Perfect and imperfect interviews

The movies give this impression of what is a “perfect” job interview. This usually happens during the stage of the movie when the protagonist has started turning things around, things are looking up for him/her. The “perfect” job interview barely lasts minutes, and the protagonist returns with the offer letter. As good as it can get. Unfortunately, this reversal of fortunes for the protagonist (who has hitherto been jobless, and desperate) happens only towards the end of the movie. And we don’t really get a chance to know how his job went.

I had one such “perfect” interview once. To be fair, I had sent my CV in advance and had done a couple of telephonic rounds (which were primarily about my would-be bosses telling me about what the company did, without them asking me too many questions) before I was called in for the interview. I remember going in around 10 am or so, first meeting the HR person in charge of recruitment and then the India head. No questions asked. I then met my would-be immediate boss. Again, few questions asked. Most time spent explaining what the role would be about. By lunch time I had an offer letter. As perfect as it could get, you might think.

The perfection, unfortunately, didn’t last too long. Within a few weeks (yes, back then I counted my tenure in a job by weeks, as I hadn’t ever lasted more than ten in any earlier organization), it was clear that there was a mismatch of expectations. Given my (then spectacular-looking) CV they had expected me to pull rabbits out of hats. I soldiered on. A year later I announced that there were no rabbits in the hats. Helpfully, two months later, I suggested  how the design of the hats could be improved (all this is metaphorical, of course). But they were disappointed that I wasn’t able to produce rabbits. Soon, we parted.

Coming to think of it, given my disastrous career as an employee (which I don’t hope to resurrect), it’s hard to find a “happy” story. But to contrast the one above I must tell you about this other job I did, where I was significantly happier (while it lasted) and lasted longer. This time I faced sixteen rounds of interviews. Yes, you read that right. Sixteen. All extremely difficult. Each of which told the firm a different dimension of me. And more importantly, each of which gave me insight into what the team I was going to join did and the kind of people I was going to work with. After the last of these interviews, the firm took ages to decide on my offer. But when I joined, I slotted in easily. They knew me and I knew them. Yes, it might have unraveled once again (eighteen months on) but till then I could have only dreamed of eighteen months of being happy in a job!

So I was thinking about it yesterday when I was thinking of a meeting I have this week to explore a potential business opportunity. At first I imagined myself closing the deal quickly. Then I corrected myself. Considering that this is a longish engagement that I’m thinking of, it would be important for them to know me and me to know them well before we sign. It is important to know what each of us is bringing to the table, and for expectations to be clear. So yes, multiple rounds of talks could potentially delay this engagement, but it will put it on a firmer base.

And that’s what you should be thinking of every time you want to get into a potential assignment. Unless of course your intention is to fraud your counterparty.

PS: Think of how campus placements work given this framework. I think of it as purely an option value investment by the employer.

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