interview cartoon

I had a request earlier this week:

Wondering if, in one of your next office politics posts, you might post on how to crush an interview? What would you do to stand out? And once you’ve been offered something, what would your process be for accepting / rejecting the offer and would consider informing your current employer that you’re considering accepting the offer, perhaps in the hope that they might re-evaluate your position (or this an absolute no-go)?

So I’m going to start by pointing out an inconsistency:

  1. When applying for a position that you really want, the job always seems so hard to get into: a sacred space where you’d be surrounded by all these go-getters with so much talent and work ethic and please God let me look like that in the interview.
  2. When you get the position, it turns out:
    1. Not everyone is that talented. At all. In fact, you often wonder how they got past the first round of interviews.
    2. Any office always has people that arrive late/leave early/take long lunches. Always. You also get the crazy people that work crazy hours until their immune system does a number of them and they disappear for a week with gastro.
    3. The person that conducted your interview? Well they’re in the HR department. And, unless you’re now working in HR, it turns out that the HR department is generally reviled and perceived as useless.
    4. When you speak to the person that did your interview, they’re actually quite nice in person. They go home each day to their family, and their main worry is an ill parent with Alzheimers, or a child with learning difficulties, or their bad luck in the game of love (in which case, the line between “nice” and “irritating” is blurred).
    5. It turns out that the interview process was more of a formality – they’d already chosen the CVs that the ultimate decision-maker was going to look at.

The Things To Remember In An Interview

Some facts (and strong probabilities):

  1. Interviews have been shown to be pretty shocking indicators of performance and/or success. You get much better tests of fit and team-playing (like psychometric tests).
  2. Your skills and intellectual abilities are largely evident in your CV. You’re not going to take the perception of yourself from mediocre student to near-genius in a 40 minute conversation. I’m afraid that your intelligence/skill is already anchored to your transcript long before you step into that meeting room.
  3. The task of HR personnel is to take CVs and match them to a brief. Most of the time, there are enough suitable CVs available that they don’t need to interview random off-chances (so you should already know that you’re what they’re looking for). And where there aren’t enough CVs, then they’ll most likely be head-hunting (in which case, the interview process is properly irrelevant).

Given that, what really is the point of an interview? It’s either a formality required by the hiring policies that were drafted many years ago, or the person up at the top thinks that they’re an outlier when it comes to their ability to judge character from a short conversation.

So an interview is one of two things:

  1. Entirely unimportant; or
  2. A test of charm.

It’s logical to assume then that all interviews are a test of charm. In which case, you need to approach it in the same way that you should approach seduction: by asking yourself “what makes people attractive?”

Here’s a list of what makes people unattractive:

  1. Boring personalities (they are so distracting in their dullness that it gets claustrophobic)
  2. People that are too eager to please (they seem like high maintenance).
  3. The wildly insecure and desperate (they seem like they have something to hide).
  4. The non-communicative (how on earth can you get an idea of who someone is if they don’t talk to you?)

So if you want to crush an interview, be none of those. Be interesting (and if that fails, be interested), be contented (because the contented don’t need to please), and be engaged (because that’s how you interact).

Does that sound too easy?

Maybe. But you can count on the fact that everyone, in an interview environment, feels like they’re under a spotlight. And that makes most people uncomfortable, which leaves them either insecure, non-communicative, overboard or almost any combination thereof. It’s rare  to be comfortable under scrutiny.

It’s one of those valuable lessons to be learned from psychopaths (even psychopaths have their benefits): they can charm because they’re not really concerned about what you think. It’s a paradox – and I love paradoxes.

#To Be Continued