Job Interviews: The Illusion of Control


Here’s how a job search usually takes place: You put together a resume, which probably won’t be given much attention because it’s not put together very well. You send it with a generic cover letter which gets less attention than your resume.

You post it on job boards, email it to companies with ads, and you wait. You may opt to blast it to thousands of employers, because it doesn’t cost much, and think of the odds! Nothing happens. Time passes.

When the chance to interview finally arrives, although they want the job, the majority go to an interview unprepared and yet hope they’re the one that’s hired. When nothing happens, the frustration grows. You feel helpless as if the decision is everyones but yours.

And that’s where the danger begins.

• “The interviewer is from Chicago, and so am I so that might be good. I didn’t like the city, so maybe he didn’t either.”
• “I worked at Billions Banking Corporation, and she did too. Though it was a while back and in a different department, I bet she was as frustrated as I was. Everyone hated working there.”
• “His last name is German, and he’s older, so he’s probably very conservative and serious. Maybe I should wear a suit and not smile.”

Suppositions are an attempt to feel in control when you don’t. You’re going on an interview, you’re nervous, you have no idea what to expect, so you try to pin some of it down. The danger is because you’re making things up, you can make a grave mistake based on your assumptions. Illusions and reality aren’t synonymous. Millions of job seekers every day confuse the two.

Let’s take one of the above examples. You’re interviewing in Houston, and you assume the interviewer left Chicago because he didn’t like the winter. Anticipating a shared viewpoint and an immediate camaraderie, you say, “Get tired of those mean Chicago winters? I bet you like Houston much better.”

“No,” he says. “My company transferred me down here. My wife’s and my immediate family are still in Chicago. I was raised there, and I miss the snow.”

You’re thrown off track. You were counting on shared joviality from bashing Chicago winters, and suddenly, not only is that non-existent; it’s not likely to develop. Now what? Do you recover and express sympathy for his position (meanwhile noting that this company transfers people, and if you’re a company guy, you’re expected to go)?

Do you try to make him agree with you by continuing to make negative comments, because you’re seeking validation? Or do you shut your mouth and maybe – or maybe not – notice that you’re more nervous than you were when you sat down, simply because he didn’t agree with you?

People who buy into the illusion of control aren’t generally cognizant of what they’re doing. Consequently, this lack of awareness can perpetuate itself, and either one of the last two reactions, or something similar, take place. And because the whole process passed quickly and unconsciously, all you know is something has gone amiss.

Pay attention to your thoughts. If you catch yourself making assumptive statements, recognize that you’re moving into a danger zone. If you’re hanging on to illusory beliefs, you’re not likely to make a sound decision, because sound decisions are based on reality.

You’re already setting yourself up for a defensive interview position and the need to be approved of. And instead of participating in the interview to determine if you wanted to pursue it, you gave the power to the interviewer, hoping he’d like you and it would increase your chances of being hired.

Understand that it doesn’t put you in control at all; it’s an illusion that makes you feel better. What puts you in control is preparation based on facts about the company and yourself. Spend your time on that instead.