(Steve’s note: This is a guest post; I thought I would point it out since the references to Russia might make it sound like me!)
Funny story: Less than a year before I graduated from my alma mater, I studied abroad in Russia for a semester, and encountered some–needless to say– bizarre experiences. One that stands out in my mind was when I was sitting at a café, reading a book and sipping on wonderfully grainy cup of Nescafe instant coffee.
During my stay in Russia, I found that it was surprisingly unusual to hear English spoken in public, even in a city as big as Saint Petersburg, so my ears instantly perked up when I heard two people across from me speaking English. There was some Russian speaking involved, but from my reasonably proficient background in the language, I understood the situation—a woman, presumably working for a multinational company, was interviewing a Russian man for a bilingual job. Half of the interview was to be conducted in Russian and half was in English. When the English part started, the woman asked the man, “What are some of your biggest weaknesses?” The man looked slightly confused and nervous, then perked up and confidently answered in a thick Russian accent, “Nu, I drink too much, and I smoke too much, and sometimes I cheat on my wife.” His expression was completely blank, so I knew he wasn’t joking.
The woman’s face turned beet-red instantly; she was obviously not expecting that answer. I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. I suppose you could chalk up the man’s response to a case of “lost in translation”, but for me this example stands as the ultimate obvious no-no in an interview situation. Initially, I brushed this experience off as one of the many funny incidents during my time in Russia, but later the image of the man making a deal-breaking mistake would come back to haunt me as I prepared for job interviews after college.
Sure, I knew I wasn’t going to make a faux pas to such a grave extent, but still, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Of course, for my first interview, I researched the company extensively, I practiced with a friend on eye contact, and she even threw at me some of the more bizarre questions to help me think on my feet. When time for the actual interview came around, however, the experience was like nothing I anticipated. There were the typical interview questions, like why I was best suited for the job and what did I expect to be doing in five years, etc. But what really surprised me was the extent to which my interviewers were simply curious about my intellectual interests.
What came in handy—what really saved me in this interview—was the fact that I had diverse reading tastes. Steve has written about the importance of reading before, but I’d venture to argue that reading a lot can do more than simply further enrich your intellectual life. Believe it or not, it can actually be useful in your career. During the interview, I was able to defer to several different theories and current events in economics, philosophy, technological advances, and even literature, simply because I read voraciously in my free time while in college.
And I don’t think that my experience was a singular one—many of my friends, all of whom are, to a certain extent, intellectually curious, also had similar first-time interview experiences. While I’m not sure if gauging intellectual curiosity is a newer trend in recruiting practices, I think it’s great that hiring managers seem to be taking this direction.
So in the final analysis, it pays to read. It is certainly worth your while to soak up ideas, from whatever angle or perspective. Being educated—and keep in mind, I’m not necessarily referring to formal education here—will make you a happier, more confident person. And it may just help you land that job, too.
About the author: This guest post is contributed by Emily Thomas, who writes on the topics of online college degree. She welcomes your questions and comments by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.