Interviewing for Life: the value of your network

For most people, the interview is a dreaded step in the arduous process of landing a job. It can bring with it a bevy of feelings including (but not limited to): anxiety, excitement, uncertainty, and fear.  Even the most skilled interviewer’s confidence can waiver at the notion of having to wait to see if they’ve secured a position.

What many people fail to realize, however, is interviewing is not just a skill to be polished up every time they get a call from a recruiter, it’s a life skill, and one that should be continually practiced and improved upon.

Whether you realize it or not, you actually interview almost on a daily basis, with every person you interact with.  This is, in part, why the power and value of our networks has become so inherently important to us and is preached about consistently to job seekers.

If you look up the definition of the word interview, Dictionary.com describes it as “a formal meeting in which one or more persons question, consult, or evaluate another person,” while Merriam-Webster states an interview as “a formal consultation usually to evaluate qualifications.”  Take out the word ‘formal’ in either definition and the majority of interactions we have with others are, in effect, an interview, whether we are the interviewer or the interviewee.

We’ve been interviewing and practicing our interviewing skills for various roles in our lives since birth.  As children, we observed those around us and learned appropriate responses and actions to achieve the things we wanted.  If we wanted to go outside and play our parents may have asked us why they should let us, to which the response would be about how we finished our chores or homework, and sometimes we tried wrapping up our explanation with a compliment or good humor if it could earn us an extra half hour of playtime.

In school, we learned how to earn the respect of our teachers by studying and applying the appropriate responses in class (and for some, we learned what the bare minimum of effort was required to get by.)  We researched our interests and built up arsenals of knowledge to apply to any situation–how to ask out a girl, how to work hard to make the baseball team, what it takes to be a dancer, who’s the best person to know to get an invite to a party or to help study for a test.  And to our peers we practiced different techniques to get people to like us, or how to stand out from others (or sometimes how to blend in or disappear)–we learned what felt honest and what was contrived, and over time we adapted our learning to use in various scenarios.

We’ve interviewed our future spouses to see if they qualify as a good mate, evaluated our co-workers to know their capabilities and their incompetence, observed children and passed judgment on their demeanor to make predictions about their futures, and interrogated the worker in the produce aisle relentlessly on the freshness of a head of lettuce, (only to base our decision to buy it on the quality of his response and appearance during the execution of his delivery, rather than inspecting the lettuce), all the time while also being on the receiving end of this same scrutiny.

The only real difference between these interactions and a job interview is usually a table between you and the interviewer or interviewee and that the stakes feel much higher.

But what if you changed your mindset and chose to interview every day with those around you?  No, not a ‘formal’ interview, but what if you practiced the same skills you applied in the job interview to your day to day interactions and tried to put your best foot forward?

What if you went to work each day reminding yourself to feel confident in your abilities?  What if, with every person you met, you chose to share something of value and learn something of value in return?

Imagine introducing yourself to your neighbor and letting them know how you can help them if they’re ever in need or having a drink in a bar and inquiring of the patron next to you what they’re passionate about or taking the time to learn something new about a friend you’ve had for years by probing further when they make an offhand comment about something you’ve never discussed before.

I can tell you what many great networkers already know, the quality of your interactions will directly affect your success rates in many areas of your life and opportunities will start to unfold in front of you over time.  Imagine never having to ‘hunt’ for a job again because jobs are being offered to you or going into an interview with a bevy of referrals who have already recommended you for a position.

Many of us take for granted our day to day interactions with others and never build upon the power or value of the network we have actually built for ourselves.  We disregard that chance meeting or distant connection because we’re only looking at the instant gratification of the here and now–not thinking of the future or bigger picture.

And, we are oblivious to the wealth of knowledge and connections that surround us all the time because we’ve only been looking at the world around us at face value.   It’s only during an interview that we take the time to dig deeper and take a longer look at ourselves, the company, and the person across the table.

The time to focus on our network isn’t just when we’re looking for a job or support, it’s an everyday effort, and it’s about more than what we can get out of it, it’s also about what we give in exchange.  It’s time to start treating more aspects of our life like a job interview. And it’s time to think of interviewing for the long term and making it a skill for life.

Sources:

interview. In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved April 18, 2012, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/interviewing

interview. Dictionary.com. Retrieved April 18, 2012, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/interviewing

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