Why you should read a book before your next interview

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

Recently, I was chatting with a friend in charge of hiring for her company. For the sake of argument, let's say it was an information technology management position at a long-term care company.

There's a lot to admire about my friend's process. She culled resumes by giving applicants a basic test to see if they had the needed skills, and whether they could follow directions. She ended up with a solid pool of applicants.

And then they fell apart in the interview process.

To be fair, two took other jobs after a telephone chat but before undergoing in-person interviews. One struggled through but had been coached to express confidence to the point of overstating his abilities.

It's the last applicant that offers a “teachable moment” to those mid-career long-term care managers seeking jobs.

Where the applicant struggled was to a) list a hobby and b) talk about the last book she had read.

Here's what I want to convey related to these questions, which I would expect a lot of hiring folks to ask. The answers don't matter. When I ask you, “What do you like to do for fun?” there's not a wrong answer, apart from anything illegal. I'm not looking for you to say, “I like to read, swim or travel” just because that's what I enjoy, any more than another manager would say you enjoy golfing and birding.

But you have to pick something. Obviously, it's great if you have a passion, and it reflects well on your character if that desire is volunteering at a soup kitchen every week or training for a marathon. However, I don't really care if you spend significant time on your hobby. Do you have an avid interest in this presidential election, go to the movies every week or enjoy making elaborate breakfasts on a Saturday morning? Great! What we are looking for is intellectual curiosity. Even if what you really do to relax is go to a baseball game, presumably you do that because you are interested in baseball. Talk to me about why you like it.

Second, read something. Anything. It's not a big secret I love to read, but my IT management hiring friend backs me up on this as a question she asks. A study this week from Pew said 73% of Americans read a book in the past year, which gives me hope for the future. If you are not among this group, you should be.

Pick out a book you enjoy, or in lieu of that, be prepared to talk about anything you read recently and say “Well, I just finished ‘X' and really enjoyed that. Is there anything you would recommend?” Again, this book does not have to be Democracy in America. (Although if you have been working your way through that, try to find a way to mention it even if no one asks. Maybe just gently slide that 800-page book into your purse while waiting for the interviewer.)

I would add a caveat to the “pick whatever you like,” which is that you should stay away from discussing any book with a prospective employer with too much gore or lots of sexy times. It also should be something you would recommend. If you want a suggestion, consider a memoir such as “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren or “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a mystery like “Still Life” by Louise Penny or “Critical Mass” by Sara Paretsky, literary fiction such as “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng or “Billy Flynn's Long Halftime Walk” by Ben Fountain, or a non-fiction work such as “On Immunity” by Eula Biss or “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, M.D. Come to think of it, I also believe my current colleague McKnight's Staff Writer Emily Mongan answered this question by talking about Amy Poehler's “Yes Please!”, which is less highbrow but a fine answer.

Ultimately, we might not hire you because someone else had more experience, did better on a skills assessment or could start sooner. Those are all out of your control. But you  know what's not? Having a hobby, and reading a book.

Follow Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.