So, I had (yet) another interview. One might think that after two years and all the interviews I've had that a) I'd have a job offer, b) nothing asked or said at an interview would come as a surprise to me, and/or c) I must really suck at interviewing because I haven't been offered a job.
One might think all of that. And one might be correct about all of that. Those are fair assumptions. And I grapple with that every day and night. One might even say I'm obsessed with all three of those assumptions.
Interviews tend to fall into three types.
1) Functional. The "Here are details about the job description, we are looking for someone who can..." and then "How can you help us, specifically, with these job details?" type of interview.
2) Behavioral. The "You've read the job description, we've read your resume, HR talked to you at the pre-screen interview, you're clearly qualified to perform the tasks the job requires. And so are several hundred other people who applied for the job. We're here today to talk about you. We're a cohesive team, here, and personality fit is as important as the skill set. So tell us about yourself." type of interview.
3) WTF. The "We don't have a clue what we want or who we're looking for, but someone vacated a position and if we don't hire someone soon they'll take away the money allocated for that salary and once they do that it's impossible to get money reassigned for a new position so we just want a warm, breathing body at desk." type of interview.
There are other types (some really weird types), but generally my interview experiences fall into those three types.
Type 1 and Type 3 are "easy." Type 1 interviews require answers and dialog specific to the details and tasks of the job. If you know your profession, if you're experienced at the tasks presented in the job description, you then provide examples from your previous career experience that illustrates your knowledge and experience pertinent to what they're looking for in the job description. Type 3 interviews require a similar approach. They're not sure what or who they want, so you give 'em all you got with a positive personality spin and hope when they throw a dart at a wall of resumés they hit yours.
It's Type 2 that unnerves me the most. I know my "stuff." I have loads of relevant experience. My career has been my life for, well, most of my life. But. I also know that personality and symbiosis with the existing team are just as crucial, perhaps more crucial, when looking for a new team member. Particularly where there is the existing team has a very integrated synergy. You can suss out a few hints as to what sort of personality they want, but it's impossible to really know. I feel strongly that it's important to just be as "you" as possible under the circumstances and hope "you" are the type of personality that will fit in with the existing team. If "you" is "right" then it's not the right job for you. That's a well-worn platitude, but, it is true. These are the interviews where you're presented hypothetical situations (that are clearly drawn from real-life experiences of the interviewer) and you're asked "What would you do?" Sometimes it's just a very straightforward, "Tell me about yourself" inquiry. (No matter who says that, I always hear it in a cartoonish Austrian psychologist accent.) And the seemingly off the wall questions are asked. "If you were an animal, what would you be?" "What's your favorite color/book/vacation spot?" "What superhero power would you want to possess?" I have been asked that last question so many times that I'm starting to suspect The League of Justice actually exists and they're recruiting under the stealth cloak of innocuous job interviews.
I've had a lot of Type 2 interviews. I've been asked a lot of seemingly off-the-wall questions. Sometimes I feel like I've heard it all. But I know that's not true. I know that's not true because inevitably I'll go to the next interview and be asked some entirely new and weirder question. A few weeks ago I was asked to detail my feelings about the Revolutionary War. Not the causes (I've been asked that in other interviews). Not the tactical successes and failures. Not the leadership examples that are inspiring (or not). Nope, my feelings about the Revolutionary War. Erm, well, I presume you mean the American Revolutionary War. Just to clarify. Because I have different feelings about the French Revolution than I do about the American Revolution. And don't get me started on the Russian Revolution. But yeah, American Revolution...taxation without representation is negative thing, you know, not really good for anyone except the benefactor of the taxes. And, well, George III has never been my favorite monarch, and George Washington is my favorite president, so, you know, I feel pretty strongly about that. And, war, in general, makes me feel really sad and frustrated because of all the killing and devastated lives. And I feel you can't really talk about the Revolution without talking about the War of 1812 and Canada and Native Americans...it's a real hornet's nest that's often written off as an epilog or sidebar or even a footnote, but, you know, it's kind of a big deal in terms of territories, especially the Great Lakes (motioning toward Lake Michigan conveniently located in view of the window of the interview conference room). Right. So, yeah, that's a little of what I feel about the Revolutionary War. I did not mention my strong feelings about people to spend their free time re-enacting Revolutionary War battles. I did not mention that none of my ancestors even stepped foot on American soil until after WWI and that certain members of my family feel the War of 1812 hasn't really been resolved. Doesn't matter. I didn't get that job. Apparently I don't have the right feelings about the Revolutionary War. Or didn't articulate them well enough. Had I known I would be asked to give a dissertation on my feelings about a very complex war fraught with many issues, battles, leadership successes and failures and government policies I would have prepped a better summation of my feelings about all of that. But, stepping back for a minute, what do my feelings (or even knowledge) about the Revolutionary War have to do with my ability to serve as a creative marketing manager? I mean sure, parallels can be drawn, but I really do not like to think of my career, my job, my office or my co-worker and clients in terms of war, or how they relate to war. I'm pretty sure I dodged a bullet (perhaps literally) by not getting a job offer from them, but, on the other hand, I'm still unemployed and beyond desperation, so, getting hit by a couple painful job-related bullets wouldn't exactly be a bad thing.
Recently I had a lengthy interview that started out as a functional interview. Lots of questions about my previous experiences and my skills. But then the VP appeared and the real fun started. Lots of open-ended questions that were clearly geared toward finding the right personality for their team.
There's one I've been asked in the past, and it haunts me on deep levels.
