“There are 3 masks:
The one we think we are,
The one we really are, and
The one we hold in common.” -Jacques Lecoq
French Theater legend Jacques Lecoq’s smartest career move occurred in 1948 when like many present-day INSEAD participants, he successfully made both a geographic and functional change. In Lecoq’s case he traded the physical education field in post-War Paris for the study of Commedia dell’Arte in Italy. Indeed his fateful decision to go to Italy would bring him in contact with his collaborator Amleto Sartori, the craftsman who helped Lecoq revive the iconic Neutral Mask. Pedagogically, the Neutral Mask was employed by Lecoq to endow acting students with an emotional honesty and economy of movement that had been abandoned over the years in favor of a more craft-style acting technique. Of course, a more critical reading of the Neutral Mask reveals its repressive qualities which demand a forced balance and unnatural receptivity from wearers.
I have caught myself wearing my own Neutral Mask all too frequently during the current P4 recruiting season as my self has become muted. It catches you by surprise when evil HR people quiz you with loaded questions– “How would you feel about starting out in a sales position?”… Is this a trick question? Does she want me to say “Yes”? If I say “No” will I torpedo my candidacy? Should I mold my answer to what she wants to hear? (assuming I can successfully guess what she wants to hear). For me the psychological stress of recruiting lies in having to adopt a new mask for every interview.
“Sure I’ve always dreamed of living in [an isolated town in Germany/Ohio/ China/Siberia].”… “Sure I look forward to travelling 5 days a week.”… “Sure I’m happy to accept an internship with no guarantees of a permanent offer.” These sentences start to effortlessly roll off your tongue until you wake up one morning unable to recognize yourself.
The moment came after a fantastic first round consulting interview. I had nailed the 2 case interviews, charmed the pants off the male and female interviewer, and was really impressed by the firm. But then the HR coordinator started to piss me off. They stuck algebra problems in front of me and demanded to know my standardized test scores– in short, they didn’t trust their own judgment and preferred to rely on external measurements. My GMAT score is over 700, so I had nothing to hide, but I graciously jumped through all their hoops like a trained dog. Yet inside I started to resent the fact that they were simply searching for a reason to shoot me down as a candidate. Companies will defend themselves by claiming how hard it is to distinguish from so many qualified candidates, particularly at a school like INSEAD, but from the candidate’s perspective, it raised questions about how this organization would treat me after I was hired. Would one partner take charge of my career development, or would I simply float along through the machine, constantly being pushed and pulled by an inhumane system?
And then it happened. I went to an interview last week with a company that didn’t require me to wear a mask. I was myself, they were themselves, and no one had to put on any airs. It was such a feeling of relief. From the moment I walked into this company’s office I felt at home. I can’t say that about any of the other companies who I’ve interviewed with during the recruiting period. For the first time I met a company that wasn’t interested in making me jump through hoops. They had a real hiring need, I had the qualifications they were looking for, and no time was wasted on artificial HR interview parlor tricks. It felt so liberating to finally take off the masks, abandon my game face, and at last be myself.