How to respond to "won't you be bored?" job interview question.
May 28, 2021 11:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a new job. My current job is fine, but I've recently moved and want something local as the world opens back up. I'm an artist who has generally been comfortable working square admin jobs the past ten years, a job that gives me the time and brainspace and money to do the stuff I actually care about. A question in a job interview yesterday has thrown me into a depressive spiral and I can barely get out of bed: "Would this job be enough for you?" Not money, but, y'know, personal fulfillment.

I responded as honestly as possible: "I don't think anybody is super passionate about managing MS Outlook calendars, but that's a lot of what I do my current job and I'm happy there. I'm happy helping smart people do the things they do." I just want an unfulfilling job I can do well and get paid for. Today I'm so sad I can barely move or eat. The headhunter asked me what I want, and they're offering $20k more than I asked for. I've been asked this question in job interviews before with similarly powerfully bad emotional responses.

How do you a) answer this question and b) deal with the rage and self-loathing it induces?

(Yes, I have a therapist. She is on vacation.)
posted by HeroZero to Work & Money (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think your answer was a pretty good one. If you want to put more polish on it, you could take the approach of "I take pleasure in quickly, correctly, and accurately accomplishing administrative tasks, and moving discrete tasks from my "to do" to "done" lists. It sounds like this job plays to those strengths."
posted by craven_morhead at 11:11 AM on May 28, 2021 [23 favorites]

Best answer: I have known places that looked for artists for that kind of job specifically to get a smart person who would be OK with a kind of dull 9-5. One lab looked for art theater crew because they were used to dealing with divas and had the skill and motive to get everything done on schedule so they could leave (for their evening at the theater).

I can’t tell if your interviewer was that sensible, but a doable useful day job to support your art seems like such a great way to live.
posted by clew at 11:23 AM on May 28, 2021 [14 favorites]

I don't know if you know how good you have it! $20,000 extra is A LOT to most people. Just understand that while maybe you're feeling the grass is greener over on the starving artist side at the moment, an awful lot of people who are "living their dreams" would be super jealous over your setup. My wife and I own our own yarn shop, get to be creative and in charge of our own destiny, create community and teach creative skills. And it's great and fulfilling, but the pandemic was economically devastating, and it's going to be a long hard fight coming up out of that hole. A big part of me wonders if it wouldn't be more worthwhile to just get a straight job like you. We all struggle with these choices, and there's no one right answer.
posted by rikschell at 11:30 AM on May 28, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: My .02: I feel like this is the interviewer over-reaching. They themselves may find this job less than challenging. What they see and understand of you leads them to believe that you too may see the job in the same way.

That said, I think what they are saying is: "I've spent a bunch of time screening and interviewing applicants and don't want to have to do so again, for this position, in the near future. You are very skilled and so I wonder if this is a placeholder job for you and you'll find something more to your liking soon. Tell me I won't be hiring someone else for this job in 4 months."
posted by zerobyproxy at 11:31 AM on May 28, 2021 [52 favorites]

The employer doesn't (and shouldn't) care about your personal fulfillment. They do (and should) worry that you will be engaged enough to do the job well and won't quit. Your extensive experience should be sufficient evidence that this is a good fit for both you and the employer.

For your second question, I'll refer you to the Onion: Temp Hides Fun, Fulfilling Life From Rest Of Office: "Ty Braxton, 23, continues to hide his fun and fulfilling life from the full-time employees of Hale & Dorr, the Boston law firm for which he has temped since July. ... 'I don't want to rub in how much I get to do the things I want to do,' Braxton said. ... 'You know how these people spend their weekends? Resting. They rest.'"
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:42 AM on May 28, 2021 [11 favorites]

I liked your answer because it's honest. A lot of smart people are extremely happy being the XO rather than the captain. They want to help make things work better, to manage process, to smooth the grinding gears; not so much make big decisions that have ramifications about profits and jobs and big business stuff. It's not glamorous work, but it's essential, and once you understand that about your work you'll find that there's no reason do anything other than be proud of the way you make things better for the people around you.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:45 AM on May 28, 2021 [11 favorites]

There is no rule that says your job has to be "personally fulfilling." The job is "fulfilling" its role in your life, that is, enabling you to have the ability to do what you want to do while making a living wage.

That's fine. The idea that it has to be different or you have to be married to/closely identify with your profession is Capitalism Poisoning.

Take your extra $20,000, do the job well, leave at 5, and enjoy your life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:46 AM on May 28, 2021 [11 favorites]

I think zerobyproxy's thinking about the question behind the question is spot on.

