08 July 2011

Who-do-I-want-them-to-think-I-am-Friday?

"Hello, this is Cruella!"

"Hi, you're speaking with Cruella."

"This is Cruella - what can I help you with?"

I was rehearsing how to answer the phone the other day. I had also printed out and read a pile of documents, made sure I had a working pen (and an extra one should it suddenly stop working anyway), a glass of water, and a notepad - just in case. I had called friends, coworkers, contacts - everyone and anyone I thought might be useful for me in preparing for a situation many dread: a job interview.

I haven't had many interviews. Most of my jobs I got on a "knowing someone who knows someone"-basis. My current job had an interview - via the phone, since the distance was somewhat far from Oslo to Tokyo for an actual face-to-face meeting. The one I had the other day was also over the phone - for the very same reason. Only now it was the distance Tokyo-Oslo that complicated the process.

The point of a job interview is fairly simple: the employer wants to find out whether you are the right person for the job. Depending on the job, this usually means assessing your qualifications and skills, but also you as a person. Will you fit into the workplace? Will the rest of the team like working with you?

Thus it is important not to take the frequently first asked question - "Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?" - too lightly. I had a coworker test my reaction to this question before the interview, and after giggling, "uhm"-ing and answering plain rubbish, I finally managed to pull together a semi-coherent string of words that explained exactly what he had asked, "a little bit".

I wasn't entirely prepared, though, when during the actual interview my potential employer wanted me to elaborate . He didn't accept my attempt to jump fairly quickly from "me"-mode to "work"-mode, he wanted to hear me explain more about my background (and possibly he also wanted to test my reaction to being forced to go off manuscript on a question every interviewee surely has memorized their lines for.

I think I pulled it off - in fact - I have it on good authority that I made a good impression (not to suggest that this means I got the job - don't know that yet, actually). But it struck me that it was an interesting study in my own wishes and hopes for the kind of person I'd like others to think I am. (I am not saying that this isn't also the person I *am* am. But there are certain sides you are more keen on promoting than others, right?)

When they asked me what I like to do in my spare time, for instance, I found myself deliberately avoiding one thing that might actually have been a benefit rather than a disadvantage. I didn't tell them that I like to write. Writing is actually one of the main skills required for the job. Of course I can refer to my writing in a professional capacity, through both studies and my current job, and that is more relevant anyway. But adding that extra touch - that I am passionate about the written word - might have put me even higher in the qualification pile (and I need all the help I can get there, since they originally wanted someone with background in finance/economics).

Still, I wasn't willing to do it. Partly because I also see problems with this "passion" - the written word can be dangerous, and a blog, for instance, can be an excellent channel for spreading things that have no business being spread. I wouldn't want them to even consider the possibility that I might take the advantage of that.

More importantly, however, my writing is highly personal. I hope to one day have something to share with the world, but until then, the fact that I like to write is exclusive information to only a handful of people (and, you know, anyone with an internet connection who could then be reading this...).

For the rest of them, however, I prefer to have some control over who they think I am.

3 comments:

Dunx said...

Great point about keeping the writing on the quiet there.

For myself, I have "NaNoWriMo participant" on my CV and it has been great as a conversation starter in interviews, if only because it allows me to talk truly passionately about something. I mean, I am passionate about software too (it is my only paid writing gig...) but talking about the novel is much more exciting and, well, novel.

I am sure this was a factor in my getting the last job but one, actually.

But I certainly see that very personal writing would require being more circumspect.

Naina Gupta said...

This sounds like me. I got a couple of jobs because I knew someone. In interviews I can be quite scripted, and wouldn't tell people that my interests involve writing. I think they all want someone more outgoing and active.

Cold As Heaven said...

I don't tell anyone that I enjoy writing. I'm kind of worried that some one will ask to read some of the stuff i write >:)

Cold As Heaven