This article was published in Dunya newspaper on 27 April 2017.


You find the outfit you’d been planning to wear this evening for those very important guests crumpled up on the bottom of your closet, despite having asked your wife earlier to take it to the cleaners. This turns into a big argument; hurtful words have been exchanged on both sides. When the time is near you can’t do anything but complain and search for another outfit. Then the doorbell rings and you wear your social mask over that outfit.

– Welcome!

Red carnival mask with feathers

In fact we have several masks in both our social and business lives. We are almost always carrying them around, in order to pick and wear the right one as required.

Where the word comes from?

The word “Persona” comes from Latin, and the original meaning was a mask that partially or fully covered the face, used in plays. Another meaning was the character presented in the play. In 200 BC the poet Plautus used this word to mean a disguise. As plays changed and masks were used no more, so changed the meaning of the word; from an actual mask into a character. (I also have to mention that this word, which is used in Turkish only to denote personnel, was derived from Etruscan, who had taken it from Latin. The Etruscan people emigrated from Anatolia to Italy, and according to many historians have had a close connection with Turkey and Turkish people. )

It is not surprising that the word mask has come to mean persona, and later on, personality. Similarly, it is not surprising to see that a job interview is often nothing but a play where both interviewee and interviewer wear social masks of their own. Same as with love life, these masks are put away in a closet as soon as the relationship is legalized or becomes an everyday routine. They are taken out of the closet and used in appropriate social situations as needed. Business relations are no exception, an interview is a meeting, and, if I may be so bold, a flirting period.

As a person arrives for an interview they have already put on their social mask. We are often baffled at their behavior after the honeymoon is over, especially when it comes to actually producing and performing, or when there is a conflict of interests. You may find yourself wondering: “Is this really the person I interviewed?”.

The best way for an employer to drop the interviewee’s social mask is to ask unexpected questions. When a person is asked such a question they will drop their mask for a moment; the cunning ones will wear it again instantly, and the more emotional ones may even leave their masks behind.

Although the cunning will be quick to re-wear their masks, that one instant is enough to see their facial expression change and show their true personality. A more honest person could initially be surprised and then answer your questions as sincerely as they can. Those who leave their masks behind may be great employees, that is, if you take the time to remedy their broken morale.

I’d like to give some examples on what these questions may be, but the questions may change according to your companies sector and specialty.

The rule of thumb:

Steer clear of usual interview questions. You should know that youngsters today have already researched the most common questions and have prepared answers for them. What you are looking for is not how witty a conversationalist they are, but rather how productive they are.

Be surprising: As I have mentioned earlier in this article, it is not possible to get the mask off unless you shock it off.

P.S: Try to avoid questions that are too personal and invade personal privacy.

Practical tip:

Vector Illustration of Office man phone talking in front of his working place

There is another way to see a person without their social mask. If you don’t have the time, don’t know much about interview techniques, don’t have software for personality testing, etc., I suggest you call the person on the phone; after the interview, or the next day, let’s say to clarify a certain detail or relay some extra information.

The voice or behavior on the phone will be very different from what you’ve heard in the interview. “How different”, you ask?

On the phone you will catch the person unawares and get an idea about their “non-social” personality; so much so that you may wonder if you are talking to the person you’ve just interviewed. The same person, who was so polite during the interview, now has an annoyed tone in their voice while asking who you are and why you called.

Executives have a hard time getting to know people, we don’t get to see their true faces when they call our company and connect to our line, and in this way we lose the opportunity to get to know them. As an executive, if you call an interviewee saying you wanted to clarify a detail about the interview, etc., you will hear the voice they’ll use with you 8 months after you hire them.

What about your future boss?

Abstract Vector Question Mark Colorful Symbol made from Splashes, Blots, Stains

So, is it only employees who wear masks? Of course not. Employers and human resources departments love using interviews as an advertising opportunity. You’d think that their company was in the top ten list of most desirable companies to work for. It is quite common for an employer to brag about how their company values employees and has great conditions, when in reality it is uncommon for them to even pay their employees on time or expect them to work overtime with no pay.

As an employee, you don’t want to start working in a company where you’ll lose your motivation, your time, and stall your career progress. Therefore you also, must observe the true face of the company you are applying to. Pay attention to the behavior of executives towards employees; listen to what they have to say about the person who was in the position you are applying for. The talks behind each other’s backs, the attitude employees have towards one another, and even the way you are treated by the receptionist are all valuable signs as to the true nature of the company.

As they say for personal relations: “A lunch with the ex-wife of your fiancée will save you from a lot of trouble in the future”.  A personal chat with an ex-employee of this company may help you foresee the problems that lie ahead and help you have a better judgment.