I had a conversation this week with a friend currently on the hunt for a new job. We were talking about the interview process and musing about how much of your real self you're supposed to bring into those engagements. I want it to be true that if you intend to be your genuine self at work then you should bring that genuine self to the interview. My friend's conclusion of the process thus far is: some amount of code switching is still required. You have to know the right moment to be your true self and the right moment for that self to be the Man Behind the Curtain, pulling levers and throwing switches, while your interview appropriate Oz takes center stage.
That conversation got me thinking about immersion and assimilation. When I took German language classes in college, they were taught immersion-style. There was no English in the classroom, all the instruction was delivered in German and all the interactions among students were also in German. Beginning that course was definitely jumping in to the deep end, but it was incredibly effective and a lot of fun. Instead of learning German through English, I formed a direct connection to the language I still feel to this day.
Before college, I took French in middle and high school to fulfill my state-mandated second language requirement. I picked it because my mom studied French and I thought it would be cool for us to speak French together. I started in sixth or seventh grade and continued through my sophomore year. None of those courses were taught in an immersion-like manner. I got high marks in all my French classes, but of that 5 years of continuous study I remember almost none of it now.
German, on the other hand, I took for only two years and still feel comfortable holding a simple conversation. My vocabulary is not as vast these days since I don't practice regularly enough to maintain it, but the grammar and structure of the language feels like a permanent part of my personal communications array. Even if I forget the German word for something, I can at least talk my way around it well enough to get my meaning across.
My friend's experience with the job interview process seems similar to my experience learning French. I learned what I needed to know to participate in what was happening at the time. I studied diligently and performed well in class and on tests. But as soon as I stopped taking those classes, I stopped needing to maintain that information and my French essentially evaporated. Once the interview process is over, that secret code is no longer necessary and you're faced with a different immersive experience of fitting-in to a new workplace instead.
And that is so strange to me. Why are job interviews so notoriously not job-related? The hoops candidates must jump through these days leave some well qualified people out of the pool and give a distinct advantage to humans who can speak the language of Interviewing more fluently. Just as standardized tests allow children who have developed the skill of taking a test to shine while discounting and demoralizing students whose aptitudes and expertise shine through other applications.
One reason for the disconnect is probably that we're not being completely honest with ourselves as a society. It's quite clear to me the public school system is designed to mold children into young adults who can be productive in our capitalist economic system. At some point, it became common for employers to require college degrees for entry-level positions, so many college programs continued the molding beyond primary and secondary education. The standardized method of schooling children into adulthood is basically just one big immersion program. By the time those folks graduate into the working world, the language of being a productive cog in the economic machine is essentially second nature.
I have found value in totally immersing myself in some places or activities. I just spent a whole weekend at a Contra Dance camp and it was magical. Spending concentrated time sharing a fun activity with lots of other people who also delight in that same activity is incredibly fulfilling. Part of what made my dance immersion such an enjoyable experience is that I chose to be there. I put regular life on pause for a couple days to jump into the deep end of moving my body joyfully with friends.
Voluntary immersion can be nice. But having to assimilate is not so nice. Visiting an environment with particular protocols without receiving a briefing ahead of time is disorienting and challenging. Things like standardized tests, job interviews, and navigating health care in the US are all examples of systems set-up for only one kind of correct interaction. Unfortunately they are also systems that many more than one kind of human must interact with.
That means it's up to the individual person to be sufficiently resourced and informed on the often un-spoken rituals required to pass the gauntlet of education, hiring, or healthcare. That's. Absurd. This entire world is made up of people. It only makes sense for the systems, institutions, and infrastructure to function for all those people. Those pillars of society should consider and value every iteration of person. And they should be designed as understandable and accessible to all those kinds of people. Otherwise, what are we even doing here?
Information and Inspiration
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.