Interviews and Introversion

15 04 2009

I had my first interview for a tech related internship today. It was, to say the least, a bit depressing. After 2 years of going to ASU and also programming on the side, I still utterly failed on most of the questions. Partly because it was a C++ job and I haven’t touched C++ in over a year. Instead, I was playing with Java in other classes, which has a nice garbage collector and takes away the need to know things like memory management and destruction of classes.

I impressed them a bit with the fact I knew TCL (something they wanted), but after that it went into the abstract questions and all went downhill. How to detect a loop in a singly linked list? As usual, my programming assignments with linked lists never even had such a thing happen in them, no less ask me how to detect it or remove it. The only thing I could think of was to store all the pointer addresses of the elements into an array or some sort of structure, and then check each element with those in the list. This is quite a horrible way to do it, but it’s all I could think of on the spot and while nervous due to my introverted nature. I’m sure my demeanor was going downhill after 30 minutes of these questions, with either no idea on the answer or coming up with something but having trouble explaining it clearly.

The technical questions I can learn, hopefully a bit from my data structures and algorithms course next semester. After they said how they would do them, I understood and had sort of a “bah, I should have been able to figure that out” moment. A major part of the fact the interview went badly was that I simply find having to carry on a conversation about myself, think through puzzles and programming problems, and try to avoid turning into the nervous mess, incredibly difficult and draining. Whenever I look for tips for interview nervousness, all I find is “relax”, “realize it’s not the worse thing if you don’t get the job”, etc. That doesn’t work for me, even if I’m having a random conversation with a stranger I find it draining.

The problem is mainly… overthinking? Conversation and social interaction simply doesn’t come naturally to me at all. My thought process goes off doing something like this during an interview,

::silence:: should I say something? What? I don’t have any questions or comments really. Should I make eye contact? Look away? Won’t it seem weird if I’m staring? Or will it seem I’m uninterested if I look around the room? Oh, good, question coming. ::listens and nods:: What should I be doing with my hands?

Oh, bad, I have no idea. Uuhm, no wait, don’t say uuhm, you sound like an idiot, pause and think silently. Silence awkward…  I don’t know! Should I say so? Should I try and think through the problem more? Should I say something like, “hm, let me think about that…” just so they know I haven’t frozen up?

It’s constant improvisation, constant self-monitoring, constant thinking on my feet just to do what normal people seem to do instinctually. From the 3rd person view, the person just sees me pausing, starring, and looking nervous, or perhaps like I have no idea what I’m doing. Maybe because I don’t. My mind is whirling about these things that most people never even think about, and very little of my mental processing power ends up actually applied to the question at hand or the conversation. This is the reason I’m far more talkative on the computer, I’m not thinking about any of this nonsense about my body language or making eye contact, but simply thinking about the conversation at hand.This happens 10x more when I’m being interviewed and my reactions analyzed by someone rather than just casual conversation.

I’ve had people say, “just relax and don’t think about little things like that”. What happens then? I spend my entire conversation staring out into space rather than at the person I’m talking to. It’s actually easier to handle the conversation like that, but there’s some social norm thing about looking at people when they talk. My mind apparently was never programmed with that default behavior, and anyone who’s been a friend of mine for a while notices and gets over the fact I don’t look them in the eyes much when talking. Either that or they decide I’m uninterested and quit talking to me.

An explanation of the feeling I found fitting from the Internet,

Picture how you’d feel in each of these situations:

1. You’re not at all hungry, but you’re in a situation where you’re being offered food and it would be rude to refuse.
2. You’re a performer in a musical theatre extravaganza, but you’ve only seen your own lines, score, and choreography, and haven’t rehearsed at all.
3. You’re engaging in a sex act that will give your partner an orgasm, but cannot possibly give you an orgasm.

Imagine experiencing all these feeling simultaneously, and you’ve got how an introvert feels when interacting socially with casual acquaintances and strangers.

My lack of social skills is seriously going to cause difficulty for me when I try to get a job, and I really have no idea how to fix it. The only solution seems to be to expose myself to more conversations, but when they usually bring about such a feeling as mentioned above, it’s quite difficult to force myself to do this. I’d much rather spend my time alone in a corner coding or reading a book, or talking to the few people that are close to me and I’m more or less comfortable with.




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