Job interviews, critical though they may be, are probably the most over-thought moments in our careers. If you remove the self-imposed gravitas from an interview, it’s really something you’ve been doing your whole life: talking to people.
The workplace made its way on to Twitter last month as users went creatively crazy with the hashtag #FiveWordsToRuinAJobInterview.
Here are a few examples:
“It’s prosthetic. My nose. See?” — @trumpetcake
“Have you seen my ferret?” — @IGotsSmarts
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“I was never actually convicted.” — @andylassner
This got me laughing. Then it got me thinking: Job interviews, critical though they may be, are probably the most over-thought moments in our careers.
We worry about them. We spend hours preparing for them. We read books offering tips on how to “ace the interview.”
We amplify the interview experience, creating a mythology around what is, in essence, a conversation. An important conversation, of course. But not a conversation with an alien life-form. Not a meeting that will determine the fate of the planet. Just some people trying to get to know each other a little better.
When we were young, our parents taught us the basics. Listen politely. Ask questions. Make eye contact. Don’t ramble on too long.
If you remove the self-imposed gravitas from an interview, it’s really something you’ve been doing your whole life: talking to people.
I asked Liz Funke, hiring manager at Dynamic Web Solutions in Richmond, Va., what she looks for when she’s interviewing someone.
“Somebody that’s real,” she said. “If you give me canned answers and I probe a little bit more and I get more canned answers, it’s not going to happen.”
If you gobble up every interview advice book on the market and try to run through every possible interview question in your mind, your so-called preparedness is likely going to mask what should you be your strongest selling point: you.
“If someone’s overprepared, you can just tell,” Funke said. “You want people to be authentic and honest, absolutely. I just need people to be open with me.”
Think on your feet, not from a script
Kathryn Schipper, a senior human resources consultant with King County Superior Court in Seattle, summed it up nicely: “Be yourself, but be yourself on a really good day.”
“Listen carefully to the interview questions,” she said. “You get people who come in and they have a set speech and you ask something and they spew a heavily rehearsed answer, and that’s apparent. You want someone who listens and thinks about the questions. Even if there’s a pause before they give the answer, that’s OK. It’s a test, but not really. It’s really more of a human interaction.”
And that’s what I think gets clouded over by all our worry and by the job-interview-prep industrial complex, which I’m sure makes millions selling people books that turn some people into less-appealing versions of themselves.
Lou Adler is CEO of The Adler Group and author of “The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired.” I realize I just mocked books that claim to help you get hired, but Adler has a sensible approach to this subject and has years of experience viewing the process from both sides.
“People tend to over-prepare the wrong things,” Adler said. “The real issue is they don’t know what’s going to be asked. So when you don’t know what’s going to be asked, you get nervous and then you overprepare and that almost amplifies the nervousness and it becomes an even more awkward situation.”
His suggestion is simple. You need to be ready to talk intelligently about some of your accomplishments, the things that demonstrate your value. So identify several of your strengths and figure out specific examples of work you’ve done that highlights those strengths.
You don’t have to prepare a speech, just have the facts in your head so you can draw from that knowledge over the course of the interview. Adler said one tool for this kind of preparation is to set two minutes on a timer and talk extemporaneously about one of your accomplishments. Maybe think about ways to connect what you’ve done to issues facing the company interviewing you.
Adler said it’s a bit like doing improv. And it’s a way to get ready for a job interview that highlights who you are, not who an interview-prep guru says you should be.
Even if you’re not completely comfortable with your own personality, trying to fake your way through an interview isn’t going to end well. Either the person interviewing you will sense your insincerity or you’ll wind up getting a job at a place that’s not a good fit.
“If you’re at your best and you are who you are and they don’t like you, it’s absolutely better for everyone,” Schipper said. “If you’re fake and you try to fake your way into a corporate culture, you can’t do it for the next 30 years. If you’re in it in the long haul, you have to work somewhere that’s going to want you as you are.”
I can give you plenty of #FiveWordsToRuinAJobInterview. But I suggest you follow these five words instead: Don’t overcomplicate a job interview.