I was scared of interviews…until I wasn’t!
I sat for my first serious interview when I was appearing for my undergrad placements. Back then, there was no Covid…so physical interviews were still in vogue. We had absolutely no way of evading the full-fledged formal attire right from head to toe, which by the way, was a herculean task in itself!
Post the pre-placement talk and a tedious wait of an hour or two, my name was finally called. It was a prestigious ed-tech company which had essentially come to hire freshers. Even though I had heard about its obnoxious work environment, a handsome starting salary and the thought of finally being self-dependent pushed me to apply for the job.
The Interview Room
It is somewhat essential to mention that I had no prior experience of an actual interview before this one. The closest I ever came to an interview was when I appeared for viva-voces in my school days. Though a viva-voce gave me enough stress to have a sleepless night before the test day, it can hardly be compared to an actual interview as it is generally conducted in a classroom full of friends and a maximum of two teachers with whom we are generally well acquainted. I sometimes wonder if the process is still the same or something has changed with time!
Anyways, coming back to my interview, I entered the room after my name was called. Let me describe my interview room experience for you;
As soon as I entered, I saw two interviewers with an authoritative and an unfriendly look on their faces. After a customary greeting, I stood there, unsure of whether to take a seat without permission. It took an awkwardly long pause for them to ask me to take a seat. I sat there wondering which one of them would pounce on me with the first question that generally goes…“Tell us something about yourself”. Though I was well prepared to answer this question, the dismal interview room and two people with expressionless faces sitting right in front of me had already given me chills! As they glanced through my CV, I tried to breathe and make myself comfortable enough to answer the first question which I had very well prepared for.
“Who is the CEO of our company?”…This question stunned me and I couldn’t help looking at their faces for a few moments. Though I had read about the CEO while preparing for the interview, and even the HR had reiterated this information during the pre-placement talk not more than a couple of hours ago, I was somehow completely bank! No matter how hard I thought, I couldn’t remember the name. At that moment, I knew it was over for me. My legs were shaking and my voice trembling as I finally spoke…“I don’t remember sir.” One of them smiled and said, “Tell us something about yourself”. This was the question I had been waiting for! But now the situation had changed. I was under tremendous pressure considering what had just happened. Somehow, I gathered courage and described myself, my schooling, my family background, and my internships with a lot of fumbles and shakiness in my voice. Before I could collect enough courage after that answer, they jumped on me another question…and then another….and another. This went on for 20 long minutes which seemed like a lifetime! My very first interview had been one of my worst life experiences. As I stepped out of that room, I took a deep breath with my heart still beating very fast. While I was busy confronting and getting through the horrors of that room, my fellow colleagues, who were still to appear for that interview hounded me with questions of their own…“What was asked?”, “How did it go?”, “Will you get through”, and what not!
The Result Hour
After a long interview process of about fifty plus candidates, it was finally the result hour. Results could be announced anytime soon. I was lying on the bed of my hostel room talking to my parents on the phone about what had happened in the interview. Although I knew there was practically no chance of the company actually hiring me, but a part of me could not give up on hope. To this day, I can’t figure out what made me wait desperately for the results that evening. When the results finally came out, a notification flashed on my phone. I opened that notification with mixed emotions and glanced through all the names in a hope of finding mine somewhere. As you would have thought, my name was not there in that list. I don’t know why, but tears rolled over my cheeks even though the result was nothing unexpected. I just had this one thought flashing again and again through my mind; “I wish I had another chance…I could ace it...just one more chance!”
It was probably the first big failure of my life.
A couple of months later, I had fortunately qualified one of those entrance exams for post graduate management studies. This meant I did not have to wait another year or apply for any more jobs. However, this also meant that I had to undergo a series of rigorous group discussions and interviews to get into a good business school. After receiving calls from various business schools, I shortlisted the best ones. My first set of admission rounds were to be held in Delhi.
I reached well in time for the process. A faculty from that business school took us for a tour of the entire building before any process actually started. Finally, we were divided in batches of eight or ten for the GD (group discussion) round. To my surprise, I was not as scared as I was for my first interview. Before the GD commenced, our mediator gave us a minute to think and write a few points about the topic that our group was assigned. It was a general topic and I had gathered a good number of points before the GD started. In a nick of time, five minutes out of fifteen were gone and I couldn’t register a single entry. To this day, I don’t know whether it was nervousness or the lack of experience that pulled me back in the initial moments of that GD. I finally got a small space and pushed through to put forth my points. I spoke for a good thirty seconds before someone interrupted me. By the end of the GD, I had registered three significant entries which are considered good in a discussion of fifteen minutes. Soon after, the mediator announced the names of four people out of ten who had qualified that round from my group. Fortunately, I was one of them!
It was interview time now. I entered the room which was significantly smaller than the room of my last interview. The room was undoubtedly merrier and the interviewers welcomed me with a smile this time around. I was much more confident and answered a few questions before the interviewer put forth a string of interrelated questions that I couldn’t answer. However, I answered a few questions again towards the end and the interview ended on a positive note. It was an ‘okayish’ interview overall and definitely a better experience for me as a candidate. The small achievement of qualifying the group discussion round had somewhat revived my confidence.
Covid had unfortunately wreaked havoc by the time I received communication about my second interview. It was an online process considering the nationwide lockdown our PM had just announced. The idea of conducting group discussions in an online mode did not seem feasible to most business schools, so they added an extempore round instead. My first online admission process turned out to be better than the previous interviews I had appeared for. You might wonder if this was because the interview was online, but I assure you it wasn’t. The fact is, I grew more and more confident with each passing interview. Post this, I went on to appear for about five or six interviews for different business schools and to my astonishment, I converted them all…Yes, I CONQUERED them all.
By the time of my business school placements, my confidence was on another level. But this was another world altogether! Getting a job was far more difficult than getting admission. Several factors came into play while I appeared for around five to six companies before finally getting placed. This time around, the criteria for selection or rejection were not just knowledge and confidence. After a few rejections, I was distraught and my confidence level was sinking. I wasn’t depressed because of the rejections, but because I couldn’t understand where was I going wrong!
It was not long before I realized that in job placements, the luck factor comes into play. Several elements such as past experience, family background, hometown, languages known, etc. are considered relevant. These factors are not in our control. When the expectations of a company match with your competencies, they check if their other requirements are met. For this, they apply certain filters and if the luck factor is with you, your name will surely pop up on their screen!
These are a few tips for you to remember before appearing in an interview:
1. Be confident.
2. Do your homework about the job profile and the company for which you have applied.
3. Try to highlight your skills during the interview.
4. Drive the interview: Most interviewers frame questions from bits and pieces of what you have already answered. Keep this in mind and you will know what questions to expect!
5. All interviewers are not the same. Most of them are supportive and encouraging but you might find some grumpy ones as well (Like the ones from my first ever interview).
6. Never lose hope.
7. Remember that a rejection doesn’t always mean you weren’t good enough…It could probably be some of those uncontrollable aforementioned factors that weren’t in your favor.