Many years ago when I was working inside a Fortune 100 company (that shall remain nameless, but it’s a major grocery retailer that starts with ‘S’), I was applying internally for a job for which I thought I was well suited. One of the well-intentioned, but tragically naïve HR people advised me to “be myself, and be honest and truthful” in the interview.
“Being yourself” at a job interview is about as smart as making toast in the bathtub, and could produce similar results. Being honest is always a good rule, but you need to tailor the truth to your situation. In a job interview, they don’t want to hear your honest responses – they want to hear the responses they have pre-written.
With the benefit of a couple of decades of hindsight, and having now sat on the opposite side of the interview table, I offer a deconstruction of that interview many years ago:
Question: “Are you willing to relocate?”
My Answer: “Right now, I’m ready, willing, and able to relocate anywhere. At some point, if I have a spouse’s career, or children to consider, then I’ll have to consider all the factors at that time to make the decision.”
The Required Answer: “I’ll move any time, any place, for any reason, and will do so on one day’s notice.”
Question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
My Answer: “I’d like to be a Facility Manager who is active and involved in his community, and making a positive contribution to society.”
The Required Answer: “I’ll be working morning, day and night in order to scramble my way up the corporate food chain, and any other considerations are secondary. I’ll be an empty hollow shell of a man because I will not have taken a day off in the past five years.”
Question: “What do you think your weaknesses are?”
My Answer: “I sometimes have difficulty towing the line when given certain direction. For example, our parent company sent us directive X last month that is a clear violation of the local labor code, so I could not legally implement it.”
The Required Answer: “I work too hard” or “I’m impatient for results” or any other lie I could have trot out to confirm that I was as dysfunctional as the organization.
Question: “Tell us about a time when you became angry at work.”
My Answer: “My nature is not really that of someone who becomes angry. Sometimes a bit frustrated maybe, but there are so many important issues in the world that are worthy of my anger, that I find it hard to get angry about things that happen in the workplace.”
The Required Answer: “I become inconsolably irate when I see employees not pulling their weight. We pay them a good wage, and they need to earn it.”
I honestly thought these were the responses that were going to separate me from the herd. Nobody has botched an interaction this badly since the Lee Harvey Oswald prison transfer. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.