MBA Career Advice: Interviews Are Not a Test

In this weekly series, our mbaMission Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews. For more information or to sign up for a free career consultation, click here.

One of the most powerful things we learn as we go through interviews in our professional life is that perspective matters. The perspective you have will influence your attitude, your behavior, and your performance in an interview.

Most people have the perspective that an interview is a test. They think of the interviewer as a judge or evaluator, scrutinizing their skills, strengths, weaknesses, character, and experiences and deciding whether they are worthy or good enough to proceed further. Thinking of an interview this way is natural because, indeed, the outcome of an interview is either a pass to the next round or a rejection.

But if you think about your own experience as a person in conversation with others, you will know that this perspective is not the whole story. Certainly, you will remember times when you judged others and evaluated them in a conversation. But you will likely also remember times when you were disarmed by a story someone told and felt a strong connection to them. For reasons you could not quite explain, you thought, “I just like this person!!”

That is because we are all human, and history and science have proven that human decision making is governed more by emotions than by rational or analytical thought processes. What this means is that an interview is not really a test. The interviewer will be influenced more by how they feel about you than by the content of what you say.

So what if you adopted the perspective that the interview is just the first step in a new relationship? What if you thought of your interviewer as a future friend and colleague and the interview as the first conversation of many you will have with them throughout your career? Would that make the interview a more interesting exchange? Would it be more fun? Would just relaxing and sharing yourself openly be easier? And would that in turn engender more trust and affinity on the part of your interviewer?

The thing about perspective is that it can never be right or wrong. It is a choice. If you choose to think of the interview as a test, you will have to deal with the consequences of that choice, including increased discomfort, performance anxiety, and stress. But if you choose to see it as the first step in a relationship with a friend, then you will likely treat it as the open dialogue and exchange of ideas it is truly meant to be and make the important emotional connection more readily, leading to better results in the process.

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