When a job candidate or an HR recruiter says, “I’m interested”, “We’re interested”, etc., in the job, in you or in your application, can [s]he mean more than one thing?

You think not? Guess again. Just as “You are interesting” and “I am interested in you” differ dramatically [the latter being mostly romantic], “We’re interested” [or "I'm interested"] can mean quite disparate things—and cause confusion, bad decisions and mischief when one intended use of it is mistaken for another.

Here are nine kinds of interest that need to be distinguished from each other to maximize their benefits and potential, and to minimize their costs and risks:

      1. Curiosity interest: random or spontaneous exploration for possible cues for follow-up behavior, as in, “I’m interested to see what’s in that cave.” This can also be called “cat-curiosity interest”.

       So when a job applicant or an interviewer says, “I’m interested in your company/your application”, it may mean nothing more than sniffing curiosity, with an eye on follow-up information that may be useful, engaging, etc.

With all categories of interest, it is important not to overestimate or underestimate the significance of the expressed interest. Curiosity-interest is the most likely form of interest to be overestimated with respect to its importance.

      2. Anticipation interest: expectation of reward or elimination of punishment, as in, “We’re interested in making you an offer.”—much as, “I’m interested in appearing on your talk show” expresses anticipation of rewards for doing so, e.g., fame and connections.

       If a candidate says, “I’m interested in the opportunity to work with you”, [s]he almost certainly is expressing coded anticipation of performance rewards, which, of course, is a very positive and strong signal.

On the other hand, if what was actually meant was merely curiosity interest, i.e., “I’m curious to see what will happen if I work for you”, the expression of interest might be misread as more than it is, with implications for a job offer, initial offered salary and for passed-over candidates more strongly motivated to work for the company.

       3. Interesting interest: Interest expressed for the purpose or with the consequence of making itself interesting. A quite common form of mid-interview interest, this is an expression of interest calculated to elicit an interested response.

       A good example is when the candidate describes his interest in solid state physics and management theory and the interviewer thinks, “Wow! This guy is interested in solid-state physics and management theory!” What an interesting interest!—and, therefore, what an interesting applicant!

       Making one’s interest interesting to others is, or course, a widely used, if not indispensable, technique for making them interested in you.

       4. Monitoring interest: paying attention in anticipation of additional information about something already tagged, information that may or may not be rewarding, as in, “We’re interested in your tax filings for the past two years.” A project team manager tells one of his staff that he’s very interested in how the job is going.

Thinking wishfully, the subordinate interprets the remark as anticipation interest and a vote of confidence, when, in fact, it’s monitoring-interest—motivated by concern and vigilance more than by anything else.

So, when you hear anyone say, “I’m interested in….” or “We’re interested in”, always try to confirm whether or not it is worrisome monitoring interest that is being expressed.

       5. Stimulation interest: “I’m not interested in…” can signal failure to reach a threshold level of stimulation, as in, “I’m not interested in golf—I’d sooner watch grass dry.” Conversely, “That’s really interesting!” often is used as an equivalent of “That’s really exciting!

       Interestingly, low levels of stimulation-interest may be attributable to weak or absent anticipation interest.

A job applicant, intently looking over your glossy promotional corporate booklets, exclaims, “This is so interesting!”, hoping to communicate enthusiasm for your company.

But that attempt may fail if his remark is construed as a sign of stimulation interest—interest predicated solely on non-strategic stimulation and excitement, i.e., not based on anticipation of rewards for either that expression of interest or anticipated job rewards, if hired.

       6. Reassurance interest: This is another common, but easily misidentified form of interest that can easily be mistaken for one of the other forms of interest, especially attention interest and stimulation interest.

       Reassurance interest is expressed to offset another’s doubts or anxieties, e.g., “No, really, we are still very interested in your application and background.”

A deluded candidate can easily mistake such thoughtful reassurance for anticipation interest, viz., that the company is anticipating the rewards of hiring him.

       7. Validation interest: “I’m interested in rising to a top management position” may be nothing more than a disguised yearning to be validated as worthy of the interest—both in the sense of being qualified to have that interest and to be worthy of the hiring interest of the employer.

       Used with this intent, the expression of interest is just a test of one’s credentials, with validation as the prize for passing.

Another example of validation interest is the case in which X expresses an interest in Y’s prestige interest, e.g., collecting vintage luxury automobiles or Ming vases—with X being either a wannabe collector or otherwise an owner himself.

Either way, the interest is a ticket to personal validation, even if only because it evidences an alignment of values and tastes indicative of high status and “breeding”.

       8. Compound interest:  Like banking interest, personal or professional interest can be “interest-bearing”—either compound or simple, like account interest. In this instance, the “fecundity” of the interest—how much of a return it will generate, rather than the form of the interest, is the focus.

       Compound personal/professional interest, like asset interest, can grow exponentially over time, e.g., anticipation interest that increases as the fulfillment date approaches—as is often the case with weddings.

To generate compound interest in oneself is a major score and clear evidence of “momentum” and “mojo”. Unfortunately, understanding this kind of compound interest is much easier than actually getting it.

Nonetheless, there are some tactics that can make exponential growth in another’s interest in oneself or in one’s own interest in something else likelier.

For example, developing an interest that is not only in high demand, but also in increasingly short supply, is likely to grease an exponential growth curve of interest.

These days, having a well-developed and competent interest in privacy protection software is likely to make you professionally and otherwise very interesting, indeed—if only in terms of eliciting the monitoring interest of some agency.

       9. Simple interest: If you can’t make interest in you grow, at least you should try to keep it stable. That’s the professional and social equivalent of “simple interest” offered at a bank.

       Whether it’s a matter of post-interview momentum or dating, you don’t want interest in you to fade. With simple interest, as with compound interest, the focus is fecundity—how much of a guaranteed return can be expected?

       To ensure at least steady, stable interest, consideration of stabilizing tactics, such as follow-up calls—in both dating and job selection—is advisable.

As the follow-up-call illustration suggests, it will, in general, probably be easier to get and sustain simple interest than compound interest. But then, your bank manager could have told you that.

In any event, you are now armed with nine categories of interest to apply in your professional and personal pursuits.

On my side, I am interested in knowing how interesting you find this analysis and will be happy if you do, in any sense of “interest”…

…except “monitoring interest”, of course.



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