Tales of a Disgruntled Graduate: A View from the Front Lines of the Post-College Job Hunt
The Interview: Romancing the Manager
An interview is the professional equivalent of a first date. Instead of flowers, you bring references; instead of dinner, you meet for a simple tête-à-tête. If all goes well, the goodnight kiss is a strong handshake and an enthusiastic “Welcome aboard!” from your new boss. Or, if neither of you are ready to make a commitment just yet, you hope they will call for a second chance to get to know you.
Just like a first date, first impressions on an interview are everything, perhaps even more so. You will be judged on how you carry yourself, how well you respond to questions, and, rather unavoidably, on your appearance. A friend of mine once said, “If your soul mate is scared away by a piece of carrot stuck in your teeth, he probably wasn’t your soul mate anyway.” Good point. Most people are willing to forgive hygiene faux pas and give you a second chance before casting judgment, but interviewers may not be so merciful. If they have to choose between you and other candidates without carrot in their teeth, you can bet they will always choose to hire carrot-free employees.
Once you get past the small talk, you will be required to answer some tougher questions. Fair enough. The employer wants to probe into your strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, and problem-solving skills. Asking for examples from previous jobs is the most common and most reasonable way to do this. Some employers, however, choose to mask their questions in more metaphorical scenarios to see how well you think on your feet.
Classic example: My sister was once asked, “If you were a fruit, what kind of fruit would you be and why?”
“Um,” she answered. (A good start.) After confusion gave way to the urgency of saying something clever and meaningful, she said, “A pear.” Her reason? “Because I’m pear-shaped…and most people like pears, and I think most people like me because I’m easy to get along with.”
She pulled through in the end, but her initial reaction represents the inner response of most people: “Whaaaat?”
This is akin to the ridiculous questions dates ask when they’ve run out of real conversation, like, “What three things would you take with you on a desert island?” As the recipient of such a question, you are suddenly pressured to choose one of two routes: funny or truthful. If you choose funny, you try to find an original answer as surprising as the question, showing you can dish it right back. If you choose truthful, you try to divulge something significant about your character, hoping to impress the listener and fulfill the intent of the question.
You have approximately five seconds to make this decision before you look stumped.
If you exceed this time on a date, you lose points for not being clever. On an interview, you lose points for looking stupid. “Take your time,” the interviewers say when you’re clearly struggling. What they really mean is, “I’ve already checked off a box here that says you’re too slow for this company, and you probably don’t even like islands. This will be a problem at the company’s annual luau…not to mention the carrot bits in your teeth.”
In the end, just like your date, interviewers are searching for a potential match. They want someone who meets the company’s needs in terms of skill, personality, and potential for growth as their business moves ahead. They are looking for a professional soul mate, and you must learn how to romance them. If it doesn’t work out, you can console yourself with the fact that there will always be another company, another interview. As the saying goes, there are other fish in the sea.
Just in case, you should always check your teeth for stray produce. You never know when a carrot could be the bottom line of your career.