Ombuds' Corner: MARS interviews, an opportunity for new understandings (Part 1)

With the annual MARS exercise quickly approaching, now is an ideal time to consider how to carry out a successful interview. Whether you are a supervisor or a supervisee, preparation, and an open frame of mind, can turn the experience into much more than a formality.


"The MARS interviews are just a formality." "My supervisor doesn't seem to understand the effort that goes into my work." These are familiar complaints heard at CERN during MARS season. But with an open attitude and solid preparation, the annual interview can be an excellent opportunity to foster new understandings.

If you are a supervisor, it is important to remember that people need to feel valued. Not only is the annual interview a time for discussing, understanding and acknowledging the work carried out by your supervisees, it's also an opportunity to make them feel valued for who they are and what they bring to the Organization.

But what makes people feel valued? In part, this comes from conveying that you understand and appreciate what they have achieved. However, it is also essential to acknowledge what their achievements meant for them by recognising what it cost them to get there. Often, supervisors stop with the first aspect – understanding and appreciating what has been done - but by going on to this second level, explicitly acknowledging the intrinsic abilities that people have harnessed in order to achieve their objectives, you will go a long way towards making them feel truly valued.

Of course, it is important as a supervisor to come well prepared to the interview with a clear idea about your supervisee’s work. At the same time, it is important to keep an open mind, to listen to your supervisee’s perspective on their work and to be prepared, if necessary, to adapt your own impressions accordingly. If you take the time to really listen and show that you understand your supervisee’s perspective, it will be much easier for you to either praise their achievements in a meaningful way or get them to consider the situation from another point of view.

You may be surprised at how this approach actually allows you to provide balanced feedback and to introduce development areas more easily. Supervisors often shy away from giving critique, concerned about the reaction they will get. It is, however, much easier for supervisees to listen to suggestions for improvement if they feel that their own efforts have been recognised and understood.

So make sure to come to the discussion with an open attitude: be willing to listen and acknowledge your supervisee’s own experience of their work. Acknowledging a different perspective does not mean that you have to agree with it. It does however, create a basis of understanding where, by demonstrating a genuine willingness to be influenced by the other person, you create a climate that invites them to reciprocate the listening and, in turn, be open to being influenced by you.

Remember that your aim is not only to tell them what you thought of their work, it is also to make them feel that their achievements are important and to offer them opportunities to continue to develop and contribute in this way.

If carried out with this aim in mind, a MARS interview becomes much more than a mere formality. Your supervisee will go away feeling valued and you, as their supervisor, will have conveyed your message in a way that is appreciated.

In the next Bulletin, I'll be looking at how a supervisee can make the most out of their MARS interview.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood”
Stephen Covey – 7 Habits of highly effective people


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by Sudeshna Datta-Cockerill