This is also kind of a classic "work to live or live to work" kind of question, where there's often this idea that in capitalist systems, workers should really love their jobs (or in my more cynical times of thinking, really love licking the boot). That adage about "if you love what you do, then you won't work a day in your life" is a great way of saying that people should be their jobs and also of putting all the weight for happiness on the shoulders of the workers, rather than recognizing that systems can be just not that great and maybe we should improve them.

In terms of answering that kind of interview question, you can either fake the enthusiasm of claiming that this would be your "live to work" by saying you really do get that excited about Microsoft calendars, or you can think of a way to show the value of being a "work to live" by explaining what the value of the job is for you - you like accomplishing discrete tasks and contributing by supporting other people (much as you did).

In terms of your reaction to the question, my personal pondering is that maybe as a society we shouldn't be putting all of our value as people onto what money we can make for other people. If this is a job that's going to pay you extra well and it's a fine way to make money to support the other things in life that matter to you, that sounds like a fantastic opportunity.
posted by past unusual at 11:49 AM on May 28, 2021 [6 favorites]

I don't think I'd be brave enough to say this in an actual interview, but you can always politely object to the premise of the question. "I don't believe that any job, no matter how challenging, is enough on its own to fulfill a person. I believe that work is only one piece of the puzzle, and I'm fortunate enough that to have many other pieces of that puzzle. I don't need a job that serves as my family and my hobbies, because I already have those things. What I need is a job that complements those things, which this job seems to do nicely."

What I have said before is that I don't think anyone grows up dreaming of being a [job I currently have], but as life would have it, it turns out to be something I'm good at and something I enjoy, so I'm letting it ride.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:54 AM on May 28, 2021 [8 favorites]

I think your answer was great, and I'm sorry you are feeling down! They are probably worried you will be bored and quit? Congrats on the great offer!

Here's another approach you could take:

I enjoy working with smart people and helping them do their jobs better, even if it's something like calendar management, which I do in my current job, and which gives me satisfaction. I value a work-life balance, and this work helps me have a healthy approach to my job and enjoy my life outside of the office.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:57 AM on May 28, 2021 [5 favorites]

Like, I think they are saying, "We can tell you are smart and we don't quite understand why you want this job."
posted by bluedaisy at 11:57 AM on May 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

This isn't about you or your personal fulfillment at all. It is such a pain in the ass to find and train someone and you just desperately want to get someone good and not have to go through it all again in a year. Now, because you're better than what they were hoping for, they're offering you more money in the hope that you'll take it and stay. That's it. That's all there is to it. And your answer was great, as evidenced by their response.

Now, why this triggers rage and self-loathing. I just want an easy job that pays enough too--or at least that's what I always tell myself. But what I really want is a job that's easy, pays enough, AND is fulfilling, and I don't, and I don't know how to get it because honestly I can't think of paid work that I would actually find fulfilling, and it makes me feel like I'm failing at having career ambitions. Is this you too? I mean, objectively I think this is a ridiculous expectation but we do always have the world yammering at us about it. Nobody glorifies getting paid adequately for adequately doing an ordinary job so it's hard to feel all that great about it, even if it's the best thing for your circumstances. I think this is just one of those hard things like not caring about meeting traditional beauty standards. You know what's right for you but it's still hard to tune out the noise.
posted by HotToddy at 12:01 PM on May 28, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I think you did just fine with this. I also wouldn't worry about it - some interviewers are just kind of clueless about the life-outside-the-office bit. When I was in my last job search, I had one interviewer who went even further and flat-out TELL me after only five minutes that she thought I would be flat-out bored in the job, and so she was going to end the interview right there. She didn't even give me a chance to say anything in response.

Fortunately I got placed in the job I'm at only a week later so it worked out for the best.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:02 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Nthing what zerobyproxy said. They're almost certainly trying to gauge whether you'd stay long enough to make it worth hiring and training you, particularly if you told them you just moved.

Most people don't get great fulfillment from their jobs. It's just how life is and is why they're called jobs and people get paid to do them. Things like making art and having a family are what drives most people.
posted by Candleman at 12:08 PM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

You did fine. I’ve been on both sides of that question when there’s an obvious mismatch between the position and the person’s background or previous work. All it really means is, “I’m worried you think this job is something it isn’t and you’re going to quit the second you figure that out, but I’d be thrilled for you to convince me that’s not true.”

