HR moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform! Especially when it comes to recruitments, the ways of the Human Resources guys is mysterious indeed. I still remember, in my day, being tested for personality on what these guys called the 16-PF (16 Personality factors) test. One of the various mysterious questions was one involving a choice of which game I liked – Bowling, Croquet, Baseball or Skating (or some such mysterious choices). Having played none of the above (and ‘none of the above’ was not an option!) I could not see how my choice would indicate anything about my personality. Maybe I did not quite understand their esoteric field. Maybe it involved predictions on the lines of Tarot, where you choose cards of which you know nothing.
The IAS was, in my youth, the Holy Grail of almost all wannabe employees. Abilities required of a potential IAS aspirant had acquired mythic proportions. One of the anecdotal interviews (maybe real as well) went something like this:
“How many steps did you climb up to come to this room?”
“As many as I will climb down, Sir!”
Wow! Presence of Mind! That is how it was told to me. For me, however, any potential IAS aspirant created an instant mental image of a person obsessively interested in counting steps on any staircase!
I could really not see where the presence of mind to obscure the absence of knowledge can become an over-riding requirement for a job – any job! Except, of course, if your job consisted exclusively of being interviewed by the likes of Karan Thapar! I can never forget his interview with Sheila Dixit about road accidents in Delhi. Ms.Dixit was making the point that, though helter-skelter traffic in Delhi was the cause of accidents, pedestrians were also contributing to the problem by not adhering to traffic rules. Thapar says, “So you mean that the pedestrians are responsible for their own deaths!” With journalists like this you really do not need rabble-rousers!
That interview put me off TV interviews totally and, thus, I missed an episode that I would have loved to watch (and did watch later on youtube). Thapar was interviewing Jayalalitha. Thapar’s idea of interviewing seemed to consist of not allowing his interviewee to complete a single sentence! Jayalalitha, of course, is well-known for her patience! She just stormed out after saying something like she thought she was to be interviewed and not to merely feed lines to Thapar on some sort of televised stand-up comedy show. If he merely wanted an audience for the sound of his own voice, she had better things to do than sit around his studio listening to his asinine ideas. (I have liberally paraphrased what she actually said). One day when I felt like cheering her with gusto!
Where was I? Ah! Interviews for education and jobs, wasn’t it? However did I get onto TV interviews? I digress too readily!
I was being interviewed for a seat in IIM-A. Out pops this question, “Can you name all the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra since Independence?” Was this man for real? Did he really think that I memorized the CMs of all states in India for light relief between studying Fluid Dynamics and Thermodynamics? Did he want me to grovel and claim, ‘I am sorry that I failed to realize the importance of knowing the name of the 1960 CM of Maharashtra in managing the funds of HLL today?” Did he expect the IAS style smart-alec answer? The first answer that sprung to my mind was “Fools can ask questions that the wisest men cannot answer” but, somehow, I felt doubtful that he would jump up in joy upon hearing it. The second one was “Do you know them?” – with or without a ‘Sir’ at the end of it – but that, too, did not seem like an iron-clad guarantee of a seat in IIM-A. The one that I chose was “I do not know all the CMs of my home state, so how can I be expected to know all the CMs of Maharashtra?”. Wrong call! Admitting to more ignorance than the question called for was not the wisest of moves.
I have been given to understand that such questions are asked to see how confidently the candidate admits his ignorance. I fail to see the logic of this idea. I would have thought that the purpose of an interview would be to see what a person knows and how confidently he is able to articulate what he does know. I am very confident about the fact that I do not know something when I am ignorant! It is when I think I know something that I have a lack of confidence! If I knew that saying ‘I don’t know’ with confidence was all that was required of me, I would have spent my time standing in front of the mirror, looking at myself in the eye and practicing to say ‘I don’t know’ instead of wasting time on memorizing the capital of Timbuctoo and other such esoteric pieces of information! (I have a suggestion for Interviewers. If all you want to test is this, why don’t you just ask ‘Which came first – the chicken or the egg?’ rather than elaborately inventing questions that the candidate cannot be expected to answer? Fear of coaching classes, I suppose!)
Let me turn to the one interview where I was successful. This was the interview that got me the seat in IIM-B.
“Ah! So you are Suresh!”
To the best of my knowledge and belief that was the only question that I answered in the whole interview. My unwavering confidence in saying ‘I don’t know’ to all the other questions must have so impressed the interviewers that I got admitted!