I totally, utterly, and completely bombed a job interview once. I talked too much; I know this because the interviewer told me so. He said I didn’t have the direct experience they were looking for. My sense of humor was so far removed from his, it could have been in a different room. He even asked me what kind of music I liked. When answering the generic and usually-safe “anything but country”, he scowled and informed me that was his favorite. He told me the next time I get an interview (never a good sign) to stop answering questions I wasn’t asked. And then he joked that I was clearly wearing the only jacket-and-tie I owned.
At the end of the interview I thanked the gentleman, shook his hand (which I’m sure I did wrong too), and left knowing I didn’t get the job.
Only I did.
I’m as shocked as you.
On this particular occasion, I must have had fortuitous angels on my side because to my surprise and delight, the next week I was sitting at my new desk filling out I-9’s and W-4’s. So how did I get the job? I have to assume that despite all obstacles, the quality of my work, my references, my résumé, my samples, my fit for the position, or any combination of these, earned me the position. Maybe I reminded him of himself at my age. Or maybe he just had a feeling. Gut can be so underrated.
Interviewing isn’t easy. It’s a test of many, many abilities, some of which you will have talent in, some of which you will not. Quick thinking, conversation skills, memory recall, situational adaptation, cliché avoidance, bargaining and negotiation, composure under pressure, job knowledge, preparation, and possibly AP physics. And getting someone to like you. That may even come with your first impression. There’s always a chance that thirty seconds after you walk in the room, your interviewer may have already made up his or her mind. For better or worse, there’s a whole lot of luck involved too.
So what is the moral to my story? Never underestimate the power of the interview. On a good day, you’ll read through a 100 job postings. Of those 100 postings, maybe you’ll apply to one job. Out of 100 jobs you apply to, maybe you’ll get one interview request. And of 100 interviews, maybe you get one job offer. That’s probably an exaggeration, but the at the core is the truth: jobs are hard to get (unless you’re in one of those magic fields like health care or computer programming or non-incumbent Congressional candidate).
But once someone likes you or your résumé enough to ask you in to be interviewed, to take a chunk out of their day and speak with you, you’re halfway home. I could get in to all those interview preparation tips about researching the company, making eye contact, and practicing your answers to those ‘What’s your biggest weakness’ and ‘If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?’ type of questions. But there are better people to guide you there. Congratulations, the door is opened for you, now go and nail it. Or something like that. And if a circumstance arises where you are offered an interview for a job you aren’t interested in: go. Go anyway. Trust me, you could use the practice.
When you’re fortunate enough to get an interview, prepare. Study. Attack it like the SAT’s. Dress nice (and appropriate). Get there early. Smile and be considerate to everyone you meet. Shake hands firmly, and answer questions tactfully and honestly. Know what you’re going to say. Make yourself invaluable. Be warm, be open, be approachable. And for God sakes, be yourself. After that, things are out of your hands. You could give a killer interview and never even be considered for the job. You could bomb, and score the job anyway. But never, ever put yourself in a position where you wind up telling yourself afterward that you could have prepared better, studied harder, that you were to blame for a bad interview because you didn’t do your best.
In the end, no matter how much you prepare, no matter how excellent your answers are, no matter how nice you are to the receptionist, it comes down to someone’s gut. That’s why interviews are face-to-face, one person judging another. For any position, there could be a dozen or a hundred of other interviewees with your precise qualifications and experience. You stand out by your interviewer telling themselves, ‘This is the right person for this position’. You’re the one that they can work around every day. You’re the one that meshes with the company’s philosophy. You’re the one that they feel can get the job done.
Because, in the end, isn’t that life in a microcosm? Prepare as best you can to walk out the door and face the world, adjust to challenges as they come at you, and do the best you can. And sometimes, on those worst of days, when you feel you’ve tried your best but failed nonetheless, someone will point at you and say ‘That’s my guy’.
Even if he doesn’t like country music.
LaidOffLife@yahoo.com ? Laid-Off Life on Twitter ? Laid-Off Life on Facebook
Michael is a Copywriter, Creative Marketer, and Broadcasting Professional still in search of full-time employment after 11 months of full-time job hunting, thanks to an “involuntary career sabbatical”. A Philly native and Syracuse graduate, Michael will gladly accept any job offer you may have for him. Any. Really. Please give me a job??
"Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called everybody, and they meet at the bar." - Drew Carey