What conducting interviews taught me about life

By definition, an interview is an interaction. By nature, it is an interrogation, where people question one another to explore mutual interests or growth goals. By application, I found it to be rather exhausting. Fortunately, by design, this all is purely subjective. Be it may, that is how we began searching for potential teammates. In this post, I mostly talk about what I learnt. I also rant about a few noticeable things.

The assessments and the shortlisting

It isn’t the first time I have helped my team in hiring. And, I assume, it wouldn’t be the last, either. But, unlike previously, I have encountered a few things that I had never encountered before.

In the post-COVID world, we send the questions online. And candidates are instructed to submit their answers in a couple of days. The submissions we received were based on two separate sets of written assessments (or question papers). We know that our written assessment isn’t easy. So, we selected those who showed even a little bit of promise. After all, the assessment is only an initial test, and we use it for sieving through to the candidates that might show some potential. I say ‘might’ because, in this case, we still had a lot of unanswered questions.

The interviews

We conducted several interviews over a couple of weeks. Yet, surprisingly, we did not find the candidates we were looking for.

For reference, we have a list of questions that can help create a conversation. On a ‘happy path’, candidates can expect us to crack a conversation with them, where we ask open-ended questions. When we do expect them to be exact, candidates can be specific. And we usher them to those questions appropriately.

The feedback

This one is interesting. A couple of weeks back, when we couldn’t select anyone, we chose to share the information on a (technical writer’s) regional WhatsApp group. After we shared this work opportunity, someone from within the technical writer’s community commented on the post. Here is an excerpt of it, “One feedback – Few of my friends and acquittances applied. Once single exam papers comes. I have see that too. and then one round and then poof… nothing happens. This is the 3rd time I am hearing this in the last one and half year. Has anyone from this group successfully got into from AHM (sic)? Am really curious. If no, then is playing pranks. or AHM TW are not up their standards, which i doubt. If anyone has got selected from AHM, please put here. I might be wrong in my notion.” (Please note that AHM, here, is an acronym for Ahmedabad, the location for which we were recruiting.)

Later, toward the end of the week, we received an email from one of the candidates whom we had interviewed. He had written, “I understood from today’s interview that I can’t be a potential candidate for further processes, as I haven’t don’t have relevant experience in developing technical write-ups (documentation). No problems with the decision, I respect that. However, wouldn’t it have been a better decision if this was considered before I was asked to develop content and attend a technical round? My whole purpose behind writing this email is to bring to your notice that there are some candidates like me, who do preparations before attending an interview — and the preparations take time. So my earnest request is that before you start screening a candidate, the top management should have a look at the resume before proceeding with any assessment process.”

The ranting

We took the feedback with due respect and diligence, and we will refine our hiring processes.

None of the writers had the skills we were looking for. Simple. The reverse of it, however, is equally true. Our attitude is subject to the side of the interview table we occupy. As recruiters, we take a few things for granted. But, sadly, as candidates, we assume a lot of things. The question is not if one side is more important than the other or who is right and more ‘just’ than the other. The question is whether we are ready to accommodate the other side in our own story.

If, for example, we email all those candidates whom we might have rejected in written assessments, will that not create an unwanted additional liability? Will the candidate, who raised this request, be able to justify the cost (in terms of time, effort, and money)? I agree that it makes sense to inform at least those whom we might have interviewed irrespective of their selection. I have been on the other side and it hurts when you do not receive any communication (good or bad, favourable or not). This questioning has no end. Would you not ask them why they rejected you if and when they tell?

In reply to the comments and questions, I have a few questions of my own:

