There are two things you’re aiming to accomplish every time you have a job interview:
- Figure out whether you want the job
- (assuming yes to question #1) Show the person interviewing you that you want the job and should get the job
This is delicate dance, since spending too much energy and time on either question can make a mess of the thing.
At one end of the spectrum, in the past few years I’ve occasionally “interviewed” folks who literally spent all of our time together grilling me, which didn’t feel right at all – and made it virtually impossible for me to consider them for the job. Conversely, I’ve also made the mistake (and seen others do the same) of getting a job offer after multiple interviews and not knowing if I really wanted it.
As you get more senior, it’s generally understood that the pendulum will start to swing more towards the middle – that the job interview is more matchmaking than a test (though in truth, ALL job interviews are matchmaking and anyone who tells you otherwise is either deluded or putting you on). But no matter who you are and what job you’re signing up for, you owe it to yourself to figure out whether the fit is right AND you have to find a way to do this without giving up the opportunity to convince your interviewer that you’re passionate about and qualified for the job.
Lifetimes ago (it feels) I was in college and had what I was understood to be an informational interview at an investment bank. It became an interview interview.
When it got to my one question at the end of the interview, I asked, “When it’s after midnight and you get that phone call from a Partner that means you’ll have to work until the next morning, what motivates you to do it?”
My interviewer, sensing weakness (I suspect), replied, “That’s a great question, and I’d like to turn that back around at you and ask how you’d answer that question.”
At this point, I proceeded to show all my cards, and I blabbered on about how I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to go into banking, etc. etc. etc. Shockingly, I didn’t get called back for a follow-up conversation.
I’m glad that job interview didn’t work out for me – it wasn’t right for me. But I learned that day that it was up to me to decide why I was interviewing: to get a job, or to figure out if I wanted a job.
Two different objective, two different sets of strategies, both are equally valid, you just have to decide.