Interview mistakes you shouldn’t make

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I interviewed for a job. I haven't interviewed for the last three years. Since my first son was born. I felt that awkward feeling that people describe when they break up with their long-term significant other and have to date again.

It was a writing job. Most writing jobs don't require an interview. You just send some writing and if they like it, you get the job. But this was a big writing job, so I had to interview. However no one seemed to care what I was like in person since they'd probably never have to see me. So everything was riding on a phone interview.

I tried to do all the things you're supposed to do. I dressed in business clothes because you sound different when you are in your pajamas and when you're in a suit. Even on the phone. I stood up while I talked to sound energetic. I smiled because I read that a smile changes your voice to sound upbeat.

I thought things were going well. I liked the interviewer and all the questions were easy. When I got off the phone, I started think about my greatness: Name in lights, bank account brimming.

By bedtime, I was a wreck. I thought of questions I answered poorly. For example, “Where do you want to be in ten years? Would you go back to executive management?” The obvious answer should have been, “No. I want to write forever.” I didn't say the obvious. I decided to discuss the fact that my income as a writer is about twenty percent of my former, executive income. And, like that wasn't enough, I started talking about my childcare arrangements.

For those of you who struggle with similar problems, do not talk about them in an interview. Such talk makes you look confused, on the fence, overwhelmed by kids. All of which were true for me. But I could have hidden my problems for a twenty-minute interview. I hadn't rehearsed. I talked off the top of my head. And such an easy question to blow.

Later that night, when I was lying in bed, my heart was racing. I told myself to stop thinking about the job. I told myself, There is nothing you can do now, and There will be more jobs. But that thinking never works when you interview for a great job. It never seems like there are more jobs.

So then I did something I learned in sixth grade. I made a list of things I did well. In sixth grade it was why I would make the basketball team next season. But this time it was why I will get a great job next time. I made my list. I put it on the fridge. I felt good.

Then my husband saw this list. He said, “Did you say this stuff to the interviewer?”
Then I felt bad about the interview again.

So what could I have done? There are no re-dos in interviews. But we can all learn from my mistakes:
1. Rehearse. Very few questions are unpredictable. There are plenty of books to buy that give you the questions and answers to memorize. Try, for starters, The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book, by Jeffrey Allen.
2. Make a list of off-limits topics so you don't go there. An interviewer can lead you to a topic, but your answer can lead somewhere else. Have a plan in place to make this happen.
3. Make a list of reasons you are great. Use it in the interview.

But guess what? I got the job. So here's another lesson: Get some perspective. It was very normal for me to not be sure what I want to do career-wise when I have two kids under four years old. I need to know what I want to do now, or how can I do it? But I don't need to know where I want to be in ten years. And I am thinking it might be an irrelevant question for today's workers, because in ten years most of us will be doing something completely different than what we're interviewing for, so why talk about it?

6 replies
  1. flykoo
    flykoo says:

    “Make a list of reasons you are great. Use it in the interview” – I do not agree with this statement. Very often, and even almost always, this can make your interviewers think, that you are too self-confident daydreamer with overevaluation who believes in his own genius.


  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Make a list – for any number of reasons. It’s one piece of sage advice that I actually practice myself and find very helpful. Get your thoughts down on paper (or in a computer file) to clear your head so that you’re able to review and make sense of them in an organized way. Even after your thoughts are down on paper it will probably take some time for everything to come together and make some sense. It allows you to see the forest through the trees so to speak.

  3. Brian
    Brian says:

    I read this post a month after I needed it (of course). Slightly similar to your situation…everything riding on the phone interview…talking off the top of my head…blowing easy questions. Unfortunately mine didn’t turn out as well as yours. I didn’t get the job. Not a big deal since I have a job I like, but it’s frustrating that I had an opportunity to advance my career and was not able to take advantage of it. I don’t care that I didn’t get the job. I care that I screwed up the interview. In any case I’m a new subscriber. Thanks for all the perspective.

  4. Gerry
    Gerry says:

    This reminds me of the many blunders I have made at interviews through the years. I once accidently swore (the F word) the atmosphere in the room suddenly changed for the worse!

    The sad part is I was doing so well until my little uncontrollable outburst. Oh well, i guess it all works out for the best as I met my wife in the job I got after attending another interview with a different company.

    Also, i truly wanted to mention that i am fairly fresh to this site. I have been writing for a while individually, but I made it a personal mission to check out additional blogs such as this one.

    So far I am really enjoying the things you are talking about, I understand from experience how tricky it can be to encourage oneself to come up with ideas for their blog but you are sincerely delivering us some appealing articles, so thank you!

  5. oferte predeal
    oferte predeal says:

    Every interview is different. I think the most important point is to have a correct attitude about the level of trust in your capabilities. If this level is high, you can have a lot of success at the interview meeting.

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