Are You Interviewing For A Position Or As A Person?

After seventeen years and counting in IT, I’ve done a lot of interviews and held a lot of jobs.  I try to share my experiences, of course, which is why you get a lot of my brain dumps here.

One of those experiences that has turned into the career fertilizer I’m about to import, is that when you interview, you have to determine if you’re interviewing for a Position or as a Person.

This may seem a bit confusing – you’re a Person interviewing for a Position, right?  Well that’s you.  What’s different is what’s going on in the minds of your interviewers, even if they don’t always know it.

Sometimes you’re being interviewed for a Position.

You know the drill on this, it’s what people at least assume their interviewing for.  You want to have the right skillets.  You want to have the right experiences.  You want the right personality traits.  Ultimately it’s about you having the right traits for the job.

The signs you’re interviewing for a Position are:

  • The job tasks are easily classifiable.  You need to show you can do them.
  • The list of skills and traits needed are easily broken down.  You need to show you have them.
  • The job can be explained in reference to the first two.  You need to show how these things come together.

This is what we assume we’re always doing.

But sometimes, perhaps more often than your realize, you’re interviewing to see if you’re the right Person.

In this case the question is not do you have the right traits for the job, but if you’re the right person to be doing the job.  The question is not what you can do, but who you are.  It’s not about lists – it’s about how it all comes together, and it’s not always apparent or easy to figure out for you, let alone your interviewer.

The signs you’re really interviewing to show you’re the right Person are:

  • The position is not easily described in simple lists.  You may have to help the interviewer understand the position,in fact.
  • There’s a strong emphasis on generality.  You won’t nail things down easy, so have to show certain general traits and experience.
  • There’s a strong emphasis on your history not in what you’ve done or can do, but how you’ve done it.  You’ll need to describe your personal narrative.
  • If there’s a strong emphasis on your personality traits.  You’ll need to show you’ll fit in.

As of late I’ve become convinced one of the big problems in hiring people these days is the Position/Person dichotomy.  Most of the time an interview is done for a Position, with its lists and hopes.  However many jobs are not jobs that can be broken easily into lists, many jobs are jobs that require a specific kind of personality/skill fit, many jobs to not define so easily.  Many jobs, in short, can only be filled with the right kind of Person, no matter what you think the Position is.

Are we trained to do – or give – these kind of interviews?  Not so much.  Now I know why some of the best interviewers I’ve met kept their own lists and notes to help them be better interviewers.  They do this because it’s damned hard.

On your job search, ask yourself if you’re interviewing to fill a Position or as a Person.  It’ll help you adjust your strategies accordingly.  In fact, there’s a chance your interviewer may not know if they’re interviewing you to fill a Position or as a Person – which might just give you the advantage as you can adapt your strategies, or even help them clarify it.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at