I want to expand upon James Altucher’s take on job interviews despite the risk for biting the hand that feeds me. As context, my life’s work has been to coach job candidates for job interviews where the stakes are high for both parties.
In Choose Yourself, James says that when you are trying to get hired “you put on the mask that says I’m the guy who you will like sitting next to across country.”
He adds, “I don’t like putting on masks. Nor do I like the people around me to put on masks. It’s very hard to see through all the costumes.”
Job interviews are like theatrical performances. Most times we play roles that are not really meant for us. Chances are every single one of us has gone for a job that we knew early on wasn’t really for us. Yet, we went for it anyways? The adrenaline? The medical insurance? The rent? Our loans? All of the above?
Exhibit A: why was I, a person who hates math, a pricing analyst for a hedge fund in 2001? My drive was 9/11, my options were limited and I was on my own so I had to pitch myself for that job like my life depended on it because I thought it did. I was naive. I’m sure I could have waited but 30 days had been enough following my first layoff. I hadn’t realized my worth. I realized my rent’s worth.
The irony is that the harder you have to prepare for a job interview, the more likely it is not a real fit for either party. So don’t try so hard and perhaps that’s how you can land in place where you truly fit in? This is easier said than done especially if you are smart.
When I coach clients, I have them evaluate a company’s values. If you have to think really hard about the times when you behaved in accordance with your target employer’s values then it just might be because you don’t share the same values. You should walk away right here. Don’t interview with them to be honest….not even for practice.
For example, if you are a slow thinker who enjoys overanalyzing scenarios then stop trying to work for Google and digging real deep for the times when you acted/made quick decisions. Things are not going to work well for you when you have to pick A or B without any time for exploring C and D. So be honest with yourself. If you can’t steward a brand’s full set of values then get off of the bus and let the right person grab your seat. Harsh, right?
But here’s the thing. The biggest challenge that I see in coaching executives is that the smarter someone is the better they are at rationalizing why they want a job. I can rationalize why I’d work for a GMO maker and a GMO fighter brand all in the same breathe — creativity can be a detriment sometimes.
Smart people can even convince you and themselves how everything they have ever done before has led them to wanting and being the best choice for a job. The truth is that if they can’t figure out their pitch then they can hire me to help them make that pitch. And that’s what we’ll do….make the argument that my client is perfect for the role. However, it doesn’t always happen this way.
Sometimes I have to take people off the ledge. There are moments when I’ve called people’s BS. You see what I’m noticing is that because I don’t have to wear a mask to my office, I am better equipped to snap my client’s off the second I notice it. Other times I’ve simply said NO to working with folks who won’t remove their costume….not even with me during a confidential conversation.
Personally, this idea of having to lie that you enjoy certain things or like specific characters stopped when I was a teen following a personal confrontation that changed my life. It’s been since then that I decided to show up as myself as often as possible. I had spent my early years wearing a mask and I outgrew it. Too tight around the ears I supposed.
So when a client tries to convince me that they couldn’t imagine themselves doing anything but advocating for a company that sells products that make people sick, I’m the first to call BS and decline the business.
Then there is this other scenario that baffles me. The clients who force fit themselves into corporate friendly personalities then wonder around the two-year mark why they’ve lost that loving feeling for their job. These same job candidates return because they can’t bring their whole selves to the office and they wonder why? I never wonder why. Although, I’ve been fooled a few times….
All of this brings me to this conclusion: do yourself a favor if you are having a hard time explaining why you want to work for an employer then stop pushing yourself so hard.
Avoid the hard work of preparing for that job interview. I promise someone else would be bettered suited for the role. There are people who were actually meant to do certain tasks or to care about certain challenges.
When you go a for an ill-fitting job then you are stealing two things. You are stealing an opportunity for someone else. And you are robbing your own ability to reach your true potential. Potential has a funny way of needing oxygen to breathe and costumes tend to suffocate us and make us sweat. Haven’t you noticed the sweat that drips from those folks who wear those Mickey and friends costumes in NYC’s Time Square? That can’t be comfortable.
Subscribe to An Interview with Melissa Llarena the podcast. My plan is to interview talented people who figured out how to build untraditional careers of substance. My guests would have had the guts to say NO to traditional options, brains to make sometimes wacky interests profitable, and creativity to pull it all off.
Gary Vaynerchuk, happy to meet you at LGA, EWK, JFK in January for five minutes on my podcast which I launched because you pushed me to following the James Altucher Show Ep. 260. BYOH-I’ll bring my ability to try harder to my interview of you. #garyveeandjamesistarted