As this is a series about developing your professional career this post applies to all those who like me are always looking ahead, anxious about discovering what tomorrow will bring and how to make it worth. If you are already there, you can read this post and comment anyway, we can all benefit from other’s experiences!
In all of my career (which admittedly, is not that long) I have had countless interviews, specially when I was picking the path I would later take. I was interviewed by recruiters, by managers, by peers, by directors and all mighty company owners. I was put through individual processes and group ones (those always made me laugh a lot honestly, which would explain why I always got kicked out of them), people would make me draw a man under the rain or a tree, or show me cards with pictures on them and explain what I saw. Oh, and of course asked about my strengths and weaknesses.
That’s why Neo is up there. They made me feel like him most of the times: like they didn’t really care about me, just going through a process that couldn’t end up very well for me. Ever felt like that?
I remember when I was on my early 20’s I had to print my CVs. Not just one of course, but many. I would have 2 or 3 versions in different types of paper. Microsoft Word was the best tool (with the best templates) to make beautiful CVs but no matter how nice they were, or how soft the paper they were printed on might be, those pieces of paper never guaranteed success on any interviews.
There was no linkedin.com back then (it was there alright but it was not what it is today and we didn’t use it where I live), and Google was fighting for dominion with Yahoo!. Most of the information relevant to who I was and what I could do for a Company was on those pieces of paper. The same ones I just said were no guarantee of success.
It all came down to the Interviews you had. How you presented yourself or what the interviewer would see in you when his or her eyes would move from the paper to you. I remember thinking, most of those times: “what are they looking for?”, or “what do they see in me?”. I can almost hear my voice in off, as if I was Kyle Mac Lachlan in the 1984 Dune Movie. So insightful…and old school. Click the image on the right to check out the movie if you haven’t. And oh yes, that’s Sting over there.
It took me a long time and many Interviews to get me to where I am. I would say the average amount of interviews per job I got was about 4. First ones are always with the recruiting team, then “associated” interviewers and finally the hiring manager. Each one of them would find me with a smile and a prompt answer for most of their questions but even then I was sometime left wondering: could I have done better? Even after getting the job, could I have been better than I was?
And that sort of thought would stick with me for some time and stay right there on the back of my head…until I got it: job interviews are only windows through which one is observed and also gets to see inside. It doesn’t matter if you look good in paper or if the people referring you consider you’re an ace. I would even say that at that point when you’re sitting in front of someone asking questions, even they are not as important as you are.
When I realized that I was the “pivot” in every interview, I started approaching them differently. The first thing I did was trying to remember the last ones I had and separated in several groups:
The ones that I thought went well and landed me a job
The ones that I thought went well but I didn’t get the job
The ones I knew didn’t go well, but got me more interviews or a job actually.
The ones I just knew went really bad.
After doing that, I was able to better understand a few things I may have thought of but had never worded them this way. Check the ones that sound familiar.
I can’t know the background of the interview before I get there, but my attitude can change the course of every one I go through.
Not all interviews I went through made sense to me. I just went on the hopes of getting me a job.
Not all interviews that got me a job were good ones. Some actually made me feel I couldn’t get the job no matter how I tried so imagine my surprise when I did get them.
Most interviewers acted mechanically and thus my answers were like that (“smile and answer”).
Some jobs I was just not going to get and it doesn’t depend on how good I did. It’s called “agenda” and interviewers and hiring managers have them too.
There is no perfect recipe for going there. I tried many formulas with different results. All in all, I discovered I was the “secret” ingredient.
Just to be really fair about this list, it didn’t just pop in my head in a few minutes. It took me some time to go through the ones I remembered and place them in the groups I mentioned above. And it took me even longer rationalizing what had been good and what hadn’t been. All I had was the thought that because I was central to the interviewing process, it had to mean something.
And it did, it still does actually. Because the interview is about me, I can affect it. I can even control it at one point but, regardless of how good I think I am or how great I think I can do in an interview, it is just one separate and limited event in a chain that might end up with me getting hired or not. All I can really affect is my “desirability rate”, you know, as in “make them want me”. I discovered I can charm interviewers and managers but only after understanding the dynamics of the interview, and that, I could do. All it took was listening more, paying attention to details about the interviewer and the context…and transforming that into my own stage.
It took me some more time (by this moment you’ve probably realized I am sort of slow lol) to work a method out of this, and once I did I started applying it. The result: I never had a bad interview since that moment. I didn’t get all the jobs of course, but I never again came back home thinking “I could have done better”, but rather “they liked me but I won’t get the job”, or “great to meet them, one day they might call”. I gained confidence and mostly, I feel I have at least mastered my part of the interview.
To conclude this take, all I have left to say is this: if you still feel interviews just “happen” to you, or that they can be good or bad and you can’t affect them, think again. You can master them, all you need to realize is that YOU are the important part of any interview, and that each interview is a limited event that will only increase your odds of getting the job but never guarantee it. Remove that pressure from the interview itself, remove it from yourself and rather try to learn what’s your best way to interview, what’s the best you can give and pay lots of attention. That way I promise, you’ll end up knowing exactly how likely you are to get the job or not…and move on.