No matter how much preparation and research a candidate may do before an interview, or how much interaction they might have with a company prior to meeting with them, there is still a sense of venturing into the unknown during the interview process, a sense of wonder regarding the possibilities, and a need to separate the reality of the experience from the illusions.
I read a statement someone made on twitter recently regarding the interview process, “You are both pretending to be something you are not. When the ink is dry, you become who you are.” Often in interviews, for both candidates and companies, we are not seeing the whole picture but the illusion each side is presenting. And this can have both positive and negative effects.
Sometimes these illusions can feel magical. They give us a warm feeling about the other party, a sense of comfort and excitement. Other times, these illusions can feel like deception when the hard truths may set in upon accepting an offer. It can be difficult to separate the truth from fiction.
While not all interview processes are glamorous (and some are downright tedious) they can retain a sense of magic and theatre. The candidate may be wooed by meetings with high level officials of the company, sometimes wined and dined, or introduced to others in the company who give praise and share exciting ideas and stories.
In fact, I’ve know hiring managers who’ve gone out of their way to hide negative parts of a company, like a not so ideal office space or high maintenance direct reports, by never actually inviting candidates into the company space.
I’ve also seen candidates whisked from interview, to meeting, to meals, and events, so quickly, they barely have time to think for themselves for a moment and leave so exhausted and overwhelmed by the generosity of the interview they can’t even remember what happened through the course of the day.
The same goes for candidates who are trying to put their best foot forward by providing all the highlights of their career to date, sometimes with slight embellishments and promises of grandeur on their part should they get the job.
But like magic, every story shared in the interview is a trick meant to delight and intrigue. And, in general, we enjoy these deceptions and suspend our disbelief to imagine the possibilities of what is being presented to us. The pattern matching parts of our brains start to connect the dots and make assumptions about what it’s like to work in a particular environment or with a particular person.
These assumptions may feel perfectly reasonable to us at the time, but are they really representative of the opportunity in front of us? Or do we sometimes let ourselves get carried away and view everything with rose-colored glasses?
While often these illusions can have a negative impact when the reality sets in after a new employee starts and the picture on both sides becomes clearer, this sense of wonder can be beneficial to both the applicant and the organization.
It can allow us to connect the events of the interview process with our emotions, and transform new ideas into a sequence that helps us to uniquely understand the opportunity in front of us.
Just like in magic and in books, the best stories have a happy ending. Sometimes we have to have faith in the fiction that is presented in hopes that the opportunity ahead can lead to the great prospects we imagine. And sometimes it is that fiction that drives each side to make the opportunity work and it can become a reality.
The important thing is to find that delicate balance in the interview, the way to present each side in an honest and truthful way that still merits all the excitement that could lie ahead if you both decide there is a fit.
While it all sounds wonderful, the truth is, most interviews in the course of your career (regardless of the side of the table you’re on) will never feel quite enchanting or whisk your mind away in wonder.
But those few that do, the ones where the illusion and reality begin to meld together and captivate us, it’s those experiences that are truly magical and carry us away in their charm and remind us that we can create a better experience both in the process and each day.
It’s those tiny exquisite moments during the interview process that remind us of why we get up each morning. And why it’s so important to find exactly the right fit for each role, to make the magic happen in our companies and move the possibilities and illusions of our work closer each day to the visions we create in our minds that carry us through.