  • Is the question paper (the written assessment, that is) the only round in the selection process? Even if it was, would we (as either candidates or assessors) be able to highlight all the mistakes, oversights, and shortcomings based on the written assessment itself? If only the resume or written assessment could guarantee success, we all would have hired robots for writing.
  • If we don’t select anyone based on the written assessments, people come back to us saying something similar to, “this is the 3rd time I am hearing this in the last one and half year”. If we consider them for the interview and then don’t find them fit for the role, the candidates might say, “wouldn’t it have been a better decision if this was considered before I was asked to develop content and attend a technical round?” These are two contradictory opinions. Is it wrong to give everyone a fair chance that is based entirely on their performance?
  • Did the preparation for the technical round not teach you anything? Candidates prepare for interviews, I agree. They must. They invest a lot of time and effort, I understand. How is the learning subject to the selection, then? Irrespective of the result of the selection process, did you not learn? If you have, the rejection email (or its absence) mustn’t bother you. If you haven’t, it is good that you didn’t make it.
  • If you get a better offer from another company, would you bother to give us a call or send us an email stating that you are rejecting our offer (and why)? I have seen cases when people didn’t turn up on the day of their joining. Only after they were given a call did they confirm that they joined elsewhere. Besides, what is the guarantee that you will not use an offer to bargain for another one? In such a case, do you inform the companies?
  • If all companies share their feedback on why they rejected you, what would that do to your confidence? Would you take all the feedback positively? What is the assurance that you wouldn’t bad-mouth the company or its selection process?
  • In most cases, people can learn from introspection. But did that happen here?

That’s enough ranting.

The takeaway

To begin with, the episode has taught me an invaluable lesson: hiring is tiring. The interview process seems similar to searching for alliances for an arranged marriage. Everything from behaviour to qualification to skills is taken into consideration.

Life is a race, and I don’t deny that you must run. And run fast. You must project yourself as a sprinter and a marathoner. What surprises me is that some of us don’t see the obvious. We are just too busy running after the outcome to even pay attention to the joy of running itself. Why can’t we enjoy the view as we run past our milestones of growth? This episode has taught me to not overrate success by equating it with heavier brand names, higher salaries, or longer titles. It has also taught me to not underrate or ignore my countless little successes. Each release, every new tool, and all the work items I closed in a sprint were extremely joyful moments. Every time I pumped my fist, a moment got added to my bucket of memories. I’ll say, stop running. Or, at least, learn to slow down every once in a while.

You didn’t plan to be ‘here’: you didn’t plan to be born as a technical communicator—a good majority of you, that is. You did not plan to be an employee of a certain company. You simply hope to do so. And that’s all the difference there can be. People, places, companies, designations, and salaries don’t define your success. They cannot. Life is not an outcome of only accomplishments. Life is a grand total of experiences. You don’t define your life by when you die, but by how wholesome you’re finding it to be. The episode has taught me to not bother about the destination when I can enjoy the journey.

Each company has its template for candidates. Selection or not, it still is an experience. Let us learn to acknowledge that difference. The episode has also taught me to be a bit more considerate. I purposely wish to create some room for someone else’s micro-story within my own success story. I have also realised that my success cannot define my path. But my path will define my success. And, while that’s how I choose to forge ahead, I am still looking for teammates.

Poetry Contest Submission: Limerick


The Unusual Girl

There was once an unusual girl,
With eyes as beautiful as a pearl.
With a magical voice
Stature? Assuming poise.
And hair decorated in a curl.
All she wanted was to sing.
She wished to sway hearts, not earn the bling.
To strike the right accord,
She prayed to the Lord.
This was to be her first starring.
For she was dumb, she opted open genre
She thus began singing an opera.
A few just went numb,
Others were struck dumb.
Witnessing dramas like soap operas.
There she stood, waiting to woo
Voice magical like that of a cuckoo:
She put together words to rhyme —
Like Rosemary and Thyme —
And, others began singing with her, too.

©Suyog Ketkar
November, 2021
#Limerick #Poetry #poetrycontest #FigureofSpeech #padhnelikhnewale


Here is a screenshot of the rules:

I am thankful to the organizers, jury, and participants. Had they not posed a challenge, I would not have tested the limits of my creativity.

I am not sure what I might have missed or if I could even make it better. But, it was my first attempt at writing a Limerick. Yet, it pleasantly surprised me that it came to me in less than 15 minutes. I’ve realized, so long as efforts are genuine, the time investment doesn’t matter.

This contest has inspired me to write more. I will continue to participate in such contests and hope that each one will be a unique learning experience.

Show me the Way

When the dark skies of uncertainty
Don’t let the light gleam through.
And it’s impossible to see, decipher
In the absence of any hope-resembling ray.
I, with folded hands and eyes tightly shut,
Shall look up to you and thus begin to pray.

