MARS interviews, a two-way street to mutual understanding (Part 2)

With the annual MARS exercise approaching, now is an ideal time to consider how to carry out a successful interview. In this issue of the Bulletin, I promised to look at how you, as a supervisee, can use the time to share your specific experience and consolidate an on-going dialogue with your supervisor.

"The MARS interviews are not a productive use of time." "My supervisee cannot handle any constructive criticism." “I am really nervous about my interview”. These are the sorts of complaints heard in the Ombuds Office and around CERN during this time. But the right approach can turn the experience into much more than a formality. In my last blog, I reminded supervisors of the importance of ‘seeking first to understand’ during the MARS interviews they conducted. While this is essential for supervisors, it is also equally relevant for supervisees. Your supervisors are looking for acknowledgement and understanding of their perspectives - just as you are. Only once this has been accomplished can a true dialogue begin.

The MARS exercise is a two-way process and much depends on the way in which you approach it. Don’t go through your appraisal just for the sake of it, but consider what you would like to get out of it for yourself and keep this end in mind throughout the interview. This is a time for you to share your experience with your boss and to make sure your point of view is heard. It is also an opportunity for you to express your interests and agree on future goals together.

Once again, solid preparation is the key – gather together all the relevant information related to your objectives, together with the concrete examples that demonstrate how they were met. If you encountered any difficulties, share them openly so that you can work together with your supervisor to identify ways of overcoming them. Be really clear on what you want to get out of the discussion and don’t hesitate to ask for feedback on specific points if they do not come up spontaneously.

The importance of coming to the interview with an open frame of mind cannot be stressed enough. While it is critical to be prepared with the details of your own experience, you also need to be ready to hear and understand the other person's perspective. Studies have shown that most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. If you make a genuine effort to understand what you are hearing, you will be in a much stronger position to either defend your work effectively or take on board the feedback in a constructive spirit.

Of course, it is never easy to listen to criticism of your work – particularly when you have put so much effort into it – and you may feel hurt, disappointed or even annoyed. Just take a deep breath and keep your goal in sight – you are there to make the most of this time, so listen to the comments and understand how they can be of use to you.  This will help you to remove some emotion from the situation and allow you to evaluate whether the comments may have some merit or require further thought. Remember that your supervisor is there not only to oversee and assess your work but also to provide you with the support that you need to achieve your objectives.

Finally, let us not forget that this is a two-way process and that this is also an opportunity for you to provide your supervisor with valuable feedback. Here too, preparation plays its part, and the more specific the feedback, the more meaningful it is to receive.

If both you and your supervisor come to the interview well prepared and with a genuine aim to make the most of this exchange, the meeting will progress and become a productive use of your time. So take the time to reflect on what you want to share, and remember that your HRA is there to answer any questions or provide you both with any support you may need in your preparation.

“Begin with the end in mind [… ] listen with the intent to understand, […] not to reply”
Stephen Covey – 7 Habits of highly effective people

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