I’ve hired dozens of analysts and engineers in my career, and have always enjoyed the interview process to get to know prospective team members. And I have been interviewed plenty of times myself, so I’m familiar with the pressure we’re under to be hyper-focused on interviewers’ questions and comments, what is said, what is not said, and body language. Being interviewed is a welcome challenge and an exhilarating experience – although terrifying at times.
I have realized that, when being interviewed, my hyper-focus may not be revealing the real me. So when I interview candidates, I have a favorite question that I like to ask near the end of the interview. For instance, if the candidate’s name is Charles, I would ask,
“Charles, in this meeting, we’ve seen a lot of what I like to call ‘interview Charles,’ who is highly focused on the conversation and exerting a lot of mental energy to be sure the conversation goes well. What I’d like to know is this: how is everyday Charles different from interview Charles?”
Over the years, I’ve seen a wide range of responses. This question has stumped a few candidates, meaning they may lack self-awareness. Or, they might feel like I’m trying to pierce a sacred veil, to go beyond the persona on display to the real person beneath. But this is precisely the point: interviewees are often nervous, and nervousness shows itself in various ways: they talk too much, too little, or they guard what they may feel are personality flaws so that I see only the highly professional, analytical thinker.
In an interview, we strive to show only our best side. As a result, we verbally redact a great deal about our personality – the human side of us. But that human side is exactly who we want to find and know. After all, there is a real prospect of working with this person every day for perhaps many years. We want to be sure we know who we are hiring and whether we will like working with them.