My first interview was in freshman year of high school, when I was fifteen. It was for a slot in the school’s radio, which now sounds like a kids’ game thinking back, but at the time was the hottest job among us novices. So it was competitive. But I passed it. Since then, during the past eight years I have been called in a bunch of interviews, yet I haven’t figured out the mystery behind why I passed some of those, and why I did not the others. Interviews that felt great often ended in an unwanted mail, whereas the ones that seemed disastrous turned out to be a success. I don’t think this trend is going to end for me anytime soon, though.
This is to say, regardless of how many time I have experienced interviews, both as an interviewee for jobs or even as an interviewer some (lucky) times, I have never truly understood it. Thus I have never mastered it. Interviews have been used for ages as an inevitable and crucial stage before the contract. The idea looks great: the two parties, the recruiter and the contender, get a chance to know each other by talking and exchanging questions and ideas. Also there have been a great number of researches on human behaviors, specifically on how one person acts can actually tell great stories behind his mask and his surface personality. Ergo, interviews become so much reliable. How come it’s not reliable, when we talk to one person, we observe the way he behaves, we ask him questions that in no way would fail to reveal the true person sitting in front; of course we, to some extent, would KNOW him, right? Well, as I said before, the idea is great. But here’s the deal: over the history of professional interviews, interviewers have developed their skills to a level that allows them to confidently say they are able to distinguish gold from dust. This is followed by a major improvement in the other side of the interview table, interviewees, in their “interviewing skills”: now we read books, and there are the techniques, the most-asked questions, the hard-to-deal situations, and even the most expected answers. Then interviewers in turn face the challenge to “see” through a thicker layer of disguise. This could go on forever: the interviewers keep reading, the interviewees keep saying what they think are likable to the other side.
While I am in no position to doubt interviewers’ ability to judge a candidate, I am talking about the weaker side of the table, which at the moment I am more likely to sit: the interviewed ones. First I’ve got to say, any kind of interview techniques that usually are handed among young graduates, I’ve read them all. Basically I know how to dress to an interview, how to answer, and how to behave (the live show, though, could turn a little chaotic due to the minor effect of nervousness). Still I’ve failed, a whole bunch of times, much more than I’ve succeeded (hope it’s normal!). After each interview, I mark the plus and the minus points, and then I’ve realized one truth: the more I try to apply the “interview rules”, the more I’m likely to fail. Now I’m sitting in front of someone that can hire or fire me, and I try to satisfy his questions with what I can collect from my mind that may match what he is having in mind; but in doing that, I fail. Otherwise, in interviews that I aced I just casually talked or was asked to complete some tasks; one time I was 99% rejected after the interview, but later got picked because of my sample works. As it turns out, I’m better off saying something I actually like, rather than saying something I think I should be saying. But why?
I think we just have to go back to the nature of an interview: it’s a talk. Think about the last time you talked with a stranger, what did you read from him, or her? I believe you can say a great deal, like, he seems nice or mean, passionate or lazy, polite or rude. And in that talk, hypothetically he did not even try to make you like him, so it’s pretty safe to say the impressions are quite correct. Now, think about how many good friends you have that you did not like them at all the first time you met, because the impressions told you they were not the right people. Is there anyone? There’s got to be at least one, I guess. And that’s the problem with interviews – there’s always room for mistakes, for misunderstanding, and misleading impressions. There’s always room for personal prejudice and emotions to get in the way an interviewer judges an interviewee. While I agree that it’s absolutely reasonable to reject someone you don’t like, as it’s likely he’s not gonna be a good fit to the company either; but the question is, is that the REAL HIM you’re reading? Probably not. Like it was not the good friend you have now the first time you two talked.
And that’s how interviews could fool us both. While the disguise that a candidate puts on, thanks to a dozen of online articles he read, could easily be taken down by experienced interviewers, there’s a pretty good chance that the candidate accidentally fools interviewers, without any initial intentions, and he does it at his own cost. He finds it hard to express the real him, which could be what the company is looking for, and fakes it with some “professional ego” that he believes would fit. He hides the gems under layers of polished clothes. He’s simply an introvert. After all, all the tactics about communicating, reacting, responding to a certain situation, they seem to work only for extroverts. Professional world has long been a game where the more connections and interaction you have, the better chance to win. Extroverts are born for that. Introverts, on the other hand, never find talking about themselves an easy task. They could be a good talker, but they doubt it themselves. Hence the monotone, professional (yet clumsy) mask.
This is not an excuse for introverts to fail, nor an excuse for me to fail. I just figure one more way interviews could fool us both, and that they are not always the best way to decode a person. I don’t expect for a game changer anytime soon, either. While I’m trying to be somewhat more opening up, I just want to speak, in defense and on behalf of introvert candidates: please believe us, our heart is way bigger than the mouth.