Interviews have been a part of my life since the beginning of high school. I have interviewed for just about everything you can imagine: stock person, roofer, temp, graduate school, fellowships, and, most recently, internships. And every time I begin a new process of interviewing I am met with a small army of well-meaning and wishing friends, colleagues, parents, and mentors with advice (sometimes asked for, other times…errr…volunteered let’s say) on how best to present myself in the interview. However, what is not often talked about are the ways in which the interview process is reciprocal.
That is to say, when you are in an interview, you are being given the opportunity to evaluate the position, the workplace environment, and your potential colleagues just as much as they are evaluating you. Though I have interviewed many times and for many different types of positions, it wasn’t until I began interviewing for an internship that I started thinking of interviews in this way. I had several informative, interesting, and–dare I say–enjoyable interviews over a period of a few weeks. During one day-long group interview, one of the interviewers said several times, “You are interviewing us as well.” It might be an exaggeration to say my mind was blown, but it was certainly re-calibrated. Prior to this, I was usually so conscious of how I presented myself in interviews that I missed the opportunity to really take in what was being communicated about what it would be like to work in that environment alongside the people who were interviewing me.
When I began to think of interviewing as a reciprocal exchange I found myself being more aware of my environment, more engaged with the people around me (not just interviewers but fellow interviewees), and asking better and more thoughtful questions. Prior to this shift in thinking, I chose the questions I asked as an interviewee more on the basis of how they would make me appear than what I needed or wanted to know. Beyond asking questions that were more specific and pertinent to my needs and wants, I also became more aware of what was being communicated in less direct ways. I spent more time observing interactions between colleagues, how comfortable they were with each other, how familiar or formal, and how the power and interpersonal dynamics operate and are expressed. In the past, I utilized my intuition to pursue or decline a position (like that time I interviewed for one of those “College Students Wanted for Summer employment, make up to $15/hour” jobs and the interview communicated that it was a pyramid scheme). However, taking a stance of reciprocity in the interview process has allowed me to be far more intentional and, as an extra bonus, much less self-conscious and much more self-assured!