Interviewing in the Wild West: A Story
I had been waiting – and waiting – and waiting – outside of the CEO’s office at Overture Studios.
When I first arrived for the interview, I was so excited I could barely contain myself. Thirty years old at the time, I had a shot at the Chief Human Resources Officer job and had been presented by Steve, one of the top entertainment retained executive search consultants in the U.S.
The week before, I met Steve at a deli in Studio City; he interviewed all potential candidates over breakfast. We spent nearly an hour together, and he asked me all the typical questions about my experiences, accomplishments, and challenges. At the conclusion of our breakfast, he asked me if I was interested in meeting the CEO of Overture Studios for the top HR job. The idea of working in Hollywood within an iconic building and for an iconic brand was very exciting. The company had achieved worldwide recognition and success. Without hesitation, I said, “Absolutely!”
The recruiter didn’t share much about his client. I was blinded by the image of the company; I forgot to find out what was real.
As I left home the day of the Overture Studios interview, I glanced in the mirror. I had invested in an expensive and appropriately conservative suit, shoes and a new briefcase. My hair was professionally blow dried. I had been working in the technology industry, but this job was in the entertainment industry. I assumed that you had to look your very best to have a shot. I had done my research and prepared my answers. I was ready and I felt good.
The lobby on the top floor of Overture was beautiful, you could see most of LA beyond the executive assistant’s desk. I was immediately impressed with the interior design – contemporary – back and white leather. It was very different from the low rise cubicle filled telecommunications environment I worked in.
About ten minutes into my wait, the CEO came out of his office. I stood up. We briefly made eye contact, and he looked away. He walked to his assistant, spoke a few words, walked back to his office and closed the door behind him. I sat down. His assistant smiled at me, apologized and said it wouldn’t be much longer.
After 20 minutes, I started asking myself, “How long was too long to wait for any interview?”
Thirty minutes in, and I was highly annoyed. The CEO had seen me. Obviously, he didn’t value my time. Should I tell his assistant to reschedule? And then, I remembered that I had to stay. I couldn’t embarrass Steve, the executive search consultant that believed in me. I was trapped.
After 45 minutes, I changed my mind. This interview was supposed to last for an hour. I had to get back to my job. Steve would understand. I psyched myself up, grabbed by briefcase and stood up. The assistant quickly took control. She asked me to wait just one more minute, while she checked on the CEO. Damn, I thought to myself, I should have just left. She disappeared into his office and then came out and motioned me in.
The view from the CEO’s office was outstanding, located on the top floor and mostly glass, his office seemed to be half of the floor with a 180-degree view. For a moment, I forgot about my long wait in the lobby. He seemed friendly enough. He smiled, shook my hand, and apologized.
He asked me to sit on the couch. He returned to his desk and sat behind it. He and I were at least twenty feet from each other when he asked me the first question of the interview. It was awkward, but it didn’t last long.
He had time for two cursory questions, before we were interrupted by a ringing phone. Even then, I wanted to shout, “Don’t answer it!” But, he did answer it and asked me to step outside his office for a moment. I was back in the lobby again, and this time I didn’t make eye contact with his assistant.
Five minutes later he appeared, apologized for running late and for ending early, but he said he had another commitment. My cheeks were burning. I checked my watch as I left the building and absorbed the fact that he hadn’t asked me to come back to finish the interview. Maybe he forgot to mention it?
Shocked and confused, I asked, “Do you have any feedback for me?”
Steve replied matter of factly, “I really don’t. The CEO didn’t comment much on the interview, but he did ask me if you were competent.”
“Competent?” I said, “Are you kidding me?” I bit my tongue as much as I could at the time. “How could he judge my competency when he only gave me five minutes of his time?”
For a couple of weeks, I was obsessed with the 5 minute interview…running it by friends and family and trying to figure out what went wrong. One close colleague convinced me that I looked “too young and not serious enough” for the C-level. So, for my next two opportunities I wore phony glasses and pulled my hair back. Believe it or not, it worked. I received two big offers, but there was an inevitable downside for not being myself. But that is an entirely different story.
As far as I know, Steve never presented by background to any company again. Neither did his global top ten executive search firm.
I called Steve about eight years later, requesting help for a Waterman Hurst client. I told him that I remembered the interview at Overture Studios like it was yesterday. He said he couldn’t recall presenting me there.
I hope my experience interviewing has illustrated the following:
The outcome of an interview may have nothing to do with you. The person across the table may have no idea how to conduct an interview, be insecure, insincere, rude, biased, playing politics, or not even hiring in the first place. If it doesn’t go the way you want, you must not let it impact your confidence.
Do your best to find out about the quality of the interviewer, the company, and the opportunity before you agree to an interview, and preferably from more than one source. You can determine if it is worth your time. At the very least, you will be prepared for a low quality interview and it will not impact your confidence.
Find expert advice to help level the playing field. At the senior executive level, job seekers often believe they know everything there is to know. Like most important things in life, there is always more to be learned.