Humanizing the Interview Process:
The Dreaded Questions

By Natasha Patrao

Woman in the interview process

Honesty in the Interview Process

Interviewer 1: Could you help us understand the two-year break in your resume?

Interviewee 1: I decided to work on my strengths and learn new skills. (Truth: I was suffering from depression. I didn’t feel like getting up from bed each morning, didn’t feel like eating, didn’t feel motivated so I took time off to focus on getting better. I went to therapy, I spent time with family, and I travelled.)

Interviewer 2: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Interviewee 2: My goal for the next five years is to master my position and advance into a managerial role within my department. (Truth: I have a disease which doesn’t guarantee I’ll even be around then. I would like very much to spend time with my family, watch my children grow and be happy, but hey, I need an income. I need to know my family will be taken care of.)

Why are we so afraid to answer these common interview questions honestly? Easy, it’s because we know it won’t get us hired. We know it’s not the candidate they are looking for. So, we lie. We tell them what they want to hear.
Interviews can provoke anxiety and at times be quite confusing. Has the entire process become too mechanical and cold?

The Job Interview Journey

This happened to me. Two years ago, I had to shut down a thriving business that I had built from scratch. This process was emotionally challenging, but I had different priorities in life.

I moved to the US to be with my husband, and I wasn’t allowed to work on a spousal visa. So, for the following year I had no means of earning money and gaining financial independence. However, I was very keen to continue my studies in a specialized field, but life had other plans for me.

Our family was suddenly faced with a traumatic experience which took a huge toll on us, physically, mentally, and emotionally. To cope, we decided to take each day as it came, rediscovering the joy and hope in life.

When things settled down a bit and having moved to a country where I could seek employment, I decided that it was time for me to begin working again. But my resume and LinkedIn profile felt like an embarrassment, compared to others out there.

Undeterred, I began applying for jobs, but I was either rejected or questioned about the break. After a few of these replies, I was consumed by self-doubt, sadness, self-hate which ultimately led me to believe I was pretty much inconsequential in today’s workforce. I wondered if I was not smart enough or good enough and if I had wasted my education. At every step, I questioned my future and then the whole demoralizing application process. If I’m applying to “work” why is my previous “work” not being evaluated? Why couldn’t it speak for itself? Did it matter that it was a couple of years ago? I’m still the same person with the same capabilities, most likely enhanced with all the curveballs that life has thrown at me. My experience is still relevant.

Shortly afterwards, I was hired at Global Upside, where I was never questioned about my hiatus. I was only asked about my strengths and what I’d learned from past work experiences. My interviewers were curious to know how I could put them to use in adapting to a completely different environment.

Rethinking Interview Ideals

This had a very positive impact on me and was one I really needed. And I wanted to share this experience with others so that others like me, who find themselves in similar situations, can take heart knowing there are companies that do care enough to see past the usual banalities of a job interview to the person themselves.

Mental health, bereavement, a chronic disease, recovery from an illness, taking care of a sick/old family member, burnout, choosing to dedicate yourself completely to early formative years of your child are all valid reasons to take some time off work. However, we are so afraid to disclose any of these as a reason for the break since taking time off is often equated with weakness or laziness.

At the end of the day, we need to understand that it is a person applying for the job, not a cyborg. We need to humanize the interview process. Many organizations have already cracked the happy work life, happy employee equation. Initiatives are being carried out to improve work life balance, mental health, substantial bonuses, family days etc. Maybe it’s now time to also realize the ones not being allowed to get their foot in the door because of unavoidable breaks in life also need to be given a chance. I want to clarify that I don’t mean just arbitrarily handing out jobs, but maybe destigmatizing hiatus and breaks and eliminating questions or phrasing in interviews that are not inclusive, generative and have nothing to do with the candidate’s skills, values, and motivations.

The ongoing pandemic has let us know that we are all human. We come with baggage. We aren’t simply asking for the job, but a chance to prove ourselves. And who knows, these same people can surprise you by surpassing all your expectations.

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About the Author

Natasha Patrao

Natasha works at Global Upside as an Implementation Coordinator with the Project Management team. She believes that her previous experience as a business owner and pre-school teacher spanning over 8 years has helped her navigate the key areas of problem solving, multitasking and providing client satisfaction. She enjoys applying the same skills and passion in most aspects of her current position.