Sunday, June 01, 2008

Brains, Networking, or Luck?

I have been through several interviews in my life where I just couldn't believe I didn't get an offer. I was smart, quick witted, and nailed every question. Then you wait two weeks and get a two sentence email in your inbox saying they are going a different direction, thanks for playing.

Rejection never feels good, and you often wonder what happened, what you could have done to influence the outcome. Truth be told, it often has more to do with how your interviewers were feeling about themselves during that fateful half hour. Are they late on a big project? Did they eat that huge burrito with extra hot sauce again? Did they just get a raise and think they can accomplish anything with just a few more team members?

In an interview you basically have the span of an hour to evaluate how competent and amazing of a person the candidate is. Will this person make my life and the company's future significantly better? That's a tall order in that short of time. In fact, it's really bordering on impossible. Unfortunately given the reality of the situation, what usually happens is more or less luck. While the smart and the connected certainly have an edge up in the odds, all in all I would be surprised if luck did not have a significant if not the majority role in most decisions.

A key point to remember is that when you are evaluated for a job or really anything else in life, you are not being evaluated or judged. Your name (possibly), a few run-on sentences from your resume, and a couple flashes of memory recalled from your blip in that person's life are what is really being judged. This is both comforting and frustrating. Remember, very few things in life are an actual rejection of you. They are almost invariably a rejection or acceptance of a few bits about you that may or may not be true, and a whole pile of near random conditions.

Harder still is to keep all this in mind when hiring. All I can really come up with is to make sure you have multiple interviews on different days before deciding on an offer. At least this way you can level out some of the curve of what you ate for breakfast.

This all reminds me of three very different world views out there. The one where the "man" controls the world (think Marx), the one where the mob controls the world (think Rand's Atlas Shrugged), and the one where randomness rules them all (think Taleb's The Black Swan). I have held a variation of all three views at different stages in life, which one are you?