are better ways to document just how puny we all are to forces of nature without showing dead bodies in various states of decomposition. I hope that our local networks realize that television is a medium that is easily accessible to all, including children. There are limits to what people can process emotionally and psychologically. We do not have to send people to sleep or perk up their days in the morning with those horrible images.


Anonymous said…
I don’t know and I can’t ascertain if a public interview is very helpful when it comes to the positions of Supreme Court Justices. A good communicator or orator of a candidate may win the day, but it does not mean he or she is the better candidate. When it come to that position, even in our situation here, the Parliamentarians, don’t even dare to question the recommendations of the Committee or the Body entrusted to do the screening and vetting of qualified candidates for recommendation to the Cabinet for appointment. The Interviewing may have been done by the Committee exhaustively and these Committee members are professionals and if the appointment could be a blunder, then the Government is responsible for such blunder and suffer in the next election. That is why when you look at the composition of our SC and most of our top Public Service, you usually find the most qualified people because of the process, without the benefit of a Public Interview of even Parliamentary Hearing.

For Candidate for Political Position, like the President or even Member of the House or Senate, a properly moderated Public debates on the current Issues and Proposed Programs of each Candidates, and means of implementing such will be the better process of determining a better candidate among the contenders. Smart as the Interviewers, or HRM when it comes to Private business, but when it comes to Public Service, I’ll give all the judgement to the Politicians. Good Politicians = Good Governance..

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