CarMax and the Art of Conducting a Bad Interview
I had a job interview yesterday, the first in several weeks. I was super excited as well because it was with CarMax, the used car super store. I thought, “Awesome, a chance to use my vast automotive knowledge!” It didn’t work out so well.
To begin with, to apply for a job with CarMax you have to go through this arduous online application that as far as I could tell had absolutely nothing to do with the job itself, but more with trying to make sure that the person applying was both computer literate and smart enough not to click ‘Yes’ on multiple questions about how frequently you shoot up heroine and rob your employer. I suppose that this must have been the first warning sign.
Apparently I hadn’t done enough lines of cocaine because this Tuesday I get a phone call from a sales manager at the CarMax location here in Salt Lake. He was polite but you could tell that he had very little experience with actually conducting a phone interview. The conversations was punctuated by long pauses at awkward moments in the conversation. Often I would have to break it with a laugh and an attempt to get the interview going again. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the pauses had come at logical points that could lead me to take over the interview, but they didn’t. I think that he was busy taking notes and couldn’t keep up with the conversation.
I got through the phone interview and was asked to come in for an in person interview yesterday. I arrived a few minutes early for my interview at 12:30pm. The perky front desk girl said that I had caught her off guard by showing up early. I understood and she asked me to have a seat whole she got stuff together. So I had a seat for about 10 minutes while she got some paper work. When she came back we went to an empty cubical and I got to fill out about five release forms saying such things as agreeing to an independent arbitrator if I had a dispute with the company. That should have fired off a warning sign as well.
I got done with those papers and then was told that I had to complete another computer based application. Ok, I get that big companies want to have as much data as possible, but come on if I come in for an interview, I expect to speak with people, not fill out tons of questionnaires. But I need a job, so I diligently completed the application which was, guess what? Mostly asking about how often I do illegal drugs, steal from employers, shop lift and aid others in doing these things. What the fuck?!? First of all, who in their right mind would answer these questions truthfully if they actually had these problems? Second, if CarMax is just trying to see if you can navigate some potential traps, come up with some better question than, “How much money have you stolen from an employer in the past five years.”
Once I was done with the computer questionnaire I was directed to have a seat and wait again. This time I sat for about 15 minutes. I observed that the employees clumped like at most big box stores. None seemed to be doing much. Perhaps its just because it wasn’t very busy, but I would have been getting caught up with what the stores inventory was. But apparent that isn’t the case, as will be shown later.
After waiting I finally got to talk to a human. Guess what the interview was? Thats right, this guy asked me form questions that were generated from my recent computer application. Literally, “Stephen, when was the last time that you shoplifted?” I should have walked out. I really really should have. Any company that is going to base so much of the interview process on this kind stuff obviously has a history of hiring absolute morons. Both because they are having these problems and their hiring managers can’t figure this stuff out by actually gauging someone in person.
Once the retarded form interview was done (seriously, he read every question verbatim off his paper. “Stephen, when was…”!) I got to sit and wait for another 10 minutes until the sales manager I had spoken to on the phone showed up with two female managers-in-training. We went back to another empty cubical and they preceded to ask me generic interview questions. I hate these questions because they tell you nothing about the candidate, “Give me an example of how you handled X situation.”, “What strengths do you possess?”. Blegh. This is why you read the resume (which they never took from me) or the MASSIVE application that I had to fill out. In an interview you are supposed to get to know the candidate, allow them to ask questions and find out if you think they are a match. When you just get these dry questions there is no room for creative discussion or for the candidate to really show who they are. Regardless I trudged through.
Finally the bland interview questions ended and we got to what I was looking forward to, role playing. In the phone interview I had been told to go on carmax.com and find “any car on there that I liked”, print it out and bring it in. I selected a 2001 Honda S2000. I wanted to showcase my knowledge and passion about a very unique vehicle. When I handed them my spec sheet, the sales manager said, “Oh, this is in Omaha, not here.” Sigh… It had never been specified that it had to be on the SLC lot. I did have a back up if that did prove to be a problem, a 2007 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. They said that they would find that and use it. Great.
When they came back, they said the Rubicon was too far away (Oh dear, we would have to walk in the cold!) would I be OK doing to roll play with the Toyota Highlander in the showroom. Instead I said, “How about the Volvo C30 right there.” And pointed out the window.
“The C230?” The sales manager asked, referring to the W203 Mercedes a few spots down from the Volvo.
“No, the C30.”
I felt good about that. I like the C30, so I thought that I could really show some enthusiasm. The sales manager and one of the women walked away and the other woman stayed with me to take notes. The two that walked away came back and I greeted them as if they were customers.
“Hi, welcome to CarMax. What can I help you find today?”
“Well, we were looking at a Mercedes C300 online and we wanted to see it.”
I was floored. First, I thought that we had cleared that little misunderstanding up, but apparently not. Second, I hate Mercedes lacross-mom cars, of which the the C-Class belongs. Third, there was no C300 on the lot, only the afore mentioned W203 C230. Grrr…
Being that I didn’t want to come off rude, I just rolled with it. I tried to act enthusiastic about the POS Merc, but I know it didn’t come through. When we walked back into the store and the role play ended I laughingly commented that it was the Volvo C30 that I had been interested in presenting. The sales manager just looked awkward and the woman said, “Oh, I just heard the white one!” What the fuck?
And that was the note that the interview ended on. I was told that they would let me know in 7-10 business days. Walking back to my car I knew that it didn’t go well, and aside from knowing that I didn’t get a job, I was OK with that. Today I got a form letter in the mail addressed to, “NIELSON” stating that CarMax had decided to go with another candidate. I Left the interview yesterday at about 2:00pm, my mailman arrived this morning just before 10:00am. Absolutely retarded. Rather than say, “Hey kid, 7-10 business days!” they should have manned up and said, “Thanks but no thanks.” I can take it, really, I can.
So to sum it up, I think that businesses like CarMax are missing out. Not on me specifically, but on many quality employees. The reason is that they are relying way, way too much on form interviewing and too little on actually getting to know the candidate. The best jobs I’ve ever had have always stemmed from interviews where the interviewer got to know me. Talked with me about more than just, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” They got to know me and I got to know them and the company. That is way more important that whether I shoplifted something at the age of 13!
CarMax and their big box ilk tend to be staffed by pretty plain vanilla folks because they don’t take the time to interact with candidates. Sure, they spend big bucks on background checks, but nothing on the personal touch. This is why the manager who interviewed me was so awkward, he had no idea how to talk with someone outside of his pre-formed structure. That is not the culture that these businesses want. They want people who will follow every guideline and never think outside of them. WalMart, CarMax, Best Buy. At the end of the day you can just shift employees from one to the other and it wouldn’t make any difference, their all the same.