LearnInterview tip: How to keep it real

Ryan Carson
writes on July 31, 2008

Our meeting room is full of bean bags. We decided to get rid of the tables and swap them out for something more comfortable and relaxing. I can’t tell you how glad I am that we did this.

The problem is that when we interview people for new positions on the Team, we don’t have anywhere to sit. We could go to the local coffee shop, but I specifically choose to do the interviews in the bean bag room.

Why?

There’s nothing that levels the playing field like two people sitting on bean bags. You can’t act ‘professional’ on a bean bag. You can’t use big words and marketing speak. You just have to act like a normal person. I love that.

It’s awkward and funny sitting down and getting up from a bean bag which is great for putting the interviewer (me) on the same level as the interviewee – I’m not the high-and-mighty boss, I’m just a normal person like you. I also like it because it immediately says “we’re not your normal company” to potential Team members.

I’d love to hear any of your tips for interviewing or being interviewed.

0 Responses to “Interview tip: How to keep it real”

  1. I think this is a great idea….check out http://www.nuatua.com – they have some cool beanbags

  2. For some reason, the quote I was referencing got cut off in my previous comment. Here it is:

    “Thereâ€s nothing that levels the playing field like two people sitting on bean bags. You canâ€t act ‘professional†on a bean bag. You canâ€t use big words and marketing speak. You just have to act like a normal person. I love that.”

  3. I love this point. It’s so true. I can’t think of a better way to strip away the fluff and level the playing field for an interview.

  4. @prisca—I agree regarding the suit thing. I don’t really see a suit as ‘being neutral’ at all, nor that you’d “end up being considered for who you are not what you are/arenâ€t wearing” if you were in a suit – well, unless you’re all wearing exactly the same suit, obv., because that’s the only way it can feasibly be entirely neutral.

  5. @Freddy – What we look for are brilliant, creative and fun people. We don’t care what race or gender they are – it has absolutely *zero* to do with whether they get hired or not.

  6. i managed an office, where the CEO had three non desk chairs in his office, “a big comfy chair” a “big comfy couch” and a really uncomfortable wooden chair. when interviewing new employees, he sat in the couch, and then ask the potential employee to “make themselves comfortable”. if you sat in the wooden chair you didnt get the job. Logic there being, how can you be comfortable in an uncomfortable wooden chair.

    to this day i can’t say how i feel about that. I sat in the big comfy chair, but i also have an ego the size of a house, and am not intimidated in an interview process… what i can tell you is, most people choose the uncomfortable wooden chair. So maybe the question should be, “how can you be comfortable in a big comfy chair when interviewing for a new job?”

  7. On a similar note to this, I’ve started doing all my coding at weekend in a big bean bag. Until I convince the others to swap out the desks and chairs in the office for bean bags, it keeps my work life and personal life just that little be more separate! It’s also massively comfortable.

  8. Freddy Mattis on August 7, 2008 at 6:31 pm said:

    Do you employ blacks or asians ? or do you think they have no creativity ?

  9. @Ryan – fair enough.. great idea and contemplating bean bags for our office now too (http://flickr.com/photos/strawberrysoup/2575080625/) immitation is a form of flattery I so I hope thats ok!!

  10. @Neil We don’t have clients that come in the office (at least not very often). If they do I think they prefer to be comfy.

  11. Ryan,

    well, I love those bean bags 🙂
    (was fun to see one of your team guys (sorry, I forget who it was now) diving into them when you did your live mobile clips a few weeks ago…)

    I think the idea of putting everyone on the same level here is great, especially for interviews. Being a freelancer I have not been to many interviews but I know I would have loved to be interviewed sitting on bean bag. I don’t think this is ‘trying too hard to be different’ or anything like that at all – I would see it as very much in keeping with the vibe you guys give out and I would think it will be a successful way of finding the right personality to fit your team.

    I disagree with @johnnyh about the suit/formal dress code for interviews or general client meetings overall. If you are a formal dress person – you will feel comfortable and be yourself, then great. However, if you are not – then putting on a formal outfit for a specific meeting will not really give out the right impression as you are less likely to feel comfortable in yourself and you might not come across very favorably. Personally, I’d rather be me (wearing what I like even if I look a bit little a hippie) and my experience with companies and clients alike has been only positive (so far, anyway).

  12. @Ryan – looks great but my only concern would be how to conduct client meetings on the bean bags – do clients mind or are they purely for interviewing? Do you tend to have many client facing meetings in the office or do you go there?

