guilt prone employees

Recently, this Scientific American article popped up in my FB feed about mistakes employers are making in hiring. Something about how the current model of relying on a combination of interview performance, length of resume, and whether or not a candidate has ever been fired is, according to research, going about things all wrong.

Then the blurb ended and I needed to pay to read more.

Anyway, I curiously went off to research the issue, because damn, do I perform poorly in interviews! And, as it turns out, the best employees rate high in conscientiousness and are guilt-prone, which is different from having a guilt complex. Basically,

“Guilt-prone people … are simply those with a tendency to be over-sensitive to the opinions of others combined with an over-active sense of responsibility toward others. Conscientious, guilt-prone people believe any poor outcome in work or life reflects on themselves alone, even when others are involved; perfectionists, they believe they can do better… always. They are the kind who undersell themselves on a job interview rather than oversell and disappoint.” — How to Be SuccessfulMedicalDaily

So the exact same personality traits that make me such a good employee are the ones that make me such a shitty interviewee.

I have a deeply internalized need to be 10-15 minutes early (or I’m actually late, goddamnit), which means I’ve developed excellent time management skills and am always on time; but that also translates into intense anxiety and a tendency to blame myself when the schedule goes off track or I failed to anticipate wrenches thrown by other people.

I have an intense internal drive to complete projects to my satisfaction, even if it means I stay a few minutes after my class/ study session/ shift has ended; but this almost compulsive perfectionism has also seen me skipping meals, neglecting my mental/ physical/ emotional health, and ignoring my family in pursuit of my goal. This is, by the way, why I chose not to go to law school: Becoming a lawyer (especially a public defender) sounds fascinating and amazing and challenging and incredibly fulfilling. Also, it would be upwards of 60-70 hours of work a week, and something would have to give. Statistically, that would be my family. Maybe once my son is grown.

When I am working as a member of a team or group, whether its in a classroom or office, I feel a strong sense of responsibility toward my peers and assisting the “team,” which is actually problematic because I have a tendency to say, “yes,” or, “sure,” without hesitation when my assistance is requested, regardless of my workload, and I’ve actually had to start learning to set boundaries and accept that, “No,” is an acceptable response.

But all those traits–that need to be early, and the perfectionist drive to complete a project, and the impulse to help others (a rising tide lifts all boats!)–arise from the same places in my personality that my self-deprecating mockery, cynicism, and inclination to tear myself down comes from. I’m always telling my friends not to expect too much from me, because I’m the laziest person they’ll ever meet. Inevitably, I get an arched, disbelieving eyebrow and amused denials in response, but they’re not getting it.

I really am, I promise–the only reason anyone might think otherwise is because I said I was lazy from the outset, which set the bar so low, that anything I do above that expectation ends up looking amazing.

But you can’t set the bar low at an interview. It doesn’t work like that. At an interview, you’re expected to set the bar really high, then launch over it, and that’s a problem for me. Interviews are sales pitches, with the product being yourself, and I am just not a salesperson. I can’t help but point out the flaws.

I have barely learned to accept a compliment; shifting uncomfortably in my seat and offering a quiet, “Thanks,” with a tight smile. How am I supposed to, “sell myself,” an endeavour that necessitates not just talking about my skills and assets, but pumping them up–explaining why I am somehow smarter, better, preferable than all the other candidates of similar education and background. Seriously?

I’m an anxious perfectionist terrified of failing others’ expectations, and I’m supposed to go into a room of strangers and brag about myself for an hour? Ha. There is no way this situation could possibly end well, and guess what? It doesn’t. One of two things inevitably occurs:

  • One: I undersell myself, and that in tandem with my scant work history causes the interviewer (rationally) to conclude I’m completely unqualified to handle even the most basic secretarial/ office/ filing position, so I’m dismissed from the running.
  • Two: I try to “fake it til I make it,” and put on a facade of confidence, but it feels unnatural and I’m pretty sure I just come off looking like a braggy and insecure overconfident bitch, because that’s sure how I feel. I also feel miserable and slimy when I try to do this, which makes me feel sick to my stomach and sweaty. I find myself gauging the interviewers’ expressions and body positioning; talking faster and faster as frantic terror seeps through me and I’m suffused with the sickening certainty that everyone knows what a fraud I am; that I have been exposed as the weak failure of a candidate I am instead of the confident professional I’m trying to imitate. I panic, and before you know it, I blurt and babble–oversharing and apologizing. It is a mess.

So, first, I do not understand how anyone aces interviews, ever; and second, I would totally crack under interrogation. No need for torture, just, like, a steady stare and a few minutes of silence, and I’d be a babbling mess unlocked by my own neuroses.

But the feedback from professors/ classmates/ friends/ etc is that I’m intelligent, and my performance evaluations would always say something about how my ability to exceed the expectations I set for myself. I was praised by my peers and professors for my teamwork, willingness to assist others, and the quality of my research and work. When I read my student evaluations, or ask my husband and HR-employee friends to assess them as though they’re employee performances, the consistent response is, “I’d hire this person. They’re hard-working, a team-player, and they accept feedback.”

Now, I admit its possible they’re just humoring me; trying to comfort the girl who can’t get a job. But damn–honestly I feel like I’m just shooting myself in the foot with interviews, and all this research is just bringing the issue into sharper focus. Now it feels like, okay, so it sounds like according to research, I am actually a pretty ideal employee … but it doesn’t matter because there’s just no way to get a job without going through an interview.

I wish that all jobs had a, like, apprenticeship interview option. A working interview, I guess–something where I could go in and just work for a day or two, or a week, and they could see how I perform and adjust. Like, they could provide a low-level project and be like, “Complete this objective by X time,” and release the candidate to see how they perform.

Who do they approach with questions? What do they do, immersed in an unfamiliar environment and given a task to complete? How do they handle/ adjust to the unfamiliar computer system in the office?

See, that I could actually do.

But to go into a room full of strangers and convince them I’m awesome? Nah.


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