I walked into OCR suite A08 and sat down on the other side of a wooden table in from two white men in suits. They have my resume in front of them. They ask me about my experiences. They ask me about the company. I answer promptly because I did my research. I read their balance sheets and cash flow statements. I read the entire consumer retail section of The Wall Street Journal for the past three months. From the research I have done before my interview, I can craft a well-constructed hypothesis to any industry-related question.
I can’t, however, train myself to be liked by my interviewers.
Before every interview, I pull up a google doc filled with every behavioral question I could find online along with a detailed transcript of how I would tie into each answer with each position. It’s something that I can do to compensate for my disastrous first impressions. I can write down answers for every single behavioral interview question found in Case in Point. I have. I can record and rehearse articulating those points into my uncovered laptop webcam. I discovered that I speak weirdly. I arch my eyebrows and emphasize parts of words that should not be emphasized. I move my head too often. I speak too quickly. I don’t smile when I talk.
Those are the aspects I can notice by myself. Other aspects I have to be told by others. I’ve been told that I seem unengaged to my interviewers. I’ve been told that I tend to focus on the negative aspects of my life. I’ve been told that I don’t really engage with the question I am being asked. I thank my interviewers for their time and feedback. To each of those points, I learn. Inputs. Reconfigure. Outputs. Each point of feedback comes with a conscious decision to modify the existing model that creates a less biased and less varianced output. And slowly, I can create an image of myself based on scattered comments by my interviewers.
Because, to me, the answer to behavioral questions does not lay within. The solution to “What’s your biggest weakness?” or “Tell me about one time you demonstrated leadership” does not come from my instinctual response. It’s crafted, calculated, with a sprinkle of the most enthusiastic retelling of past experiences I could muster. It’s fake. There’s nothing real about an hour’s worth of interviewing presence; I would much rather let the assessment run for months at a time. Because 60 minutes worth of questions asking me to recite a series of artificial, pre-constructed answers to questions not indicative of my personality is not a good assessment of qualification.
I have never liked behavioral interviews. I do not thrive when I am required to showcase my personality in a short amount of time. I am not someone who creates good first impressions. I do, however, know individuals who enjoy behavioral interviews. Because they are good at them. Because they enjoy talking about themselves. Because they could rely on the natural likeability of their personalities for their entire lives. And those individuals who have never had to question what their personalities would lead them to say or do — despite all my efforts to understand others, I cannot find myself able to sympathize with those people.
I am speaking, of course, in categoricals. In actuality, performance in behavioral interviews takes on the form of a spectrum. Performance in life takes on the form of a spectrum. Because while non-structural difficulties in life could be addressed through tangible means, the foundation of a personality cannot be changed through external means. As an individual who will never have a naturally likable personality in my life, all I can do is modify existing perceptions with new data points — all I can do is create simulations of those who do have naturally likable personalities.
When asked how my interviews are going, I simply reply, “It was behavioral.” Because, to me, that’s enough. My personality does the talking for me. Every aspect that does not come across as likable on a first impression. My nervous ticks. My unenthused voice. Aspects that crucially contribute to the identity I have created among my friends and family — in the setting of an interview — could only hurt me. I wish I could just be myself. I really do. I wish I could allow myself to recite stories on instinct as opposed from a memorized set of paragraphs from google docs.
But alas, I wish.