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infinity interviews

blackswan_pic

I recently landed a new job (I’m very happy, thanks). In looking at interview advice though, I’m struck by how unlike my experience it was.

A lot of interviews seem to center around ‘make this interview count.’ Shine as bright as you can, prepare as much as you can, and knock it out of the park.

If only it was that easy.

For one thing, interviews aren’t fun. Psychologically, it was a slog.

Of course it was. Softening yourself up for interviews can be unnatural. You go in front of people and you broadcast this message: ‘like me.’ Many times, they don’t. Then you repeat this, again and again, with slight variations.

You can’t say ‘it’s going to be over soon’ because that’s not for you to decide; until further notice, the assumption is that each interview will be followed by identical ones next week.

Each one in general has a low probability of success.

In theory, there is a job at the end somewhere, but the job is not part of the interview process, in a way, since it ends it. A job puts you outside of the process. The process itself is ‘no’ after ‘no’. So you have to steel yourself for a barrage of ‘no’s,’ but remain fresh and genuine enough to make it seem as though, each time, you believe this time.

Now repeat, until you’ve lost track of how long you’ve been doing it.

Landing a job is a black swan event, to borrow a phrase from Taleb’s book of the same name, about outlying economic events that scatter models to the winds and rip up the best attempts at economic forecasts. This is what makes them so hard to prepare for, because the overwhelming majority of swans are not black; you can’t generalize that much about it, because the point of the black swan is that it’s not generalizable, except in the extremely unrelateable sense of knowing it exists, at a low but non-zero – very far from zero – probability.

I can see why people would include ‘hope’ here, as a kind of placeholder for ‘the ability to continue the practice.’ But it doesn’t feel like hope, particularly.

http://www.nytimes.com/video/2013/05/03/arts/100000002206766/timestalks-alec-baldwin.html

I was listening to Alec Baldwin speak in this NYTimes “Actor’s Studio” style video interview, and he said he’d learned to go in, hit his marks, say “Thanks, guys. Call me if you need me,” and call it a day.

baldsmile

This is my approach.

Interviews are a grinder. You grind them out. So much so that you’re in danger of going into autopilot after a while, but you have to balance the ability to be ‘in the moment’ with the necessity of being able to repeat indefinitely. How many interviews? Infinity interviews.

Remember, though, that things are under tension. A thing under tension appears, on the surface, to be placid and unmoving. Then without warning a crack forms, and it snaps. The job will be like that – the unseen crack that causes a snap. No warning, no real qualitative difference in ‘feel’ that day for the one that does it: another day, but today, snap. It’s over, in a moment. Pack it in, you’re done.

It’s not really ‘infinity’ interviews, of course. There will be an end – but you can’t act as if there is. It can even be fun, learning how to market yourself; you have to find the joy in it, the fun in everything. Yet you also have to be able to grind it out, ‘forever.’

But black swans are real, in the stock market and in careers, and the end, unpredictable as it is, will be your reminder.

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