“What is the one thing about this role that interested you so much that you applied for it?”
Over a decade now, having met more than a hundred ‘candidates’ (I prefer the expression ‘potential team members’, but it is a mouthful) for various positions, first in the television industry and now at Ormax Media, I have found this to be the one question that does half the job.
Many candidates speak about the company’s credentials in their answers, in which case, being a true researcher now, I reiterate the “you” in the question. After all, why would a company’s credentials interest you, unless there was something in it for you?
Some young people use the “growth and learning” plank for an answer. Most times, I am disappointed with their understanding, let alone articulation, of these two words. Both growth and learning are deeply proactive as concepts. To say that you will learn a lot in the company makes it seems like the company is some kind of an incubator with the responsible of ‘hatching’ you. The truth is, the company doesn’t even know at the interview stage if you are a good egg or a bad egg. The interview is about that itself!
But the word that features the most in the answers, across younger and more seasoned candidates, is the P-word: Passion. “Because I have a passion for television…”, “Because media industry fascinates me…”, “Because I love research…” Let’s focus on the ‘passion for television’ for now, though you can replace the word with ‘films’ or ‘media’, and still read on. I have taken great pains in some of the interviews to understand what candidates actually mean when they say it.
The first level of detail often given is: ‘I watch a lot of TV’. Television is a household thing. Everyone watches it, in varying degrees. So, “I watch a lot of TV” makes you no better suited for the job than a 33-year old mother-of-two in Indore!
When I probe further, many are at a loss explaining their ‘passion’ as a mental thought. All they can explain is behaviour. I watch TV, I read about TV, I discuss TV, etc. If behaviour was all-important, half of Mumbai will be passionate about local trains.
Here is a little passion-test I have developed over time, which goes beyond behaviour and evaluates the mindset. It will more applicable to ‘non-creative’ roles or to first-timers in the industry:
1. Watching vs. consuming television: Everyone watches TV, but the truly passionate ones ‘consume’ it, at an overall category level. They build their thoughts based on what they watch, discuss them, have a view on them. An easy way to judge this by asking the candidate what her favorite show on television is, and what makes her like it. A ‘watcher’ will talk like a housewife. A ‘consumer’ will talk from inside the watcher’s mind.
2. Watching breaks and promos: If you surf channels the moment a break starts, your passion for television is highly questionable. Being passionate about an industry includes being passionate about all aspects of it. The most fascinating things happen on TV channels in breaks. Those who are truly passionate have noticed them and can intelligently speak about them.
3. Deciphering trends: A seasoned guy with a passion for TV will speak the language of trends in an interview. He will instinctively and effortlessly compare the program or channel being discussed to past successes or failures, some of them dating back to more than two decades.
Passion is instinctive. You can’t prepare for it. And you don’t have to work hard to communicate it. If you are truly passionate, it reflects in your identity.
Back in 1997, when I was graduating out of IIT Delhi, an anecdote about one of our seniors was doing the rounds. He had taken up a course on Corrosion Engineering as an elective. It was a post-graduate course and very few B. Tech. students opted for it. He had probably taken it because the faculty was “cool” and it seemed like an easy course to pass. In the first lecture, the professor asked him why he took a course as eclectic as this. His reply, and I kid you not, is a part of the folklore: “Since my childhood, I was always interested in rust and corrosion.”
It was an intentionally irreverent answer. But when candidates try to pass the same ‘interest’ as genuine in interviews, it doesn’t fly.
This post first appeared on mxmindia.com, on my weekly column ‘TV Trail’