Wednesday, August 02, 2006


1. Submerge beneath a huge mass. 2. Defeat completely; overpower 3. Have a strong emotional effect on. -courtesy of Oxford University Press

The concept of overwhelmed has been niggling around the edges for several weeks now. Four Three days a week at the PTG I ask candidates for various customer service positions the following: We've all had times when the responsibilities of our jobs are overwhelming. Please tell me about a time when you have been overwhelmed at work. How did you react?

Nine of ten respond with some variation of 'take a step back and / or take a deep breath.'

So, when overwhelmed, you breathe. Step, two, three, four and don't forget to breathe, so says the aerobics instructor.

Further probing is required of the recruiter, me, as I must decide, on the basis of responses to several questions, whether a candidate moves forward. The probe, designed to elicit some sense of what the candidate considers overwhelming and their coping mechanism in response to that situation, is worded thusly; Relate an overwhelming situation and please tell me, what specific steps you take to minimize or eliminate the stress.

Six of ten respond with eerily little variety; you know, what I do, basically, you know, is just, you know, do the best I can do, you know, to actually, you know, get it done. You know?

How underwhelming.

Candidates sometimes relate that they don't get overwhelmed, ever. I believe them, but I must still probe. Some people are put off by the terminology. Being overwhelmed is tough to admit, especially when definitions 1 and 2 are applied. My mom asked me several weeks ago, well, she didn't ask as much as accuse me of not being overwhelmed by the status of being a parent, particularly to adults. She admits, often and in living, breathing color, to being overwhelmed. I know that she uses as her benchmarks, submersion, complete (and utter) defeat and overpowering. She appreciates and resents my apparent calm. However, every stage of parenting has had a strong emotional effect on me. Not crippling, or defeated, but powerfully emotional. Now, I think, more than ever.

Mom and I have vastly different sensibilities.

Anyway, one more stab at getting the candidate to be more specific, or at least coherent. After hearing the probe again, most candidates let loose with a busted blimp whooshing quality sigh and then, 'you know, I just basically, go the extra mile to make sure the customer is always satisfied, actually, you know?

I ask, how they do that and if they could please give me a specific example to illustrate?

I get the telephonic equivalent of a blank stare.

Right, moving on.

And oh, by the way, the phrase 'going the extra mile' and the evil twin sister, 'above and beyond' should be stricken from the customer service representative lexicon. You know?


  1. I'm with ya, Deborah. The more interviews I conduct, the more amazed I am at how candidates are not really prepared to answer those questions.

    Oh, and the phrase I'm tired of hearing because they all know to say it but rarely actually exhibit it? "Team player."

  2. I always thought being the interviewee was difficult. I'm seeing another side to the equation here, that's for sure!

  3. In my world, team player usually goes hand in hand with, "I'm a people person."


Hi! Your visit is much appreciated.