I am not a skilled job interviewee.
When I don’t know the right thing to say, I err on the side of honesty.
Why am I interested in this position?
It’s right along the bus line, making it very convenient to get here without a car. While there might be jobs farther from a bus line that would seem more interesting to me at first, the day-to-day reality of commuting to such a job would quickly wear on me. Counter to the more romantic notions of employment held by many, I think it’s the way a job can be worked easily into the rhythm of your preferred everyday existence that will make it sustainable or unsustainable once the initial honeymoon phase wears off. In other words, I think it’s best to set yourself up so the job remains workable even when the work itself ceases to be fascinating. I’m a systems thinker. You want to set up a system that keeps working by default, even if one or two pieces start to slip. Motivation might slip. You can’t count on motivation to always be there.
When I do know the right thing to say, I err on the side of honesty.
What would past employers say is my greatest weakness?
I know this is where people typically try to describe a weakness that, seemingly unbeknownst to them, could actually be considered a strength, but the truth is that my tendency to make pained facial expressions at inopportune interpersonal moments has been a consistent source of friction.
More often than not, I favor terseness.
How would I deal with a difficult customer?
Listen, don’t holler, try to help.
To be clear, when employed, I am a fine employee.
I show up on time all the time, take it upon myself to learn all the details of the job to which I’m assigned, and strive to be the best possible representative of whatever company I’m representing. Far from just showing up for a paycheck, I am personally bothered by every misstep and missed opportunity and motivated to self-correct at every turn. I want to do the job as well as it can possibly be done, and I don’t even apply for jobs where I don’t see that as being a real possibility.
But I’m an awful interviewee.
For one thing, I’m not someone who puts great stock in first impressions.
In truth, putting great stock in first impressions isn’t an option that’s available to me: I’m a pretty socially anxious person, so my first impression is usually my worst. If I pin everything on first impressions, I stack the deck against myself.
I’m a grower. As familiarity grows, every subsequent interaction will go a bit more smoothly. Initially a riddle of reticence, I will be found easy to interact with in a day-to-day way. Let me stick around a while and I’ll grow on you.
I comfort myself by rationalizing that anyone (well, anyone save me) can seem impressive once. The real measure of a person’s qualities and values is what they habitually do, not how they appear or what they know to say in an initial meeting. Strong interview skills might mean someone can impress you on day one and then disappoint you every day thereafter, when it comes to actually doing the work.
As a general rule, I favor under-promising and over-delivering.
Also, as a person of a naturally skeptical bent, it seems ludicrous that I should begin a relationship with another person by talking myself up, when that person’s only basis for believing or not believing is how convincingly I say it and what I’ve put on a piece of paper. Why would a person who doesn’t know me believe whatever I tell them about myself? Would I even want to work with such a credulous person?
Beyond that, the whole interview format feels so artificial. It’s like guesting on a vacuous talk show.
- “Tell me about yourself!”
- “Tell me about your weakness in a way that does not imply actual weakness!”
- “Do you have any questions for me that will impress me with your thoughtfulness without requiring much thought or honesty on my part to answer, since the nature of what I can say as a representative of this company conducting an interview is so circumscribed?”
- “Courtesy of our corporate sponsors here at XYZ Corp, we have a special surprise for everyone in our studio audience today: You get a job, you get a job, you get a job! Everyone gets a job!”
I think some people are better at flitting along the surface of things than I am. They have an easier time accepting that not all the things they hear or say, in a job search or job interview context, will be literally true.
(Speaking of literal-mindedness, it took one therapist several sessions to decide that I probably didn’t have Asperger’s; I just seemed like I did.)
I have this issue with job listings, too. I expect them to be literally true, so I scrutinize them down to the last detail. I believe they actually reflect the nature of the job, and I decide to apply or not apply accordingly. I consider the mere submission of an application/resume to be equivalent to a sworn statement, punishable by 5 years in jail or a $250,000 fine in the case of perjury, that I am fully and completely qualified to perform the job exactly as described.
If I don’t believe that’s true, I don’t apply.
In reality, of course, the job as described might not be the job as it exists; the company might be working from a form description written years ago, one that doesn’t reflect how the position or company has changed since. There might be stuff included that’s not part of the job, and parts of the job that aren’t included. To really know, you have to get in there and see. And companies are well aware that eliding a bit to better fit their skills and histories to the listing is what job-seekers do.
The company puts on its best face, and I put on mine.
So the whole transaction might be founded on little mistruths and misrepresentations, on both sides, right from the outset.
Most people know this and are okay with it.
What a racket.
My current therapist suggested I need to reframe the job interview transaction in a more productive, realistic way and get comfortable discussing my positive qualities in a manner that doesn’t feel, to me, like lying or selling. This seems like a very tall order, counter to my every inclination.
Self-deprecation is my native tongue. To openly confess to one’s own possibly desirable qualities seems like the behavior of a conman or psychopath.
As a preliminary step, to see what happens, she suggested I start sending out resumes a bit more broadly, on the assumption that not every job description is literally true.
Reluctantly, I assented.
“Fine, I’ll send the resume. Worst-case scenario, I’ll hear back from them for an interview.”