It is that time again.
I must choose.
That time to commit — Yay or nay!
Believe in belief.
Tread towards my true north
Amidst walloping winds that are at play.

I must go the extra mile:
Beyond my boundary.
Accomplish the impossible,
for that’s how I’ll make a merry.
Then I churn into gold what’s my stack of hay.
You lent me the idea. Now enlighten my way.

©Suyog Ketkar
September, 2021

The Interview and the Strange Feedback

Last month, I attended a formal interaction for a job opportunity within my team. One of my teammates is looking for an instructional designer. Since it is a small team, they included us to review the candidate. That’s how and why the interaction happened last month.


In India — specifically in all the interviews that I have attended either as interviewee or interviewer — there are a few things that have gone unnoticed, unsaid, or but understood:

  • The interviewer asks more questions than the interviewee
  • The interview process has to cover all questions relating to the candidate’s professional life, including if and why was there a gap in their career
  • The interviewer has to have an upper hand or can interrupt


Thankfully, I have never followed any of these rules… and thankfully, organizations are evolving. Come 2021, I have rarely heard anyone facing such questions.


I am of a firm belief that first, it is an interaction and not an “interview,” and two it has to be two-way communication.

But, the recent interaction went from an interaction into an interrogation. And I am speechless.

So, here is how it went.


My first impression was that even though the candidate had over 20 years of experience, she didn’t have the positivity I was expecting her to have. So, I motivated her to talk more or elaborate right from her first answer. It might be true, after all, that the interview is over in the first 50 seconds.


Then, I asked her a few questions, which she answered promptly. And answered a few of her questions. Hopefully, I answered those questions satisfactorily.


Then I happened to ask her about the Oxford comma. I expect that a technical communicator with over 20 years of experience will have, at least, heard about it. She didn’t know what it was. To which I told her that I would have expected someone of her experience to know such things. Nevertheless, she appreciated me for pointing that out, and we moved on.


Then I picked up a few sentences from her resume and asked her to find out if and what was wrong with those. I was prepared to hear her say that the sentences were OK, which they weren’t. To which I would have said nothing.


But when she could not point out the oversight, I pointed out those to her and told her that she could correct those. Even though I realize this is an interview, I thought this helping hand would be acknowledged as a welcome gesture. Besides, I even clarified that the answers to those questions would not impact the interview result.


On a side note, let me tell you a secret. For all the interviews I have attended, I have purposely asked for the interviewers to point out the instances where I could have gone wrong or improved myself. I have always received welcoming replies. In the process, I have made friends with the interviewers… Selection or no selection, we have gone above and beyond those social boundaries to create a collaborative environment. I still talk to a lot of them, more as friends.


So, back to this interaction. I told the candidate how I committed mistakes and overcame those by asking the right questions. I also told her how I liked the interaction to be two-way, and not one-way. Within a week after the interaction, I heard from my boss — during our weekly interaction — that she found me to be aggressively authoritative and egotistic. Although we did clear the confusion between us (my boss and I), and even he felt nothing wrong with my approach, I have since learned a few hard lessons the hard way.


At least I now know one more thing. It is OK for me, as an interviewee, to ask what mistakes I committed. But, as an interviewer, I must not point out the scope for improvement, despite how objective and positive my intentions maybe because not everyone shares my state of mind.


Let me know what you think.

Thirst for Words

Worst for the words,
It appears to me,
Is for them to cease to exist.
Pressing as your heart ever may.

Worst, indeed, for the words,
It is, you must know, for they
Will no longer turn into gold
That once was hay.

Worst, yes, for the words,
It is, you discover, that they
Will not unearth—never anymore—
Buried thoughts that lay.

Worst, surely, for the words
It is, I confess, that they occasionally
Witness the dry beds that once
Flew hundreds of gallons away.

Trust, but I must, in the same words,
For it is at their own fancy that
I awoke, avowed, and will ever await.
Never leave me, I ask. Stay.

Trust, I will, in those words,
For it is their humble selves that
I will reach where I’ve yearned to go
As the words will pave my way.

