interview diary Part 4: the Gatekeeper

So. The gatekeeper in an interview process. This is relatively a thankless job. When they hit a home run it is awesome. When they strike out it sucks (that is from their perspective).

confusing-street-signOver the past couple of weeks I have been running the gatekeeper gauntlet.

Nowadays you don’t get a job with one call or meeting. Inevitably you need to meet and talk with other people. So, this person, the initial gatekeeper, is in a really tough spot. They both vet and pass along a candidate (or candidates) that everyone else:

  1. – Loves the forwarded candidate and says “wow that wasn’t a waste of time” (but gatekeeper doesn’t get much credit because everyone is feeling “well, there are so many qualified people out there we shouldn’t see any bad candidates”).
  2. – Thinks the candidate they vetted and passed along sucked in the following interviews (either qualitatively or competency wise … doesn’t matter).

Regardless of outcome the gatekeeper is the vetter and passer alonger.

And their situation gets even worse (tougher) in an organization where the people aren’t really clear what they want or what the position responsibilities should be (and even when organizations claim to have a standard form and testing and questioning process … that doesn’t always resolve the alignment on the position issue). In fact, to be honest, in my opinion the organizations who are more dependent upon testing and formal interviewing processes tend to be the absolute worst hiring organizations because they are using all that ‘tried & true’ interviewing process crap to alleviate their own internal lack of alignment on types of people to hire.

So. What that means is that, with lack of internal people alignment, they look to the process output (it’s kind of looking to use research to make a decision rather than inform a decision).

The Great gatekeepers? They play no guessing games (mostly because they just don’t have the time). They say exactly what they want/need to hear. It’s kind of like RFP (request for proposal) 101. They have one or two non open ended “here is specifically what I want you to tell me and here is the format” questions in order to have an easy comparison point versus other candidate conversations.

So. “Tell me your favorite assignment and why” as a gatekeeper question sucks. It leaves way too much maneuvering room. It lacks of specifics on what the organization would truly want to hear about.


Seems like gatekeepers fall into three general groups:

–          the mysterious gatekeepertheGatekeeper

Maybe I should have called this the black hole gatekeeper. They ask you to submit resume electronically. They tell you not to call. You wait. And within some undetermined time … no matter how qualified or unqualified you were … you receive a “your experience is impressive but unfortunately we had a number of highly qualified candidates and we have elected to move forward with them and not you.”

Before you slit your wrists be aware of this interviewing truth. You could have sent Fred Flintstone’s resume <or, conversely, Steve Jobs resume> in and if you didn’t make the black hole cut you will receive this response (or some derivative thereof). Sure. You can play all the games and make sure your resume is peppered with ‘key words” and phrases that pop up in scanned computer scenarios. You can write an experience summary that would make P&G proud. Doesn’t matter. This is the business version of a black hole.

I have worked at companies with a black hole mentality. As a hiring manager you either get folders upon folders of resumes (which you cherry pick some … knowing full well that you stopped at a certain number not even looking at others unless the first batch sucked worse then you thought they would) or you get a small folder from the administrator of the black hole with a post it note saying “here are the qualified resumes for the opportunity we have” <and of course I think we all wonder how they were deemed ‘qualified’ … but almost everyone is afraid of talking to whoever is responsible for electronic administration for fear you will get delegated an additional responsibility or end up talking about the new Doom game scenario>. Even when unemployment was lower the blackhole receives hundreds of resumes and spits out a few.

–          the HR/administrator gatekeeper

This is a tricky gatekeeper. The majority of the time they don’t really know enough to evaluate your competency. Therefore, most of them just want to make sure they aren’t going to get embarrassed when you appear in front of other people in the organization <ok … that was harsh … maybe better said is that the candidate doesn’t waste the interviewers’ time when they actually get in the discussion).

This gatekeeper is doing their damndest to insure you are competent (without really being sure how to judge competency). Yet, they fail <because most of these people recognize they can assess competency only up to a point> so they fall back to

(a) Will I like them? and

(b) Will the rest of the organization like them?

They do their best and the great ones here are awesome at assessing team chemistry. But. Realistically they are seeing a lot of resumes and, once again, no matter how much you play the “keyword” and “results oriented phrasing” game it is sheer luck of the draw. If your resume is number 52 in the pile and they get their personal royal flush by card 35 you are shit out of luck. I don’t blame them. It is time management (and everyone always feels like there are so many great candidates I only need to find one great candidate – maybe not the ‘rightest’) and no one can seriously evaluate every single resume, at least very well, that gets submitted. 

–          the leader (manager) gatekeeper

You kill to talk with this person. Even though they most likely suck at the hiring process (hey, they didn’t get hired to hire but rather lead/manage/do) they pretty much know what they like when they see it. Can they articulate that? Not really. Or maybe better said ‘not well.’

What I mean by this is … sure … there are some basic qualifications but most managers can assess those in 5 minutes or less if not just by the resume they have seen. So they are looking for the intangibles that cannot be put down on a piece of paper. And I don’t care how good you are as a manager … listing intangibles is next to impossible (try it and see … intellectually sharp? how do you measure that? … or … hard working? how do you measure that? … or … ‘can do’ attitude? how do you measure? … you get my point). Intangibles are nebulous. They are “know it when I see it” characteristics. That’s why I like talking with a manager. In the end … they may claim another reason for not calling you back for second interviews … but the reality is 9 times out of 10 you just didn’t connect on the intangibles.<and that is okay>.

Now. Unfortunately for the prospective employee the gatekeeper who is actually the hirer (in some form or fashion  … either the department head or the direct report) has something else in the back of their mind – how is this person who feels so right to me going to look to the panel of people I need to get consensus from before I can officially offer them the job I want to offer them now.

Hey. I have been a gatekeeper. I would say that when I found someone I liked I just wanted to hire them and not make them run an interview gauntlet. Does that mean I was always right about my choices? Nope. In fact, everyone once in awhile you come across someone in your organization that is good at asking the questions to insure you haven’t overlooked an important flaw while you were gazing at some characteristic you loved (the trick is to pass your favorites to that person fast). But, here is an uncomfortable fact, most often extensive multi-person interviewing processes costs you your choice more often then they gain you your choice.

That’s it. I am done on gatekeepers for today. Interview Diary Part 4. Part 5 is just a matter of time.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Written by Bruce