At the Airport…
There are four kinds of people that you may encounter at the airport when you have a delay: the uninterested, uninteresting, interested, and the interesting.
- The uninterested curl up with their book or close off conversation by turning on their iPod. They retreat into their world of solitude without saying a word.
- The uninteresting, on the other hand, do the opposite—they drone on endlessly about their lives without making any effort to engage with their conversation partner.
- The interested ask a lot of questions and are generally very engaging.
- And finally, the interesting people leave a lasting impression—they are the people that you remember months after your flight.
At the Interview…
Over the past couple of weeks, I have interviewed applicants for an organization that I run on campus, as well as for my college’s admissions office. I have also been the interviewee. Having the opportunity to be both an interviewer and an interviewee has taught me the importance of finding the balance between professionalism and allowing your human side to shine through. I have been asked what I like to do for fun, to name the most meaningful thing to me that wasn’t listed on or connected to my resume, and to explain how I thought my friends would describe me. In other words, if my colleagues had to spend hours at the airport with me, would I be someone that they would want to engage with?
Though this question might be arbitrary, you should not let it throw you off. More and more, if a firm relies on teams to travel often as part of their regular business, they rely on healthy group dynamics. Here, then, personality plays a large factor and the “airport test” may become one of the screening grounds that determine whether you are offered a position or not.
Here are three tips to consider as you begin thinking about how you want to describe your life outside of work:
1. Be candid, but not foolishly honest.
When a firm asks you what you like to do for fun, they probably don’t want to hear a detailed account of your Saturday night at a college dorm party. Still, they want to know whether you are someone they would want to engage with outside of work. Two guidelines I’ve found useful in addressing this type of question:
(1) do not be generic, and (2) be moderate. When picking what you want to discuss, make sure that you tell a story you think is interesting and differentiates you from other candidates, but that people can still relate to. In addition, always be moderate in your approach-it’s great to have a passion for something, but, depending on what it is, it’s good to project self-control and moderation.
2. Choose your words carefully.
When asked to explain how you think your friends would describe you, choose a new set of adjectives! For example, if you use words such as “ambitious,” “driven,” “hard-working” and “intelligent,” you are probably repeating adjectives that you have already demonstrated in another part of your interview.
Use words that emphasize the relationship you have with your friends instead, such as: “reliable,” “consistent,” “compassionate,” “caring” and “attentive to emotions.” You will send the message that you are describing yourself in a friendship and in relation to other people rather than just as an individual. Many jobs place a great deal of value on effective teamwork skills, so these adjectives may resonate more with your interviewer. Know your audience, know the demands of the job, and make sure you use the right words- ones that allude to your transferable skills and emphasize the strengths you would bring to the job or internship position.
3. Be aware of the fine line between confidence and presumption.
This is one of the toughest lines to find, especially given the nature of the interview. Practice moderating your tone and ask your friends for their candid opinions when you do practice interviews with them. Be direct and bold, but when you find yourself going off on tangents about how great your organization is (or how great you are), make sure you take a step back and talk about some challenges you’ve encountered along the way, or weaknesses that you are still working through.
It sends a message that you are (1) human, (2) self-aware, and (3) flexible enough to accept change within yourself. In other words, avoid saying things such as “I know myself completely” (which implies an end to a learning process that really takes place over the course of your entire life) and use more moderate and human responses, such as: “I am fairly confident in who I am and who I have become, but I am constantly learning every day and relish opportunities to find out more.” Both project confidence, but the first projects presumption.
Be the interesting and the interested
The most successful interviewees are interesting and interested. Similar to the airport scenario, they engage with other people without calling too much attention to themselves. At the same time, they have interesting and memorable stories to tell. Being able to convey who you are beyond your resume is an integral skill, and an important part of any interview process. Take the necessary steps to send the right message.