Summer marks kickoff of the interview dating game

As the academic year melts into summer vacation, some of us prepare to catch up on our astronomical sleep-debt, and some of us prepare to join the mass of salaried minions; college isn’t cheap, after all. Unless you are self-employed or planning on running for San Diego mayor, this means interviews. Actually, since elections could be seen as a form of public interview, and start-ups often require bank loans, that leaves only the fabulously rich immune from any sort of interview — and there are many sorts.

There’s the traditional one-on-one interview, the stress interview, the board interview and the group interview. We have interviews for medical school, graduate school, temp jobs, real jobs, council positions, roommates, lab 199s … It’s a catch-all entrance ritual for anything in Western society.

I’ve successfully completed three group interviews in the last three years. One to be a resident advisor, one to be a Student Health advocate, and one, the summer after my freshman year, for the glorious job of Target cashier (?!). If you haven’t experienced it yet, the group interview is perhaps one of the most uncomfortable evaluation devices invented. You are given a menial metaphorical task or thought-exercise to accomplish with a group of your peers that resembles nothing close to any work situation you will subsequently encounter. Ostensibly, it shows interviewers how well you will work with your future co-workers. In reality, you are face-to-face with your direct competition, fighting to get a word in the discussion. You want to be succinct, eloquent, and noticed — but you don’t want to obnoxiously dominate the conversation. You whip out the pen and organize the group to show leadership. Each helpful idea that you posit is one less that your competition can bring up, and in the end, everyone who gets a job did so through face-to-face combat. No wonder we have so many corporate sharks.

On campus, you are most likely to encounter the panel interviews. Unless you screw up royally, they will all likely forget your answers and leave with vague positive or negative impressions. The best way to understand interviews is to conduct them, and this was one great opportunity of which I took advantage while serving in student council and other extracurriculars. Everyone has read the same interviewing tips, and so the candidate pool evens out to a monotone hum. Picking out the differences is a nuanced task, as the candidate who is exceptionally talented or exceptionally lousy, is well, rare. Everyone knows to dress up, but not overdo the make-up. Everyone knows the “worst weakness” question is supposed to be spin-doctored into a quality. Everyone tries to say what the interviewer wants to hear, and the only excitement comes when the candidate misjudges what that is. One candidate for the RA position said he was “very idealistic” and described his understanding of the job as essentially alcohol undercover detective. RAs can’t go snooping into people’s unattended apartments, and “very idealistic” to me meant, “hard to work with.” All in all though, the interview is a poor way to judge how someone will perform their job, but we seem to keep it around simply because we haven’t thought of something better.

According to nonfiction author Malcolm Gladwell, there are two things interviewers can tell from the snap judgment they will make upon meeting a candidate: Whether the candidate is an extrovert or introvert, and whether the candidate is sexually attractive. Perhaps those are not the best considerations to entertain when awarding jobs. Mind you, these are not always conscious judgments, but you would be surprised to see how much people stick to these initial first impressions, later rationalizing their decisions and gathering evidence for a self-fulfilling prophecy. In general, the initial assessment is left unchanged.

In his book “Blink,” Gladwell celebrates rapid cognition, but some readers have overlooked his careful analysis of its pitfalls. Gladwell posits the Warren G. Harding effect, or the dark side of rapid cognition. Harding was a very tall, distinguished-looking man and an extremely mediocre president. He advanced from local politics despite himself, partly pushed by his wife Florence Harding and his friend Harry Daugherty, partly riding on his electable looks. Voters sized him up and concluded that his height and extraordinary good looks meant he had courage, intelligence and integrity. “It’s why picking the right candidate for a job is so difficult and why, on more occasions than we may care to admit, utter mediocrities sometimes end up in positions of enormous responsibility,” Gladwell explains.

Depending on your competence and physical attributes, this could be good or bad news. There is little we can do about increasing our height, but maybe we can change the setting in which jobs are awarded. The interview is what we are used to, but tradition isn’t immutable.

The interview, in essence, is a hot date. Some people don’t speak, they beam, and their sheer excitement is contagious and spellbinding. You can’t help but give the person with sparkling eyes the job. You’ll even forgive their little slip-ups if they’re interesting and eager to please you. Interviewing self-help books usually dwell on the answers, which matter, granted, but their canned answers make people sound phony. Sounding phony is the sure-fire way to lose a date. Since the interview revolution isn’t likely to happen this month, we’ll just have to play the interview dating game. So good luck with your hot summer dates, and may they prove profitable.