Use & Lose Interview Blues

A couple of months ago, I wrote a list of tips for new graduates looking for work. Actually, at the time I wrote it, the end of the academic year was so imminent that anyone graduating should have been looking for work for months.

That didn’t necessarily mean they’d found a job in their field. Maybe they hadn’t found any work at all.

Making this graphic was 30 seconds well spent.

Even if you do everything right, sometimes you get the shaft. Maybe the interviewer thought you were too fashionably dressed and would detract attention from his extensive collection of wacky ties. (Note: Although I’m being a little facetious, this is not an unrealistic scenario; recently, a young woman was told she needed to “dress more conservatively” in an interview, not because she was showing too much skin or sporting a multi-colored cape, but because her outfit was too stylish.)

I didn’t write much about interviewing, actually. To be fair, that post was purposefully short and sweet – you have to account for the symptoms of senioritis, one of which is that the willingness to read decreases at a rapid rate – but I did gloss over the importance of just getting an interview.

According to Tony at IowaWORKS‘ Region 9 office, the number one error job seekers commit is being underprepared for the interview. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure I’ve pinpointed the reason for this: preparing for an interview is hard.

You have to read books and use online resources. You have to role-play and put on your normal person disguise. You have to research the company, find out as much up-to-date information as you can, and then memorize that information well enough to give the impression that you’ve wanted to be a data manager at Ultra Corps. since you were weaned.

You have to be ready to answer their questions in a way that is both honest and what they want to hear. For example, everyone’s least favorite interview question goes like this: “What is your greatest weakness?”

“This hat is the only thing keeping my brain in.”

Most of us already know that you’re not supposed to answer this question in a perfectly straightforward manner. The interviewer really just wants to see how diplomatic you can be.

That’s why this question sucks so hard. No one likes it, not even the interviewer. It’s stale and cliché and is, itself, rather dishonest, in that it is asked with the intention that you’ll spin your answer.

Unless you’re already closely familiar with an organization’s inner-workings, I’m not sure it’s possible to ever feel fully prepared for an interview. Something’s going to throw you, and the best way to move forward is to shake it off.

But just getting an interview is an accomplishment – especially if you don’t have a network “in” when you apply for a job.

It doesn’t always feel that way. Most interviews I’ve had took place over the phone. It’s hard to stay focused and energetic with phone interviews; there are no body language cues, for example, to help me ingratiate myself. If I sit across from an interviewer, I can mirror her body language, which will make her more likely to find me amiable.

“As a nightmare shadow person, I like to work with other nightmare shadow people like me. You’re hired!”

Instead, I find ways to talk about her, asking questions like, “How do you like the company culture? How many years have you been with the company? What’s your favorite part of your job?” etc., etc. It makes it more like a conversation and less like an interrogation. This puts us both more at ease. Plus, most people appreciate an opportunity to talk about themselves.

This trick doesn’t always work. Sometimes you just don’t connect with people. Still, I count an interview as a win if I make it to the end; even if they respond to my questions monosyllabically or get snotty when I tell them it took me three years to get my Masters (they usually change tone when I explain why it took three years, but some people don’t let me get that far).

The point is that it’s important to appreciate the little victories when you’re on a job hunt. Actually, it’s important to appreciate the little victories at any time. I’m being sincere: life is scary and miserable and any time you accomplish anything, you should be a little proud of yourself. After all, you might be the only one who is.

And now, just for fun, here are some personal stories about interviews gone wrong:

  1. I interviewed a guy who was personally offended that I was asking him questions. To be clear: he was not offended by the questions I was asking; he was, in fact, offended that I was asking him questions at all.
  2. When I got a haircut right before an interview (rookie mistake), I hated it and couldn’t stop messing with it – finger-brushing, floofing, smushing, etc. When I noticed the folks across the table eyeing me, I tried to apologize and explain my problem, but I almost started crying and they definitely thought I was a weirdo. I did not get that job.
  3. I also didn’t get the job where I joked with the interviewer about how I was in so much debt that I’d been rejected for an Express credit card. Yeah, talking about any financial problems is a big no-no. In my defense, how many 20-year-old college students really have great credit? (My credit score has increased since then and I have a Banana Republic card to prove it.)
  4. Panel interviews can become legendary train wrecks. Once, four stone-faced women stared me down for half-an-hour as I, at first, attempted pleasant-but-professional conversation, then nervously tried to salvage some charm, then gave up and lapsed into near-silence. The last ten minutes were excruciating and unnecessary. They were mean ladies.
  5. One guy I talked to over the phone told me I had a sexy voice. Ew.
  6. I have accidentally cursed during an interview.
  7. I have snort-laughed during an interview.
  8. I have had… gas issues… during an interview.
  9. One of my favorite worst interviews was the middle-aged guy who DGAF and drank during the interview. He didn’t really want to talk about anything except all the cool stuff he’d bought since his kids were out of the house, and that was fine. He seemed happy enough.

I should make it an even 10, but I’m leaving you with Reasonably Content Drunk Guy.

Just remember: You learn something new every time you interview, and, at the least, a terrible interview today makes a great story tomorrow.

“Maddie, I swear: he dressed up like Lobster Santa. No, like, he literally painted himself red and wore a Santa costume and he’s still the most qualified candidate I’ve seen.”

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