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Is There Such A Thing As Interview Foreplay?

April 11, 2012
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Yes there is, and if you want that stellar female candidate to accept your offer, listen up. . .

About a year ago, I worked on a search assignment for an extremely innovative healthcare IT company that was seeking to fill a Chief Marketing Officer position.  I've had the pleasure of knowing this team personally for several years now, and count them amongst my favorite clients, as they are all kind, thoughtful, sharp, friendly, and yes, I'm guessing they are brave, clean, and reverent, as well.  And at the time (and this is key), the entire executive team was male.  I was tasked with presenting a slate of strong potential candidates who would then be scheduled for a group phone interview with 3-4 of the firms' execs. 

I presented six candidates - four men, and two women, and assured them all that they would LOVE getting to know this group of interviewers.  All candidates were about equal when it came to depth of experience, but each brought something unique to the table, so I was excited to see how it all went down.  After each interview was conducted, I asked the candidates to touch base and let me know how it went.  Without exception, the male candidates were enthusiastic about their interview experience.  "Great group of guys!" "Fantastic culture!" "I'd fit right in!" "No nonsense, to the point - awesome!"  Exactly what I expected.  When I heard from the two female candidates, however, it was as if they had interviewed with another group entirely.  "No rapport."  "No warmth." "I felt like I was being interrogated rather than interviewed." 

Yikes.  If I hadn't known this team as well as I did, based on the candidates' respective perceptions, I might have wondered if they had an unspoken "No Girls Allowed" sign on their clubhouse, but I knew better than that.  So what was it?

This exact scenario has played out twice since then (with different clients), and it dawned on me today exactly what it is - women need interview foreplay.  Now before anyone calls foul here, saying that such a sweeping sexist generalization is, well, a sweeping sexist generalization, hear me out.  John Gray didn't sell 50 million copies of his relationship bible, "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," by accident (come on, you know you've read it)!  In case you don't remember or won't admit remembering, the gist of Gray's book is that men are about the destination, and women are about the journey.  Overall, I've found this to be true.  So it makes sense that a "no-nonsense, to the point" interview approach would appeal to the guys - let's get down to it!  On the other hand, this style seems to be interpreted as a bit brusque and impersonal to the women, who desire a bit more of a connection with the interviewer before they get asked the hard questions. 

So. . . am I implying that women be treated with kid gloves in the interview arena?  Absolutely not!  But I am suggesting that if you are in the interviewer seat and you're hoping to land an exceptional female candidate, it wouldn't hurt to chat up the 'ol gal a bit before you get down to business. 



This resonates from my first customer-facing supervisory role when I was 28. Of my three customer department heads, one was female. In my annual review, the feedback I received from my leader was that I needed to be more "social" when meeting with her. I was all about the status report, project challenges, etc. In short, all business. He suggested I ask about her cats, and gave me some other personal details and topic suggestions. I implemented his advice and low and behold, my relationship with her improved greatly and her feedback to my leadership improved greatly.

So...I share your analysis and have similar evidence.