A year ago, I had one of the most significant interviews of my life. It was for a job he had worked on for years, as a doctor who researched and taught together with patient treatment, a rare and highly competitive type of position in the United Kingdom. Towards the end of the interview, they asked me how I would balance the different parts of the role. I was waiting for this question and had thought about how I would respond. Still, I hesitated. I could say what I thought the interview panel members wanted to hear: I'm good at doing multiple tasks, prioritizing and delegating, and I was confident that I would be able to juggle the various responsibilities. That would have been true, but it did not feel authentic. The most honest answer was that I knew it would be difficult, but I wanted to try it anyway. I was not sure what answer to give.
"Trying to look like someone different from myself was not the right approach."
I faced a similar problem 12 years earlier, when I applied for admission to medical school. I was only 17 years old and my education had made me believe that there were only right and wrong answers, especially in exams. In my opinion, the interview was an examination; He also had correct and incorrect answers. But I did not know what they were. No one in my family was a doctor. I come from the wrong side of the tracks, as they say. I had made my way to a decent local school and had done well in my clbades, but I did not talk like my clbadmates did, or the way I imagined doctors did it.
Then, I found model answers on the internet, which rebadured me. But when I tried to use these answers as templates, I felt false, as if trying to be someone I was not.
This tension led me to stumble during the interviews. My own answers competed in my mind with those I had found from other sources. The cables crossed on at least one occasion, when an interviewer asked me to give an example of a time when I had been worried. The answer that came to my mind was that I volunteered at a nursing home and felt privileged to sit down with the residents and listen to their stories. But I did not think that was dramatic enough to impress the interviewers. So, instead, I told them when one of the residents became ill and I cleaned it. Immediately I felt ashamed. That was not worrying; that was basic cleanliness and hygiene, and I suggested that my best quality was skill with a mop. Right at that moment, it was clear to me that trying to understand myself as someone who was not me was not the right approach.
My next interview attempt came a few years later, for a post that would start after medical school, a clinical work with a small component of academic research. I was not sure what the panel was looking for, but I felt I had little to lose: the new doctors in the UK have almost guaranteed a "normal" clinical job somewhere in the country and I did not expect to be invited to interview for this position more specialized first. So I settled for presenting myself as I am, and not as I thought the panel members wanted me to be. I did not get a second opinion. My answers were just that, they were mine. I felt comfortable and really enjoyed the experience. And they offered me the job.
I quickly went through my most recent interview and the question of how I would juggle the multiple responsibilities of the role. I hesitated, but not for long. I had learned the importance of being true to myself. So I answered simply: "With difficulty".
To my surprise and relief, the members of the review panel knowingly nodded and laughed. They seemed to relate and appreciate my frankness and willingness to show my human side. I started the work a few months later.
I've noticed that interviews do not have "right" or "wrong" answers. I still see them as exams, but they are not testing my ability to repeat another person's answers. The answers were always easier than I thought, because the test is about something I know well: me.