The Pressure Cooker – Interviews

Other than public speaking, perhaps the most anxiety-filled experience of life is the process of taking a job interview. The anxiety starts building from the moment you have been notified of the date and time. It borders on torture, sometimes for a week or more.

It is often said that the best time to look for a job is when you have one, which makes sense. However, even without the pressure of having to find employment to pay the bills, the nervous factor is not eliminated. It is just human nature and likely for many of the same reasons most have a consuming fear of public speaking.

For some unexplainable, yet welcomed reason, I lost fear of both many years ago. It is something that I wish I could bottle and market, and perhaps if I had studied psychology, I could. I haven’t experienced one iota of heightened nerves from either for well over 20 years. I sure haven’t missed it. I have wondered about it, however.

The best I can come up with are two things—genetics and confidence. My father was a school teacher and story teller. He was naturally comfortable speaking in front of a group, whether students, athletes, or at a large meeting. I think I got the ice water in my veins from him. The second factor, confidence, comes from years of learning my profession.

I certainly don’t know everything, not even close, but I have been fortunate to gain extensive experience in many of the sub-disciplines of land surveying, so it would rare for a question to be asked that I could not confidently respond to. Although I have prepared for some interviews, especially in management, I have spent no time memorizing mission statements or policies. I have relied heavily on the portfolio I brought into the room in my head and it has served me well, fortunately.

When speaking in front of groups, regardless of the size, the confidence in my knowledge and ability to convey the material clearly, often with humor, keep me calm. I never read notes or slides. I use slides to prompt me to cover details, but those details come from my head, not notes. I feel like I am sitting around a camp with friends, rather than addressing a group of strangers. I am fortunate to be the exception, rather than the rule.

However, having been the hiring supervisor many, many times over the past 25 years or so, I have seen and heard some interesting things from interview candidates. On at least one occasion, I was sure we were on “Candid Camera” and scanned the room to check.

We were interviewing for junior members on survey crews. We asked something like, “when collecting topographic data, what features would you look for and why?” We had an older gentleman in the “hot seat” and upon hearing the question, he immediately stood up. He then proceeded to perform what I can best describe as a skit, playing both the instrument person and rod person, back and forth. He described where he was taking the shots and calling the descriptions back to the instrument, then he would jump to the instrument to “key in” the data collector. I looked at the other panel members, then scanned the room for cameras. He finished his skit and sat back down.

We completed the patterned questions and asked if he had anything else to add. Again, he jumped up and stepped away from his chair. He said “I may be older than the others, but I am in excellent condition.” He hoisted the chair over his head and set it back down. He did jumping jacks, then hit the floor and “gave us 10,” pushups that is. He sat back down, thanked us for the interview and we politely excused him. After he left the room, the HR representative on the panel said, “that isn’t the first time he has done that. My co-worker told me about a guy doing similar things recently and I am sure it was him.” Although he didn’t get the job, he got extra points for effort and creativity.

I have also seen very experienced professionals totally melt down under the pressure of the interview. Often these were people who I knew well, who over lunch could answer the questions without any effort at all. In those moments, I felt their anxiety and the urge to prompt them, but couldn’t.

Even going back to questions at the end to give them another shot didn’t help. I could see fear and defeat in their eyes as they walked out of the room. Their opportunity would have to wait until next time, at least. A few consulted with me afterwards, and it all came down to nerves or “stage fright,” not lack of preparation or knowledge.

I often refer to interviews as a two-way process, especially for licensed professionals. The “fit” is almost more important to a successful employment relationship than anything else. Unless one despises their current job, or doesn’t have one, using the interview process to attempt to evaluate your potential supervisor and employer should be part of the goal. Good pay and benefits can only go so far in offsetting a horrific work environment. Almost nothing is worse than dreading going to work every day.

I am almost certainly done with my days of taking interviews, but I have actually enjoyed them the past few times. They have provided an opportunity for me to share my knowledge and experience, speak openly and honestly, and ask questions that I needed answered before making a decision, if given the opportunity. Nary a nerve involved.

Just don’t show me that hypodermic needle for a blood draw. I need to be prone for that.

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