It’s the familiar opening gambit in a job interview. It aims at being an ice-breaker and to enable the interviewer and interviewee to settle into a rhythm and take the task forward. It’s a well-known question so should not surprise anyone familiar with the interview process.
And yet the innocuous query led to a wide array of responses from the 10 young folks I interviewed today at a leading PG institute as part of an exercise to prepare them for the upcoming Campus placement season.
I was speaking to a reasonably smart set of PG students who shouldn’t have faced much difficulties with the interview process. Each of them had success stories to narrate in various measures – at the base all of them had completed graduation, performed reasonably well in a competitive entrance exam and cleared the mandated Group Discussion (GD) and Personal Interview (PI) requirements to join the institute. They had then completed a year at college and topped it with a suitable summer assignment – again being selected through a process of GD and PI.
But the ice-breaker provided an insight into their psyche – a few handled it briskly and with much elan. They answered the query with a 1 minute narration that included a brief family background, their education and work history and in some cases a ‘1 liner’ that described them. A reasonable approach – it wasn’t a long monologue, the interviewer tends to be interested in knowing the mentioned details as it provides an insight into the person in front of him.
What surprised me was a few odd responses – one candidate was plain nervous and just froze up. She tried to speak but was barely audible and not able to maintain the flow. She said a sentence or two in a fumbling manner and then lapsed into silence. I had to encourage her to feel comfortable and relaxed before things improved. She spent the next 20 minutes answering my questions competently and even seeking my advise on a couple of queries. We parted on a warm note and I was surprised to see the transformation.
It was not out of character for her CGPA put her in the top 10 % of her class and she had suitable work experience prior to joining the course and had a good summer assignment as well. She mentioned that the difficulty at the start of any interview was not new for her and she had struggled with it in the past as well. She had an interesting story to tell as well about how she joined the institute – she had visited to help her younger brother join the place. She loved it so much that she became interested in it herself and qualified to join it the next year. So here was the unique situation – when she was a fresher, her younger brother was her senior in the same college. I told her that she could make a small story around it and use it in the introduction. It will relax the tension and she would be able to take things forward once she sailed through the initial 2 minutes.
The next candidate was a sheer contrast – again she was nervous. But she tried to make up for it by just speaking fast and jumping topics. She started with her family, moved on to explain why she gave up her passion for Kathak, then spoke about her weaknesses and problem areas, then continued to talk about her summer job. It went on for 3-4 minutes and I just waited and gave her a patient hearing. The situation of someone talking unplugged is an interviewer’s paradise – he gets great insight into the person with no effort.
She finally blinked and waited for me to join the conversation. We got along well after that and I pointed out to her the need to keep the opening brief, factual and relevant. I hoped she would heed the advise as otherwise hers was an average profile in terms of academics and general performance – she was someone who could be a ‘core contributor’ but not an outright star performer. All the same she would land a job as the average talent too finds relevance in making up the numbers that are required by organizations where talent is scarce and expensive in the market.
The final candidate who stayed on my mind today was the best profile I met today. He had a 4 year work experience, was in the Top 5 % of his class, had done a relevant summer job and was a suave and confident communicator. He answered the technical and other queries competently. He followed it up with intelligent questions about positioning his profile. He had a good knowledge of current affairs and a flair for paraphrasing your response to ensure there was clarity and understanding on what we were communicating to each other.
Time just flew with him – I spent nearly an hour interacting with him, he succeeded in winning my confidence and I was comfortable to answer a few personal questions as well. That is how a charmer cracks the interview – it is a sincere effort but a polished attempt nonetheless and such people are able to ride high using a mix of their professional competence and good interpersonal skills. I had no doubt in my mind that he will do well in his interviews.
And so it was an interesting day – I met 10 young folks over the course of a day to understand their dreams and aspirations. A couple disappointed, few were average run of the mill cases, a couple interested me with their minor problems in managing their interviews while one of them was a candidate who seemed like a dream come true and won my heart and mind. Such interactions are very useful and make for an interesting engagement. They help you understand what drives and motivates today’s youth and how they will shape our industry in the years to come. Am excited to be invited for such workshops and will never hesitate to avail of similar opportunities in future as well.