Interview, shminterview

I don’t interview well. Nobody does, right? I hate putting myself in the position where I’m actually asking someone to judge me. I hate that the process is pass/fail. It doesn’t matter that a dozen others might join me in the fail queue, because in the interview it’s all about me and whether I’m _____ enough.

Pick a word, any word, to fill in that blank. Because really, who the hell knows what the interviewer is really looking for? If skills alone were the question, surely the CV would be enough evidence. A good interviewer — and a good company — is looking for something else. Skills aren’t the be-all and end-all, because some things, computer programs, for example, can be learned as needed. More often they’re looking for your own sense of self, your personality, looking for clues to see how you’d fit in the corporate culture. One friend tells me that she got a job where a PhD was listed among the required qualifications when she didn’t even have a master’s degree — and the interviewer told her later it was because she was the only interviewee who’d said that, when asked a certain question, she’d admit she didn’t know the answer. Another, similar story came up in a Facebook meme a few months ago, about the CEO who set a task to all of his possible successors, and awarded the succession to the one guy who’d failed and admitted it. Honesty, then, is possibly the best policy, but how else can you deal with these hidden expectations?

Well, there are a number of ways, most involving research and practice.

My essential problem, and it’s the same one that I deal with when writing my resume, is that I’m really, really bad at self-promotion. I grew up in a part of the world where there was a concerted, continuing campaign against the scourge of ego-inflation, and the secondary plague of being too big for one’s britches. The main weapon in this war against feeling good about one’s self was words used to make one feel bad — or at the very least unsure — about one’s self. Combine that acquired disinclination to crow about one’s accomplishments with the conditioning many women (I raise my hand) have absorbed that leads them to be quiet about their own successes while trumpeting the success of others, and you have an interviewee who’s not really sure why she’s in the room. And let’s not even begin to discuss imposter syndrome, which afflicts many of us, male and female.

That said, I have a reasonable expectation of being interviewed for at least one of the jobs for which I’ve applied over the past few weeks. So how am I preparing?

* Doing my homework. I’m learning as much about the job and company as I can.

* Writing down my answers to the questions I know will be asked and which I fear the most — what is your greatest weakness? Describe a mistake you have made and how you corrected it. Preparing a script, in other words, so I won’t be caught short.

* Talking to friends and co-workers who think I’m good at what I do, to find out why they think that way. Co-workers often see you in a far different light than you see yourself. (One former co-worker recently told me, in front of witnesses, that I am God when it comes to my rate of production. I had no idea he worshipped me, which is too bad because I believe I could have exploited that…)

* Write down adjectives. I usually reach for “fast, accurate, flexible,” and always mention my short learning curve (and always wonder whether it’s the curve that’s short, or the arc, or if short is the appropriate word to be used in relation to a curve…) Other people apply other adjectives to me, so I will use those too (except god-like, that could be a bit much). Funny, loyal, dependable, reliable, quick-thinking…

I’m trying to remember the underlying question to everything is “why should we hire you” and not “why shouldn’t we hire you” and trying to develop my script for that question without resorting to boastfulness, exaggeration, or weasel words. Fingers crossed.

6 Replies to “Interview, shminterview”

  1. As someone who has been called on to help with the “fit and feel” portions of interviews (once pure knowledge/ability has been assessed), I’m really only looking for two things:

    1) Can you think? I will throw you an oddball question like, “Where’s the nearest mall? How many quarters are there in that mall, right now?” I want to see how many factors you come up with, and what your thought process is (i.e. store floats, and how affected by time of day? any banks? how many people? male/female ratio? do men or women carry more change? mix of stores (cash businesses vs credit)? is there a fountain to throw coins into? etc, etc.). Also important is whether you give up too quickly, and assume you have them all, or try to drag on too long after you’ve obviously exhausted your ideas. I don’t want a quitter, but I don’t want someone who’s going to bang their head against a problem for 2 weeks without asking for help, either.

    2) Do I want to sit beside you every day? If I don’t think we can get along, I’m not going to recommend you be hired. Luckily, I’m easy to get along with, but not everybody is. If you can annoy me in an hour, chances are you’d annoy the whole team in a week, and be fired in a month.

    1. I remember once in an interview for a job as secretary to an executive at Maritime Life I was asked how I would handle typing confidential correspondence. I remember coming up with several ways — typing highly sensitive stuff after hours, covering the copy as I typed it, going into a private office and closing the door — but no matter how many I came up with the interviewers behaved as if I was missing the obvious answer. I kept racking my brain trying to think of other things I could do and I finally gave up. I can’t remember if they told me the answer that was in their heads, but I know I found the whole exercise maddening.
      I was in fact offered that job eventually, but turned it down because it paid very little more than I was earning in a place where the cost of living was considerably lower, and because I’d already decided to go back to journalism school that fall. And look where that got me…

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