    Keep up the great work…

  13. Bean bags would’ve been fun at our recruitment day:

    http://mediasnackers.com/report/2008/03/mediasnackers-recruitment-day-1.php

    Most of the people attended twittered the experience and we also live-flickrd it as well – think that’s a first 🙂

  14. Love this Ryan.

    I used to have fun when I did interviews too. I’d always interview with another person, but never a “panel”.

    My co-interviewer and I would rehearse questions like they were a script so that we’d know them backward and forward, and then conduct the interview like a conversation with the goal of getting a feel for how people felt about the industry and what their personalities are like.

    We also used to throw in some great (I think) questions like “what kind of person drives you nuts?” and “tell us about a time you had a fight with a friend in your childhood”.

  15. johnnyh on August 1, 2008 at 11:39 am said:

    Not sure about this. I tend to disagree with all the suit comments. You should wear a suit especially if everyone else is wearing one (ie a corporate pitch etc). It sounds square but the suit is neutral – it means you end up being considered for who you are not what you are/aren’t wearing. Peter Jones on the Dragons Den always mentions it when people aren’t dressed appropriately. Meeting people (for the first time) is essentially a formal process, a suite, especially if you don’t normally wear one shows you thought about the meeting. It shows you considered things before you walked through the door.
    Be aware this comment comes from someone who used to have dyed spikey black hair and was challenged over it in a big corporate (many years ago) and I said the opposite to what I’ve stated above then – but now I’m older and I’ve got a bit wiser to how situations with strangers work. Also been interviewed in DMs, nearly didn’t get the job for that, but I got on so well with my soon to be boss he overlooked it – told me that once I started.

    Bean bags are a nice idea but I feel a slob when I sit on them. I would say that an interview is important for both candidate and employer. After all it could change your life. I wouldn’t refuse the bean bag, but I think there are aspects of the process which would be better conducted in a more formal(-ish) setting.

    If I went to a doctor and he was sitting on a bean bag I’m not sure I’d feel more relaxed about the diagnosis.

    I like the challenging of the interview orthodoxy but sometimes it can be a case of being “too wacky”. I think there’s scope for being relaxed without setting out overtly physical signs. If your business is really relaxed that would come accross in your interview style, your maner and how you put people at ease.

    I’m expect RC would be a relaxed interviewer but I don’t think that would be because of the bean bags.

  16. @Bob & @Anthony – Thanks 🙂

    @Kyle – It depends on if your computers are right next to the chalkboard. If they’re not very close, it shouldn’t be a problem. We don’t have any machines in our meeting room.

  17. @Bob & @Anthony – Thanks 🙂

    @Kyle – It depends on if your computers are right next to the chalkboard. If they’re not very close, it shouldn’t be a problem. We don’t have any machines in our meeting room.

  18. The office I’m in has a room with low-slung couches that has the same effect — it flat-out changes people’s perceptions of a meeting, in a good way.

    A semi-related question; I’ve raised the idea of painting the walls of the same small room with chalkboard paint, but MGMT is worried about chalk dust affecting computers. Have you found this to be an issue?

    I think the black paint looks quite nice.

  19. What a kick ass idea. Love the way you constantly find different ways to reinvent the mundane.

  20. You guys ROCK! That is so cool to hear how you guys step out of the box. It is the epitome of what so many employees are looking for in a company – hopefully more companies follow your steps. Thanks for the inspiration!

  21. Ryan,

    I like how much importance you are giving to the culture of your business. That is one of the most important things. And given your business, the causal/fun approach seems appropiate.

    For interviews, I really like to test communication skills, like submitting a writing sample and giving a presentation. Being able to communicate well is so central to everything.

    Chris

  22. @Drew – Thanks 🙂 Absolutely correct.

  23. @Mark – I’m sure if any visitor had a reason why getting in and out of a beanbag was a problem, Ryan would just offer them a chair 🙂

  24. One of the offices I was interviewed in at the MoMA had a beanbag chair as a potential seating option, but I declined on the count of wearing three-inch heels and a skirt. Really did not see the beanbag thing working out too well for me.

  25. Anthony on July 31, 2008 at 12:59 pm said:

    I was interviewed at the local pub. Midday beers and hanging out.

  26. What happens if the person you’re interviewing has a bad back and can’t get in or out of a bean bag without help? 😉 I guess that’d be a way to break the ice 😛

  27. When I was interviewed a long time ago at a portrait studio they told me to make an animal noise (to see how well I’d work with kids I guess). It was embarrassing but I mooed like a cow really loud and I got the job 🙂 It was actually one of the best interviews I’ve done because it was more fun and relaxed.

