Facing an interview… from the other side


Note: Certain details mentioned in this passage may or may not bear resemblances or references to characters real or imagined, living or dead, facts, exaggerations and simply figments of imagination. So there!
Me: So what makes you think our company is the next place you want to work for?
Candidate: Erm.. I want to get into the education sector, Sir. It is the happening field these days and… well, it IS education. Noble field and all that…
Me: So are you looking to become a teacher?
Candidate: Oh, no. No way… teachers just teach from books. I will <insert job description here> by teaching the <insert client profiles> from my knowledge… 
Me: Let me grant that… but the question still remains. Why us?
Candidate: You are associated with <insert name of big parent organization>. So that brand is here…
Me: Have you gone through our company website?
Candidate: Erm… no, sir. Actually, I did not get any time to do it. (A pause, then the eager smile of an honors-grade student) Could you tell me more about the company, sir?
And, just so that you have the right context, this is a candidate who’s had four days to spend five minutes online to go through the company’s website.
Sitting across a job-seeking candidate is both an awesome rush and a sobering crush. You don’t want to reject a suitable candidate just because you did not like his clothes, demeanour or political leanings – and yet, you know you could, as easily as snapping your fingers. Your actions this day might determine the candidate’s future, a future that might or might not involve you as well; in any number of ways, you alter that candidate’s psyche all those interviews you sat for altered yours. Confidence is made or broken on both sides of the table, sometimes together, other times sadistically opposite.
During my B-school days, there was this junior we were interviewing at 4 AM for a club post. 4 AM, and all of us were barely registering a word. Within a few minutes, the candidate who had walked so eagerly through the doors was as apathetic as we were; with each lifeless reply to each lifeless question, the die was rapidly being cast. Thankfully, as we were walking out, someone took a call to give the fellow another chance at a more earthly hour the next day – and the guy walked away in less time than the previous night, this time a unanimous choice for induction.
Just as the candidate grows with each sitting, so too does the interviewer. While the play-by-ear attitude may still persist, the questions become more incisive and the approach more multi-faceted. The candidates, even the normally placid ones, start getting flustered faster. You find yourself already moving to the next question even as the previous answer is being uttered. The indicators to watch out for, the generic statements that every candidate hopes will be left unchallenged, the cliches and the escapisms… they fall into focus faster and more easily, until it is almost too easily.
That’s when the doubts start creeping back in – and you start (or have to start) asking yourself if you are doing enough justice to the time both sides have invested into the meeting. You get so caught up in planning the next question you are not paying any attention to the current answer. Assumptions turn into decisions… and decisions into witch-hunts. Any chance of the candidate surprising you with an insight or an observation is washed away under the pressure of your short-term prejudice.
At the same time, that possibility diminishes the moment the candidate tells you that he/she has not even glanced at the company website. Isn’t there something Freudian – or Jungian – or even suicidal about a candidate who, before appearing for an interview that’s supposedly crucial to his/her future, does not bother to find out more about the organization he/she is getting into? Wouldn’t this be the same approach to work, a haphazard don’t-care/what-next outlook that’s harmful in the short-term and devastating in the long-term?
For as brilliant as you are, as quick-thinking and personable as you are, lack of interest always gets out. Companies don’t always hire those who have a sated hunger for success – rather, they look for the ones still hungry for success. The more the failure, the starker that hunger… and the more driven that candidate. 
You don’t choose someone for liking a job and faring badly. You choose someone for wanting that job.