Last October, I had a whirlwind of a day: two interviews within a few hours of each other on a warm, breezy Monday in San Francisco.
What made these interviews unique? While they were both online, one was a completely text-based chat on Slack with a hiring manager from Automattic, the company that owns WordPress.com, and the other one was a webcam interview via Hangouts with a hiring manager from Google. “Welcome to the future of interviewing,” I thought to myself.
The Slack interview with Automattic came first. I was still in bed in a flowery pink bathrobe, my hair all disheveled, and my thickly rimmed glasses perched on my nose. With all necessary technology in hand, I was ready.
The hiring manager from Automattic sent me a private Slack channel to access, and we began our written discussion. When the questions started coming, almost everything around me faded away. I could concentrate on what was being asked, and formed articulate, well-thought answers. It was a somewhat surreal experience–like a peculiar blend of tunnel vision and an out-of-body sensation.
The questions touched on my personal motivations, as well as my existing experience and how it related to the role. I no longer have access to the transcript of our conversation, but I recall being asked about how I chose marketing as a career, why I was interested in the role, what my area of expertise is in customer marketing, and what types of email campaigns I had sent in the past. The conversation flowed, and I could focus on the content of what I was saying without that particular adrenaline rush that comes from having one’s outward mannerisms observed and judged. Because I write reasonably well and had some of the experience that the team wanted, I felt confident in my replies.
When our hour long chat wrapped up, I breathed a sigh of relief and plopped back into my pillows. I appreciated that I had been given the opportunity to organize my thoughts, and I comforted myself that I had done my best. I announced to my husband that my interview was over, and he raised a brow at me. To him, I was just immersed in my devices, like I often am. I didn’t quite look like I had done something life-altering; I probably looked like I needed to shower.
All that intense conversation, and I hadn’t even brushed my teeth yet!
The Google interview was next. Anxious about my poor internet connection at home and the somewhat chaotic environment I have since I live with four other people, I had rented a room using an on-demand meeting space booking tool called Breather in preparation for the Hangout. I selected a beautiful little spot with lovely natural lighting and fast internet in downtown San Francisco, and stationed myself at the table as I nervously waited for the hiring manager to show up on my computer screen.
And then, she called and I answered.
To summarize that experience in plain words: it could have gone better. I could feel my voice getting higher in pitch as I spoke over the webcam. I’m not sure where I was looking–at the camera, or at her image, but I’m quite sure I was getting distracted by my face on the screen in my periphery. In spite of my makeup and carefully chosen outfit, I probably looked like I had escaped from high school with my wide eyes and round face instead of being a professional with 7 years in marketing under my belt.
Like any other interview, she asked me about myself and my work experience, and how I ran my projects. As for the quality of my replies, I’d be scolding myself for days afterwards about how I could’ve been more structured and numbers-driven. Star Method, damn it, Star! I had gone over these questions days prior!
The kicker was when she asked me how many employees were at my company at that time, and I mentally stumbled. We had acquired another massive organization almost a year prior, and I didn’t know how many people had gone or had stayed. I admitted that I wasn’t certain, and she peered at me wryly, and then googled the answer. And then she told me. She told me the number of employees we had at the company I worked for. I felt like an idiot. I didn’t know I was allowed to do that in a webcam interview, I felt like howling.
Clearly, I was done for at that point, and after some niceties, we ended our conversation around 10 minutes early.
Shaken, I left the room I had reserved and had a mellowing glass of wine in a little bistro downtown. As I drank my glass and toyed with my food, I contemplated the differences between my two experiences.
In one interview, my written words were compelling and purposeful. They stood alone, representing me with precision. In the other, I jabbered on, cheapening all my hard work and experiences because of nerves, of all things!
In retrospect, I could have prepared better for the webcam interview. It’s still pretty similar to a regular one, but without the commute, small talk about the office environment, and the uncomfortable wait times in reception areas. The many articles I read when I had begun my job search emphasized that interviewing is a skill that you develop through experience and repetition. Not only are you desensitized over time, you’ve hopefully learned from your fumbles. You interview and interview until you do it well enough that a company wants you. Sometimes, you invest in mock interviews so you have someone actively coach you though your mistakes.
So while I had been blessed to have had the opportunity to interview with two such great companies, it was rather unfortunate that I had been granted that chance with Google so early in my job search. I hadn’t outgrown my awkwardness.
But, no matter. One door closed to me, but the other one opened, and beckoned me to go further. I had passed judgement through a different set of standards, and received an email from Automattic a week after my Slack interview. I had passed the first step, and I was invited to do something called a pre-trial project.
And so I continued my journey with Automattic…