Category Archives: Job Search

The Information Problem & Interviews (Or, Maybe We Should Just Go Home)

The information problem is a concept taught in introductory economics (and perhaps in other guises in other disciplines). The information problem is the situation in which the parties involved in a transaction do not have equal information.

I have always framed job interviews as an attempted solution to the information problem. Interestingly, most guides to hacking an interview consist of tips on how to best the other party in the transaction – that is, most guides tell us exactly how to answer exactly which questions. If the idea of the interview is to find accurate information for both parties, then guides telling you to “never say you are a perfectionist” are actually just making the whole situation worse.

As a solution to the information problem, the job interview leaves much to be desired. It suffers from a number of serious problems – probably too many for me to list so I will focus on a few that strike me.

If the main goal of an interview is to get to the bottom of the interviewee’s disposition and qualifications and for the interviewee to figure out if they actually want the job, then asking your interviewee canned questions cannot be a particularly good method, can it? We say the interviewers want to learn more about a candidate, and yet they simply present one half of a semi-improvisational script and wait for the interviewee to provide the other half. There is little to induce a candidate to answer the question, “How do you deal with failure?” with anything other than a carefully planned answer based on all the expert advise one can muster, perhaps with a little personality thrown in to make it believable. Essentially, the canned questions (even the infamous Google, “How many ping pong balls can fit on a plane?”) test only one’s knowledge of “acceptable” responses.

The power dynamic in an interview has always seemed wrong to me. Perhaps that is because I am in a perpetual state of I-Have-To-Pay-My-Student-Loans. How can you expect to figure out a candidate when you force them to dress up in clothing that most people rarely wear, put them in a room with people who have virtually nothing on the line (while the candidate on the other hand likely has a fair amount on the line), and play at interrogating them? I am sure you have heard of stories where police garnered confessions from suspects after questionable interrogation techniques only to later discover indisputable evidence that the suspect was innocent. Popular knowledge has that it’s the suspect’s desire to rest or be left alone that results in them telling the police what they want to hear. I cannot help but be reminded of this. Interviews make the interviewee desperate to please – at what cost to the truth?

The power dynamic is related, though perhaps not the same as, one more issue I take with interviews. Do you remember the kids in high school that told you they didn’t do well on standardized test? Maybe they got test anxiety or the form of a standardized test boggled their brain, but you knew without a doubt they were intelligent, capable students? I think the same thing goes for interviews. Not everyone performs well or displays their attributes well at an interview, even if they are the perfect candidate for the job. Like over-weighting of test scores in a college admissions process will result in rejecting many students with tremendous potential, so does over-use and over-emphasis of the job interview result in rejecting potentially great job candidates.

At last we come to my favorite – the “networking” problem. I have had my fair share of interviews in my rather short life. I have rarely seen a candidate get the job who didn’t already have a connection with the hiring managers or interviewers. From networking with alumni to networking with past co-workers and so on, we are unduly impressed by interviewees knowing people we know. Worse, those interviewees have ridiculous advantages – Ms. Doe will be impressed if you mention having read this book or Mr. Xue will be impressed if you mention that you love Malcolm Gladwell. People call this “research,” but I think that is unfair to the word research as it seems to imply anyone can find out that information. Frankly, the fact that we give jobs to people because they know people we like is disheartening at best.

You can tell me it’s all about “fit” if you’d like, but as far as I can tell the job interview is simply a return to the popularity contest that new college students think they are leaving behind in high school. The difference seems to be the level of ease – try to become more popular in high school and one might stand a chance, try to get a foot in the white collar door with a network of blue collar acquaintances and perhaps one should just go home.

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Another Random Post

I’ve decided what I want to do for a living. I want to write posts like these for Groupon. Pretty pleeeeassseee?

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Introverted or Shy?

I was reading “An Introvert’s Guide to Networking” and the comments that followed, and something bothered me about the comments. A lot of the people that commented seem to equate “introvert” with “shy.” They are not the same thing (wikipedia even agrees with me).

As an introvert, I prefer solitary activities. I am not a particularly social person, although I do enjoy being around close friends (just not all the time). Even when it comes to my friends and family I need time alone to recharge. I like being alone, and I like thinking deeply without interruptions. A lot of these characteristics fit the definition of introvert, and yet I am not at all shy.

Depending on which site or dictionary* you look at, shy is defined as something along the lines of this:

1. Easily startled; timid. 2. a. Drawing back from contact or familiarity with others; retiring or reserved.

I do not fear or draw back from interaction with others. I am not easily startled, and I don’t think anyone that actually knows me would ever say I’m timid. Reserved at times, I suppose.

Anyway, it bothered me that people didn’t know the difference between “shy” and “introverted.” At a networking event, a shy person would be afraid to introduce themselves or talk to anyone. An introvert would simply prefer a more intimate event or a smaller group, but they may still easily introduce themselves or start a conversation. You might, of course, be both introverted and shy – in which case I wish you the best of luck, but I definitely do not envy you.

* Originally I didn’t even include “dictionary” here: sign of the times?

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Notes on my Job Search: Phone Interviews

The phone interview – it’s like someone took a big vat, filled it up with everything that sucks about interviews and job searches, added some of the worst aspects of phone conversations, then poured it into a mold titled, “Phone Screening.”

What does a phone interview tell you?

Well, people claim it’s an easy way to vet candidates before bringing them in for a face-to-face interview.

The telephone. It’s the bridge between conversations in person and conversations via text (whether that text is an e-mail, letter, text message, etc.). There’s the benefit of immediate response time and audible cues, but phone conversations are still very lacking. You cannot, for example, see body language or facial expression. You may be able to hear your sister smiling, but the likelihood that you can pick that up when speaking with a stranger isn’t particularly high.

What I’m saying is that a phone interview is like a regular interview with all visual cues removed and decreased emotional awareness for both parties.

Add to that:

  1. the level of nerves many people feel during initial job interviews
  2. fear of long pauses in conversation, especially over the phone – dead air is not fun
  3. too many outside stimuli – many people don’t have private offices or even a good room to go into for a job interview
  4. lack of personal impression – there’s no opportunity for small talk or a memorable handshake
  5. inability to show how prepared you are with printed copies of resumes or references
  6. unexpected questions for which you are both unprepared and unable to read the visual cues of the interviewer
  7. additional anxiety that a phone will die or a call won’t go through or that the procedure isn’t perfectly clear (who will actually dial the phone?)
  8. Inability to ask for a business card – this can make it awkward to get contact info

What else do you think sucks about phone interviews? I know I make a much better impression in person than over the phone. Thoughts?

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