“I enjoy facilitating people’s work so they can focus on what they do best, in a position with good work-life balance” is a perfectly reasonable response, especially if you can jazz it up a little with something about this position or company in particular. They just want to hear “I won’t run away screaming if I haven’t been promoted to CEO in six months.”

The question doesn’t make me feel rage or (any more than my normal) levels of self loathing, so I can’t speak to that.
posted by Stacey at 12:43 PM on May 28, 2021 [4 favorites]

Keep your answer to the 2nd half of the one you came up with: "That's a lot of what I do my current job and I'm happy there. I'm happy helping smart people do the things they do." Then you'd just have to tell them why you're leaving your current job - which is, you're looking for something local. Possible bonus points if you mention looking forward to a return to the office, because some employers are -=really=- not happy that they have to let some of their people work from home or risk losing them.
posted by Tailkinker to-Ennien at 1:09 PM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Thoughts on passion as best practice careerism started changing on the Left six or seven years ago, as you were hearing up thread. Some of that is due to the work of Miya Tokumitsu who recently published the book Do What You Love: And Other Lies About Success & Happiness. She was already working on the ideas in it in 2015, however, which is when I first read In the Name of Love: Elites embrace the “do what you love” mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers in Slate and Forced to Love the Grind in Jacobin. The Slate article, in particular, blew my head wide open. See if it makes you feel better.
posted by Violet Blue at 3:12 PM on May 28, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I think you have to bear in mind that the interviewer knows nothing of your art. They don't know what an incredible, creative person you are, how your ideas sustain you, what a rich inner life you have, what an incredible job you've done over the years at building a life where you can be creative over the long term.

Is the source of your depression maybe the fear that they meant: "Surely you can't be the type of person who'd be fulfilled by a job like this?", and that you taking this job - as you'd perhaps like to - would confirm you to them as a dullard? Are you afraid that they will look down on you for it before you've even started? Or are you even afraid that if that was what they meant, that they might be right?

Just a guess. If that rings true, then it's OK: Firstly, you know, we know, about your creative side, and that you're someone who has way more to them than just maintaining calendars. And also, if you choose to show them, they will learn there's more to you too, in due course. At the very least they'll discover that you're not a dullard, you're a fully-rounded human being who is cheerful around the office even when taking a task off their hands that they don't enjoy, and who has an interesting-sounding hobby they don't understand.

(Source: I have an off-and-on creative hobby but work in a totally unrelated field and my coworkers either don't know about my hobby or know the absolute bare minimum and have no interest in it or understanding of it. That's fine for me, I don't need them to understand or appreciate that side of me - it fulfills me, I have friends who understand that part of me, and as long as my colleagues are kind and my job is unstressful and reasonably paid I'm delighted with that arrangement).

Anyway. Nthing what everyone else said, that it's very likely that they didn't mean what they said in a judgey way, they just wanted to check they won't have to re-recruit soon. I once inteviewed for an admin position where they phoned me afterwards to ask specifically this question for similar reasons. I reassured them, got the job, and was actually there longer than either of the people on the interview panel. It enabled me to continue living in a place I really wanted to stay, so for me it didn't really need to be a super career job.

$20k extra is amazing, and if you think the job would suit you, you should definitely go for it. You sound like someone with an excellent work-life balance.
posted by penguin pie at 3:27 PM on May 28, 2021

Best answer: Yeah, your answer was fine, and I recommend unpacking the *pattern* of your reactions in therapy when you are able to return.

It sounds like your lifestyle works for you (doing jobs that don’t drain your energy/creativity), and your answer worked for the hiring team. The issue seems to be how you’re ruminating on this on the day(s) after.

Is there a voice in your mind/from the past that is pressuring to give more to your career? Who or what is the influence that makes it feel like that answer was wrong?

Things like guilt and grief are not driven by logic, but have a lot of power to shape our experiences. Sometimes all you can do is acknowledge that you’re feeling weird, remind yourself it’s not a logical reaction, and give yourself time and grace until it passes.

(Artist to artist— is any of this backlash to an internalized desire to quit your office job and do art full time? I know some people who are able to pay their bills as independent creatives, and I’m definitely envious of that lifestyle sometimes. The interview question could be a roundabout reminder that you’re beholden to corporate jobs. Shot in the dark!)
posted by itesser at 4:02 PM on May 28, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I am very much in your same lane with work vs personal fulfillment.

I moved from a fairly fetishized "cool job" that I had for years, to a decidedly eye wateringly "boring job" with a local government agency, in the middle of the covid era. Despite a fairly 'on rails' interview process, the "won't you be bored?" question came up a bunch, and I went through some similar spirals (oh, and still do) when I answered that question, basically the same way you did, for many of the same reasons. It still comes up. It's kind of obnoxious.

