I’ve been thinking a lot recently about jobs and how they feed into our ideas about ourselves. This isn’t new ground for me. I’ve spent the last few years reassessing what I want from my life, how I want to work and what I want to bring to the work I do. There are some new elements that have come into my view lately, though, because I’ve been looking for steady, satisfying work for almost a year now. I’m in the middle of sorting out some of my ideas, so this is probably going to be a series of small posts.
For today, I want to slay a dragon that’s been nagging at me for five or six weeks. I had a job interview some weeks ago in which I was asked, “What does friendly mean to you?” You know how it goes: you’re sitting there in your interview, and you want to make a good impression and also manage to convey who you are and how you might be valuable to the company. I was doing my best to do that, so I answered the question as best I could.
But here’s the thing: that’s a stupid question, and it’s weirdly aggressive. It’s been nagging me ever since, and it finally hit me, the thing that put the question into the right context for who I am and what I think is important. I wish that when I’d been faced with that question, I’d said, “Thank you so much for seeing me today. I appreciate your interest and the opportunity. But this job isn’t going to be right for me, and I don’t want to waste your time.” If I’d felt particularly courageous and eloquent and firmly rooted in myself, I would have added that I think that’s an unfriendly question. It’s not a question one person would ever ask another person in natural human interaction. It’s a corporate question, designed to elicit a demonstration of performance in corporate flavor. Empirically, I can appreciate the need for a company to do that, but it’s not how I want to interact with people, and I knew from the sense of sinking panic in my stomach when it was asked that this wasn’t a place I wanted to be. I just ignored that feeling because I needed a job, and I carried on with the rest of the interview.
As it happens, I didn’t get that job, but that was a relief to me. It took me several weeks to work out exactly why it bothered me so much, though, and that started me thinking all over again about how sense of self is tangled with ability and performance and value as ascribed by an outside party. It’s tricky stuff, and I’ll probably be thinking about it for the rest of my life. For now, though, I’m going to go ahead and absorb this little episode and try to remember it the next time it applies. If a job interview – not my performance in the interview, but the actual interview itself – makes me feel like I’ve lost my moorings, it’s not the job for me.