Trust, surely I will, in those words,
For when they will bless me,
They will have me drenched, and
Quench my thirst for the day.

©Suyog Ketkar
July, 2021

Tourists

It was at the first light of life
That they took the baby step.
And continued to walk along
Even as they slept.

Still bright and breezy
Were they at the wee hours.
Trudged through while
Still learning their powers.

Amidst the blossoming yellow
Bathed, fed the fellows!
Then around the noon
Their lives began to bloom.

Their gaily souls traced the trails.
Still young at hearts, very hale.
The afternoon arrived, though pale,
Blessed with occasional bursts of the gale.

Until evening, their routine was set.
Along with pleasure, closures were met.
Truths were told. Masks had fallen.
Even the hardest had begun to soften.

Wearied souls came upon a bridge.
Living each episode unabridged.
Twilights coated with burnt orange.
Forgiveness tasted sweeter than revenge.

The night, it seemed, soon fell.
Such that no one could foretell.
It was time to pack the bags—
It was time to bid farewell.

The tourists then made the choice
For how long were they to dwell?
Death then enrobed those
Who had managed to quell.

The tourists then sojourned the bright tunnel.
They seemed to cope. And well.
What lay beyond that comfort, now
How were they to tell?

©Suyog Ketkar
June, 2021

Learning through Writing

From the short stories and poems to the first attempt at writing creative fiction in the form of the Spyglass, many occasions made me realize that writing took me even before I took to writing. Writing has shown me that both as a vocation and a profession, the fullest one can achieve is still unknown. Perfection remains more a pursuit, a journey, than a destination. For this post, I will take you along back in time for the backstory.

As a kid, I was never a dull boy. Yes, I was not good at studies, especially mathematics, physics, chemistry, but that was not because I was dumb. I was exceptionally good at all languages, including Sanskrit. I was also good at other subjects and extra-curricular activities. I neither disliked my teachers, nor did I hate learning. I still don’t. In fact, back then, I could not define what I now can. I hated the way people taught. This still remains with me: I am equally sensitive toward what is being taught and how it is taught.

The learning process needs a mentor and student. The mentors, I assume, have not changed. The student is still the same: equally hungry to learn. So, what made this student find his own identity? What happened that a kid who just about managed to pass the tenth grade and was made to accept a specific set of subjects turned out to be one of those students that outshined everyone else in almost every department before passing out of the same school?

It was during the eleventh grade that I began developing a reading habit. Or, I’d say, a few books called me to pick them up. It was a connection I cannot describe. Amongst the first few—and I want you to pay special attention to the selection here—were Johnathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and The Glory of Puttaparthy by V Balu. I must have read both of those books at least a few times. While neither the books nor their respective genre has anything in common, both had the same effect on me. I became a better person after I finished reading them. It wasn’t enlightenment, but it wasn’t too far either. The same seagull that once had dreamed of flying at 70 miles per hour had transformed. It no longer needed to understand the rules, the aerodynamic flow, the wind direction, or wait for their turn in their flock of birds to get to nibble around the fisherman’s boat.

This small change then helped me graduate from being a mere reader to beginning to write. I penned hundreds of poems and short stories before I wrote my first non-fiction book on a writing pad. I called it the Ingredients of Success Recipe. Although I never published it, I did share it with my family and friends. They liked it. Or, at least, they pretended to. I won’t get to find out. But, that doesn’t matter, for I now have this priceless gift called writing. Now when I look back, I find mathematics rather interesting. And, so do all other subjects that I once hated of being made to sit and learn. Writing gave me the logic to decode the way to decipher through those dark clouds of thunderstorms called mathematics, physics, and chemistry. But, was that alone enough?

During my years as a freelance writer, I accomplished quite a bit, for I paid off my education loan even when I did not have a regular earning. During the same years, I had also enrolled for an MBA, which was exclusively for working professionals. Eventually, I figured that to be able to make a family and to sustain it, I will have to earn myself a job. Around the mid of 2011, I had completed a translation project that had drawn me some substantial appreciation and accolades from local representatives. I had completed that project in a mere 15 days—the project would normally have taken over four months of my schedule. But for a practiced hand, translation was a mechanical job. I wanted something more creative, more original.

