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Dealing with in-laws can help working women in India discover some good job interview tips. Surprised? Read on to find out how!
By Unmana Datta
Recently we had my in-laws staying over for nearly three weeks. That means I had to spend a lot of time with people who are family but whom I don’t know all that well. I worked from home while there were several more people in it, when usually, I am impatient for my husband to leave home in the morning so I can work in solitude.
I survived, and I even enjoyed much of the experience. And as I was thinking it over, I realized much of what I learned in these past weeks could well serve as job interview tips too! Bear with me.
As someone who’s always been really uncomfortable around new people, I’d likely have reacted to this advice thus: “But they’ll hate me if I’m myself!” And I’d try to be the person they’d want me to be: witty, in control, strong, suave. And either I’d fail miserably, or I’d exhaust myself with the effort.
The problem with this scenario, whether you’re meeting prospective employers or in-laws, is that you will keep meeting these people – if things work out well! How long can you go on pretending?
I believe we expect too little of people, as a general rule. We are afraid employers might freak out if we show too much personality. I thought at first that I should wear salwar kameez and sarees when I met my in-laws.
I wear shorts at home and dresses outside, and my father-in-law doesn’t bat an eyelid. I wear a halter top and short shorts and my mother-in-law compliments me. And it strikes me that I disrespected them by expecting them to be narrow-minded and shallow; that I should give them the opportunity to know who I really am, and trust that we’ll like each other nonetheless.
I believe we expect too little of people, as a general rule. We are afraid employers might freak out if we show too much personality.
Do you really want to work in a workplace where you wouldn’t be accepted for yourself? (Don’t show up in shorts for an interview though—read the next tip.)
To reiterate, I’m a fiercely private person. I like my space. I hate talking to anyone before I’ve had breakfast. My instinct, when I saw my sister-in-law standing by the stove in the morning when I wanted to get my tea, was to shove her aside.
Of course I didn’t. I smiled and nodded along as she talked to me, even though I couldn’t be voluble myself.
It’s fine to be who you are, but you also can’t be rude, whether you’re in the workplace or in a social setting (and unfortunately, my kitchen those mornings was a social setting), without consequences. The answer is to be the best version of you – the person you hope to become. It doesn’t mean you lie about who you are and what you think.
My being polite to my sister-in-law wasn’t driven purely by selfish motives but also by my recognition that being rude would have been unfair. She wasn’t doing anything wrong; in fact, she was doing her version of polite, wishing me good morning and giving me her news. She is an extrovert – that’s how they roll. She doesn’t even seem to mind my general taciturnity, so I should definitely return the favour and be polite when she peeps into my room while I’m working and strikes up a conversation.
Where are your prospective employers coming from? Going by their organizational culture and the job description, what kind of person are they looking for? What are their goals for the business function you want to be a part of? Putting yourself in their shoes helps not only answer your questions (am I really a good fit for this role?) but also helps you ask them the right questions (so you not only find out more about the job but also impress them with your business insight).
The best way of showing interest — whether at a job interview or with your in-laws – is to ask questions. What are the most important objectives for someone in this position to achieve? What’s your content strategy (or approach to project management)? What’s your favourite TV show?
The best way of showing interest — whether at a job interview or with your in-laws – is to ask questions.
But be specific. A general “How are you?” or “What is your organizational culture?” is likely to result in a generic answer and a stalled conversation. “What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever visited?” or “Would you say, for company X, that processes or results are more important?”
In past visits from the in-laws, I’ve tried to get everything perfect and failed miserably. Both because I was going by what I thought would be best (see #4) and also because I would tire myself out and then not be able to do all I planned anyway.
So this time I’ve been okay saying, “No, I’m too tired to want to go out tonight.” I have happily slept in on Sunday without worrying about What The In-laws Will Think (see #2). I have managed meals and asked the maid to work extra, but not bothered cooking myself and then be disappointed at the lack of acknowledgement of my efforts.
At an interview, be comfortable with saying, “No, I’ve never used that tool.” or “I don’t know the answer to that.” Try and add a follow-up (“But I have used this other one.” or “However, this is how I would approach it.“).
At home, of course, that friend is my husband. If I need some alone time and want to read a book in my room, he covers for me by spending time with his family. I have to work in the morning, so he cooks lunch. We go out for a drive one night, just the two of us, because we need the time away from everyone else.
Job-hunting can be extremely stressful, so make sure you have at least one friend you can talk to and unburden yourself. Who will commiserate with you on the mean interviewer and tell you that you’ll definitely get the next one. Who will, when you finally get that job, go out with you to celebrate.