I do not claim to be someone who asks questions well, but I am a good listener. Listening to others’ thoughts and words is the first step to asking good questions, I’ve heard. When you are paying attention to another person, you are showing them you care about what they have to say, what thoughts they are thinking. You demonstrate patience, inquisitiveness, and focus. But asking questions? That’s where it gets more finicky. A good question can inspire a conversation, a bad question can either derail a conversation entirely, leaving you forgetful about what you were just talking, or cause the other person to disengage entirely. A question can describe your personality in an instant, if the other person is astute enough. A question can also help you discover what another person wants to hear from you, allowing you to answer in accordance with their wishes.
If you can imagine what situation I am about to face, you are probably imagining a job interview, in which case you are correct. As I write this, I am preparing for an interview, as always. If you were to hazard a guess as to what I am doing almost any time, it’s thinking about an interview on the horizon. My mind does a bad job of disengaging from stressful future events, as they always hang over my head, regardless of how harmless and normal they are, even interviews. An interview, to me, feels like a fresh start with a new person, and even though I might tell myself that interviews are shared communications, that they depend on the happiness of both parties in order to succeed, I still feel indebted to the other party, sitting at the end of the table. It is ultimately their decision that makes or breaks this whole thing, and though my questions might lead them to choose me, I am not the final decision-maker.
But still, it is important to keep a clear head about things. Nothing here nor there will be the end of the world. It is just a matter of time. It always is.
Let’s talk about talking. Specifically, the act of talking on the phone. Today, as I write this, I am scheduled for a phone interview sometime within the next hour or so; it is unusual for a place to not give me a definite time, but this is the hand I’ve been dealt. When I think about talking on the phone, I think of walking around, aimlessly, waiting for the conversation to be over, speaking platitudes and sharing gratitudes. I think of the many phone conversations I’ve had since leaving my teaching job, and I think of all the lost voicemail messages, translated automatically into text and sent to my phone because I do not feel comfortable picking up the phone on its own. I think of the faces I’ve never seen, the voices I’ve heard, the connections between the two.
I remember, before getting my first teaching job, being in the shower. I was washing my hair when, upon hearing my phone ring from outside of the chamber, I immediately lurched for it and looked at the number. I recognized the line in an instant, but I was stuck taking a shower, and had no way of picking up the phone in time for what seemed to be a phone call about the fate of my employment. Instead, I let it go to voicemail, and I read my fate via the translated text message I received a minute later. My heart dashed, but then the news came: the man on the other line wanted to speak to me about my interview, and wanted to offer employment. I was stunned, shocked, and immediately ended my shower, rushed into the living room, and called the number back. A part of me was afraid that I had jeopardized my opportunity by not picking up, but I knew that was an unnecessary anxiety.
Interviewing isn’t easy. It’s difficult and makes me anxious just thinking about. To some people, it comes as naturally as getting dressed in the morning; they exude confidence, charisma, and likability in their body language. They are charming and outgoing, yet enigmatic. They speak of their previous experience like it’s their job to. And once they get the job, inevitably, they perform above expectations and exceed every bound or standard in their way.
I don’t know why, but this person I am describing is definitely not me. On the surface, I might seem confident and prepared, but that’s usually a facade. This isn’t to say that I don’t come prepared; it’s just that, once I’m in the heat of the moment, my confidence withers and my preparedness deteriorates with it. Everything I had worked so hard on prior to the interview is gone in a moment of overthinking about how I’m dressed or that one word I said wrong. Whenever people talk about keeping cool under pressure, I like to imagine they must be good at interviews, as they would find it normal to speak of their experience.
Another reason for this is, interviewing generally has you speaking about your previous experience in a way that’s glowing and positive. Sometimes your experiences aren’t glowing and positive, like in one recent case, and that should be normal. Not every work placement is going to be a slam dunk. Not every experience is destined to be positive and full of rainbows.
I guess the main reason I get anxious about interviews is, I secretly dislike my own experience and feel artificial and fake speaking about it with a positive spin. I wish it were easier to speak truthfully while still maintaining expertise over your experience. It’s never been easy, has it?