It was during the last quarter of that year that someone suggested I pursue pranayama, the breathing technique. I researched it and settled on doing Nadi-Shodhan, a breathing technique that purifies the blood and mind. The first month of my breathing exercise wasn’t easy. While it resulted in some magical experiences within the first couple of weeks, it also gave me terrible back pain and other emotional turmoils. Words struck faster, so my efficiency improved, my earnings increased. But, at the cost of my health. The reason was that I had not taken the Deeksha (initiation) for its practice from a guru. So, I suffered from acute back pain for almost two years. But I persisted. Eventually, the pain subsided. Now it is gone.

Why do I tell you all that today? What is the reason I open those chapters of my life to you? What is it that I wish you to take away as the vital thought? The life of a writer is that of a generalist. We are the jack of all trades. And that itself has lent me the most potent insight: to be a learner, I just have to take the next logical step. As a proud generalist, I have broken down complex topics into simple terms and simple terms into clear messages, and clear messages into actionable, understandable items. One careful step, every time. I have moved from clutter to clarity in everything I have ever pursued as a writer.

William Zinsser, of On Writing Well, says, “Writing is thinking on paper.” I can only elaborate on his thought. If writing is pouring down your thoughts on paper, then re-writing is choosing which ones continue to stay there. In one of my previous posts, I said that if one of the best ways to learn a subject is to teach it, then the reverse of it—to teach a subject, learn it first—is equally valid. I have used writing to wayfinding my way into the core of complex topics. Writing, for me, is like a map, which I use to navigate subjects and thoughts, much like city roads.

Does that mean if writing helped me understand the world and make it my own, it would do so for you, too? Maybe. Maybe not. But it certainly would give you that perspective of your own to understand the terms of the world as you pen them down in your own words. Each one of us has their own learning methodology. Writing is mine. What’s yours?

And Memoirs!

Memoir writing is as easy as accepting what made you you.

If there is anything lesser difficult, it is admitting to your mistake when you haven’t committed any. But life throws surprises and shocks at you. Which is what brings forth this series. On the surface, what looks like a recollection of the countless moments that make up life, each moment has a life of its own. These cherished moments, put together, are more than their sum called life.

An account of what I recall as history, my history, is what I cover through this series of posts. I can hardly blame anyone for anything that has happened to me. No one can. No one should. We would be at fault if we were to look at our past with regrets, guilts, or shame. It is despicable of us to blame our destiny for everything that made us us. If anything, we must accept everything as a part of our lives—if it were easy, like I mentioned in the beginning. Every new experience has brought with it a lesson that made me my better version.

A memoir is a bellwether that signals the arrival of storms of recollections; it is the lighthouse that witnesses tsunamis that unearth gems of wisdom from the depths of the past.

But I wish the memoirs to enable you to look at me beyond the boundaries of bone and flesh. Everything I’d henceforth share as memoirs would be dear-to-the-heart, thick-and-textured experiences. I wish the memoirs to:

  • Be natural: Show complexities of emotions and relationship
  • Be human: Show vulnerabilities and imperfections
  • Be impactful: Leave you with a message in a friendly but an affirmative way

Only then will each memoir smell unquestionably myself. Its whiff will fill the air around me with an aroma of warmth. It will break the time barriers by teleporting me into a familiar world of emotions. I will then be looking back, moving forward, and yet standing still.

My Article in CIDM Matters (December edition)

In the December edition of CIDM Matters, I talk about empowering the seeker. Here’s is the link to my article that recently got published in Matters, which is the electronic newsletter of the Center for Information Development Management. To know more, click here.

The Name that Wasn’t

No voice, no noise.
No reflection of oneself.
No definition; none for assumption.
I am not myself.

Now here, now there.
I pity myself.
Now this, now that.
I am not myself.

Neither today nor tomorrow.
I can’t portray the inner self.
One’s thoughts, another’s actions.
I am not myself.

Neither from the rain
Nor from the draught.
From where do I then
Glean myself?

I am but a name
That tiny nothing
Neither more nor less.
I remain myself.
© Suyog Ketkar