  28. It’s a bit “try to hard to be whacky” for me. It’s good that you’re different, but if you think about the end result (getting the right employee), will this help? If you interviewed the same person in a boardroom or on a beanbag, they’d still be the same person. If anything it says more about you than what you’d learn from them – and by the time they get to the interview they should already know plenty about you (in which case they should probably expect the beanbag!)

  29. @Piers – Natasha bought them so I’m not sure where they came from. You can ask her on natasha @ this domain.

  30. I want to know where you got the beanbags from! I’ve been looking for some for ages 🙂

  31. Hi Ryan,

    I always think that when it comes to interview questions you should pitch the questions above peoples level of knowledge.

    I guess this really applies to technical interviews but if I ask a question “How does X Work?” There are 3 possible outcomes:
    1) The candidate give a concise and correct answer – this doesn’t really tell you much about the person other than they have the ability to remember stuff from books.

    2) They say “I don’t know, ask me another” – This isn’t a good answer, is says this person doesn’t try if somethings too hard, they’re a quitter (but at least they’re honest!)

    3) They say, “I don’t really know, but based on how X & Z work I would assume its something like this ….” – Bingo! This is the person you want to hire, they have knowledge in the relevant area and they can apply those principles to things slightly outside that area, also they’re honest about their limitations, even if the answer they gave wasn`t technically correct it says a lot about them.

    This is why I often like to pitch difficult technical questions, a lot of my colleagues think this is unfair but I really think its the best way to find the best people, I try to tell the candidates my method after the interview so they don`t go away scared that they screwed up :o)

  32. I remember once being forced by the corporate company I worked for at the tail end of the 1990s to wear a suit to a pitch for a website. The potential client asked where our designer was and then gave me a very funny look upon realising it was me. That totally cemented my thinking that you always just have to be yourself. (That was also the last time I ever wore a suit at that company, which got the eventual blessing of the MD.)

    Masks of any sort only screw things up, and now even when I’m meeting clients I’ll just show up in jeans and a long t-shirt, because that’s what I’m most comfortable wearing. And when they notice I’m comfortable, they also relax, even if they’re suited and in some meeting room with shockingly expensive furniture.

    As for the point about interviewing (in terms of people for your company), and how someone in a suit might find it odd to sit on a beanbag, this actually provides two filters. The first would be to pretty much weed out people who wouldn’t ‘belong’, if they thought it was a stupid idea. The second would be to see if someone who got the dress ‘wrong’ would think ‘ah, sod it’ and just go with it. I think you’d be able to tell a lot from a person who showed up in a suit, looked a little embarrassed, then thought ‘nuts to it’ and just plonked themselves down in the beanbag and chatted happily away.

  33. I totally agree with this. I do think wearing a suit is a sign of respect and I understand why it’s used in business – but it does depend on the nature of the job. As a developer, working in a suit is just plain impractical.

    @Lisa – I definitely agree on the “no suit” line… often it’s hard to figure out what people are expecting. Although having said that, if they don’t like your favourite Velvet Underground shirt, then it’s probably not going to work out that well anyway.

    The interview says a lot about the company and how you’ll be treated. Remember – it’s also a chance for you to interview the company and figure out whether you really want to work for them. Don’t be afraid to say no if you feel uncomfortable during a job interview, because chances are you’ll feel uncomfortable if you ever end up working there.

  34. great post, but as a freelancer I have never interviewed. Although I have been interviews quite a few times and I would love to be interviews at your, all the rest are to up tight and well off putting at the seriousness…

  35. Lisa Price on July 31, 2008 at 10:27 am said:

    Hello team C! I think a nice thing that the interviewing company can do is give a few guidelines about dress code (eg. just a sentence in an email saying we don’t expect suits). Imagine turning up in a suit and having to sit on a bean bag! You’d feel pretty incongruous. I think increasingly people in the web/creative industries assume that “no suit” is ok, but it’s great to have some pointers to set the interviewee’s mind at ease.

  36. Excellent post Ryan, as always! I love how you and the Carsonities do things so differently to other companies. Very unique!

  37. Chris Dowdeswell on July 31, 2008 at 10:18 am said:

    Lets hope you don’t get any REAL fatties coming in then 😀 I have visions of someone hoovering thousands of tiny polystyrene balls up!

    I like the idea though… I have been so bored by conventional interviewers in my years as a developer its so bloody samey.

    It will hopefully filter out those who will be really great for the team, good luck!

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