3.13.2006

RANT: Caught on the 'five year' question

I've never been a big fan of job interviews, Comedy Writer Jay Pinkerton blogged. I know some people who actually thrive on them, booking interviews for jobs they don't even want to "stay sharp." Their actions are meant to inspire me, I assume, and in a way they do--by knowing them, I've learned how grating overachievers can be. It exhausts me just watching them. I've always treated interviews as a necessary evil -- a brief period of time where I sit in front of someone and try to get him to believe outlandish, bald-faced lies.
  • "What are your goals?" Not working at a desk job for the rest of my life in a floundering economy'd be super, but what are you going to do?
  • "What do you see as your biggest weakness?" I'm passive-aggressive and commitment-phobic. And sometimes I steal office supplies.
  • "What excited you most about this opportunity?" That you called me and seemed interested in paying me sums of money.

While these answers can be helpful in an introspective sense, I doubt they're the answers my potential employers are looking for, and so I usually try to shovel up as much sunshine-flavored rainbow dribble that I can think of. "What excited you most about this opportunity," thus, I could easily turn into a ten minute blowjob. Gosh, what didn't excite me? The chance for advancement! The opportunity to expand my skills in a nurturing and fast-paced environment! The color of the doorknobs! Your tie, sir! This evidently gets the job done, as the interviewers usually happily scratch something on a pad and proceed to the next question... Interviews are a lot like video games, basically, with the big boss monster at the end of every level that, if you beat, means you move up a level to do battle with the next boss monster. I'd moved up to the second boss monster in the interviews I'd been going to. The first one had gone pretty well. The second one was a bit more of a disaster.

I don't know if I was just off my game or rusty at interviews or what, but I couldn't seem to buy a break. When I was serious it turned out he was being facetious. If I tried a joke he misconstrued what I meant. The worst was the inevitable "Where do you see yourself at this company in five years?" ...Usually by the time the "five years" question comes up I know what the company's about, what the interviewer's about, and what they wnat to hear -- so they hear it. This guy'd given me nothing. I immediately blanked trying to figure out how best to answer it. Seven seconds later, I'm still blanking. Seven seconds becomes ten. Becomes eleven. I realize with dawning horror that I've officially crossed the cut-off point of polite silence. I have to say something, or in two seconds it will officially become awkward and then he'll have to say something...

At the end of the interview, as I walked out the door, I debated whether or not to make a light joke about the "five years" question. An hour'd easily passed since then without any slip-ups. Should I roll the dice and hope we could have a quick laugh about it? Would it look weak, like I was apologizing? Would pretending it'd never happened be easier? Or would he appreciate the candor? Now that the interview was over, would we be able to share a knowing smile at my momentary brain-freeze? Was this even a safe bet, given that all previous attempts at levity had been misconstrued? Fuck it, I'd bring it up. It was already out there, so I wouldn't lose anything mentioning it -- and I might gain at least a thin sliver of casual chumminess with him, which to my mind had been the major downfall of the interview anyway. Getting any kind of human response from him would seem like a win.

"I always get caught on that 'five year' question," I say, giving a low mock-chuckle and shaking my head, as if this was some sort of interview beartrap that I stepped in daily. I'm hoping he'll give an entry point -- a quizzical look, maybe; or an "Oh? Why is that?" Then I can make a light joke about how it's a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't question -- sort of breaks the fourth wall of the interview a little, so we can at least share a moment or two as human beings before the elevator arrives. "Well, it's always important to have goals," he responds. Damn. We shake hands and I leave. Shut down. In a fairly humiliating way too. Somehow we'd managed to leave it under the assumption that I'd floundered on the question because I evidently possess no goals. Hmm. I guess that works too.

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want

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