The Interviews

This time I was on the other side of the table, as an interviewer. I remember, over thirty years ago, how much anguish had gone into getting my aging grayish pant, checkered green coat, light blue shirt and bright red tie to ‘go’ together!

It was my first and only interview. Looking back I think the combo along with my close cropped hair must have worked. How else would one explain finding me on the Other Side?

In the intervening three decades or so many things had changed, not just sartorially. Like fewer candidates were now well conversant with the English Language. Many were older, married and already employed. But a few things remained the same.

The interviews were still conducted in English; a language we speak and hear in the sounds and intonations of our mother tongues. Universal access to 24X7 English channels notwithstanding! interview

The Interviews made me realize how important clinically sound hearing and good listening skills were an essential necessity for the interviewer. Asking candidates to repeat an answer could make them nervous.

The interviews began. Interviewers already briefed on the ways and means and absolute NO, NOs of interview conduct. Not offering the interviewee tea or biscuits that interview board members sipped and gobbled, apparently was one such NO, NO! Perhaps such an offer would have made candidates nervous too?

They walked in, well dressed, especially the ladies; matching salwar-kameez-dupatta or light somber saris, easier with their smiles and appeared less nervous too. The boy-men were stiffer, even the ones who perhaps forgot to wear ties. Good Morning or Afternoon and Thank you; bowing to each interviewer appeared unusual first but apparently it was the latest norm in interview etiquette.

The boy-men tended to sit at the edges of the chairs while the ladies sat more fully into them, generally more relaxed.  Could this be an indicator of their confidence levels?

A lady when asked how she would deal with a gang of smugglers at night was quick to reply, “I’ll send the men under me first and then follow”.  It struck me that that was just what most men officers do too!

When asked why they wanted to join this particular job, most candidates were not clear or convincing. Again it was a bright, young lady who spontaneously shot back, “I am passionate about the work this job offers”, with matching body language. I think I glimpsed a little dream flash in her eyes and silently wished her well.

It turned out that while most candidates were first class post graduates with a good sprinkling of M. Phils and Ph.Ds as well, a majority appeared and some admitted that they had been so taken up by studies in their colleges and later that despite latent interest they had little or no time for extra – curricular activities, especially outdoor ones, reading included.

Only a handful had read books they could remember or talk about. Some honestly admitted that they had never read a book outside their course. Has this something to do with our parents, peers, teachers, schools, universities or what?

What about the interview board? We were a motley five. None knew or met each other before the time of the interviews. Is it a strategy to avoid bias or worse?  Can’t say!

We later learnt that two of us were ‘experts’ and two ‘generalists’ and the fifth both. Whatever that meant!  It did seem though that generalists tended to take more time talking than the interviewees! Curiously, consensus on assessment of average candidates was easier reached than for the better ones. How objective can one be together?

I wondered if averaged marks would be a more valid assessment than awarding a consensus score for each interview.

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