"If all barriers were removed: Money, skills, logistics, etc., what would you do now and with your life in general?"
Yeah. That's a loaded question.
There's another version of this question that I've been asked several times, as well. "What was your vision/dream of your future when you were seven years old?"
For me, those questions are the same and one answers the other.
If all barriers were removed I would be living the life I envisioned when I was seven.
I would be a rock guitarist traveling around the world giving money to people who need it, saving/rescuing animals, creating all kinds of art, going to concerts and giving poor oppressed people money and escape routes to out from under evil dictators and I'd make an evil dictator island where all the evil dictators would live and be evil to each other (problem solved). I would also have a submarine that looks like a whale in which I would take long underwater trips traveling with whale pods. And I'd get NASA training and tag along on intergalactic missions and collect intergalactic geological samples. And I'd take lots of photographs.
I'm always careful to include those last parts and the evil dictator island part because without them I'm basically dreaming of being John Lennon. And that's just too weird and difficult for me to process. (So instead I basically dream of being Richard Branson. Hey, I never said I was sane. You're the one still reading this.)
Fortunately (apart from the evil dictator island and intergalactic geology trips) my seven-year-old me dreams and my no barriers ideas aren't, you know, too weird.
So when I'm asked these questions at job interviews my confident answer is, "Effectively I'd do the same thing - creating, managing marketing projects. But I'd reach farther, with a broader scope, and for philanthropic causes rather than capitalistic goals." Not too bad, right? I mean, a little on the Pollyanna side but not too smarmy and shows dedication to the profession. Right?
It's not like I'm saying, "Oh, I'd still want to do this job!" or "I'd be a Formula One race driver!" or "I'd feed and educate orphans in the Third World. And then eradicate AIDS, cancer and restless leg syndrome." All things I'd do if there were absolutely no barriers. Because if there were no barriers whatsoever nothing would stop me from knowing everything and if I knew everything I could unlock every riddle and solve every problem including eradicating deadly diseases and banishing evil dictators to an evil dictator island.
It's a dumb question on a lot of levels which is why I find those questions asked at interviews so tedious. People either lie (ridiculously) or just stumble through an answer they think hits a sane middle ground between what they hope shows sane/responsible/ambitious/kind and a beauty pageant speech. There have been a few instances where I had to fight every fiber of my being to not reply to this question with, "I'd buy this company and force you to sit where I am now and answer that question with the knowledge that your employment and future hinges on the answer to that ridiculously irrelevant question."
You hear about unemployed people who've given up their job search. I hear other people, employed people, say, "How? How can they just give up on finding a job? Why would they stop trying?" I have an answer. Because when they go on interviews instead of useful dialog about the job, their experience and skills, they're asked stupid beauty pageant questions like, "If there were no barriers, money, training, skills, etc., what would you do?"
The thing is, though, every time I'm asked those questions my mind gets kind of stuck in that zone and it's difficult to recover. The rest of the day I'm lost in my head fantasizing about being a rock-and-roll philanthropist with a whale-shaped submarine. And then I take one of two mindpaths. I fantasize about somehow suddenly, magically, having limitless funds and what I'd do - as in map out a "practical" plan starting from the minute the money is bestowed upon me. Or, I think about what I "should" learn from my thoughts to the "if the were no barriers/what were your plans when you were seven" questions.
From there it's just short trip down Oh-Crap-What-Have-I-Done-to-My-Life Lane. Just turn left on How-Did-I-Let-This-Happen Street, go two blocks and turn right on How-Can-I-Salvage-The-Sordid-Remains-of-My-Life Avenue, then veer left onto the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. You can't miss it, just follow the signs to the Seething Pit of Despair.
I dunno. Right now I just want a full-time job with a steady paycheck. Yeah, I'm dreaming big these days. The rock guitar wielding artist/philanthropist career and the whale-shaped submarine and intergalactic rock hunting can wait.
Yes, a wandering guitar-wielding artist philanthropist with a soft heart for animals and human rights who likes to spend prolonged periods of time underwater and in confined spaces sounds like a great life, perfect for me. But now is not the right time.
I know, I know, if not now, when? Well. I do have barriers and I'm not seven-years-old.
I know, that whale-shaped submarine sounds like a really great idea and I could live on it which would solve my housing, erm, "situation," but I'm pretty sure submarines, especially whale-shaped submarines, are kind of expensive. And I haven't seen any job postings reading, "Submariner wanted. No experience necessary, training provided. Willingness to travel in whale pods required."
And yes, I think I'd be a pretty darned good philanthropist. But I don't have philanthropist funds. And I haven't seen any job postings reading, "Philanthropist adviser wanted. Compassion and ability to suss out worthy causes required."
See what I mean? Those stupid "Tell me about yourself" interview questions really get under my skin. Too deeply under my skin. I know this. But two years of unemployment messes with your head in ways you cannot imagine. (Unless you've been unemployed two years, in which case you know what I mean.) Which takes me straight back to, "I must really suck at interviews because two years and several interviews later, I'm still unemployed." Which makes me replay and replay and replay again all the questions I've been asked at interviews and how I responded to them. What am I doing wrong, what do I need to change...all that. Then stir in the "what's holding you back from pursuing what you really want out of life" can of worms and...ugh.
I wonder if employers realize the emotional toll their stupid, irrelevant questions take on job candidates. Because unless they're offering unlimited funds, time, training and access, the "what would you do if you had no barriers" question is utterly irrelevant and only serves to make candidates spiral into existential funks.
Labels: job interviews, Unemployment