As far as answering the question; you did great. You set a bit of a boundary for yourself with that answer, and that's okay. In the context of the interview, you told them "I am good at these things, I am a pleasant hooman, these tasks are not central to my life and that is okay for me." If they are not okay with that, it will not be a good fit, and you will actually end up loathing the job. I got lucky, and just about everyone I work with is "I am good at these things, and they are not central to my life" because they fucking can't really be where we all work.

How to deal with the depression spiral? Go make some art babeee! Hate-make some art at that depression. Fuck that depression up with your dope-ass art.

Revel in the fact that you get to (YOU GET TO! This is a privilege that is undervalued in society writ large, but this is a privilege) decouple making your shit from making money. You divorced your art from commerce. That's dope as shit! Wrap yourself up in that feeling and roll around in the mud of it.

I realize this is sometimes difficult, but also, make yourself a nice tea or coffee, and go for a walk around your hood. If you like dogs, walk your dog or borrow a friend's dog for an afternoon. Rabbit hole down some youtube videos about like, abandoned mines or the history of St Helena. Go get some of your most favorite takeout. Try and catch your ass a nice sunset.

You did great. It's cool. They may hire you, they may not. You are more than your job, and your experience here on Earth is more than that interview.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:04 PM on May 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

I just started a good job that uses zero creativity and I have so much more creativity outside of work for things I love making thanks to the job security and sane hours. You know what you can do with the $20K extra? BUY TIME. You do not have the same 24 hours as Beyonce because she buys time through outsourcing regular tasks. $20K can get you prepped food ingredients, cabs instead of public transit, childcare etc. You'll have time to rest and be creative with more money.

For the question, I think your answer was great - you get professional satisfaction from making your team run smoothly and efficiently, and you're excellent at delivering that level of service.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:45 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I am in a field that is notorious for consuming workers' lives under the guise of "passion," and I think your answer was great! I would hire you in a heartbeat to help me manage my disaster of a calendar. If they are offering you $20k more than you asked for, it sounds like they thought your answer was pretty great too!

In the past, when I've caught myself in these sorts of spirals, I've found it really helpful to just unplug and go for a walk, ideally in a foresty type area.
posted by basalganglia at 5:56 AM on May 29, 2021

If you're managing Outlook calendars for a company that makes landmines or something, maybe reconsider. If you are dong good work for good pay, self-loathing is absolutely not justified. Get a job that will best support the rest of your life, whether that's art or reading or hiking.
posted by theora55 at 7:56 AM on May 29, 2021

As an interviewer, I wouldn't phrase the question the way yours did, but I was recently hiring for a position that is not thrilling, and I got a lot of overqualified applicants. I was definitely trying to suss out which applicants were like you (which is who I wanted!) -- that is, people who were smart and capable and creative and just wanted a 9-5 job that they could do well and then go home -- versus applicants who had a very unrealistic view of what the job actually entailed and thought they would have more influence/control/authority than they would actually have. I don't particularly mind about turnover, because I'm in a weird system and I'm fine with people using these sorts of entry-level jobs as stepping stones, but I still want them to do be ok doing the job they were hired for while they're in it, because our team needs someone doing those tasks. I was mainly trying to figure out if the interviewee thought the job was beneath them.
posted by lapis at 9:23 AM on May 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Today I'm so sad I can barely move or eat.
There are a lot of good answers above but I was wondering if maybe there is a part of you that believes there is something wrong with you for not getting lots of personal fulfillment from your job.

Clearly, a part of you knows why you are doing this and you are comfortable with that choice - that you are an artist who uses square jobs to pay the rent. The other answers above will show you how many other people agree that this is a healthy and reasonable approach to life.

But you are having so much emotion, I'm wondering if maybe 90% of you is happy with your life choices but there is a 10% that feels there is something very wrong with you. That 10% of doubt or fear could be what is throwing you so far off balance when someone questions your choices in an interview. If this fits, then you might even be able to figure out where that 10% comes from (maybe messages from your family or your culture about what you are "supposed" to be doing with your life). If that's right, then it is definitely worth exploring with your therapist. In the meanwhile, I hope that recognizing that all the intense feelings are really just about some of your own doubts and fears might make it easier for you to be gentle with yourself.

By the way, I think you gave a great answer in the interview and I hope you get the job!
posted by metahawk at 12:11 PM on May 29, 2021

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