It’s that time of year again (again)
I have noticed that for the past few years that I have been keeping this blog, I seem to feel compelled to say something about job interviews around this time of year.
Two years ago, it was about “the before” preparing for a job interview. Last May, it was about “the during.” A warning to pay attention to conversations as they are occurring lest you underestimate a meeting for a coffee and fail to recognize that you might actually be being interviewed.
This year, I want to say something about “the after” because I have been noticing that in the conversations I have with students post- interview, there seems to be little awareness of how they did. Often, the ones who think that they performed wonderfully then never get a follow-up and are bewildered. And then just as often, those who are convinced that they flubbed it are contacted with a job offer. This reminds me of my years of teaching introductory improv courses. When we would get off the stage after their student showcase, we would do a play-by-play to go over what happened because many of the newer performers absolutely couldn’t remember what had happened!!!
So, we would do a group discussion, trying to remember what worked and what didn’t, and as a group, we could pull the pieces together and we could learn something about how we might approach similar interactions the next time. In a job interview, all of these reasons are salient (learn what you did well, what you can do better next time) but another reason to sit down to talk about and interview with someone you trust because you are often in the position of making a decision about whether or not you want to take the job. So I advocate for doing something similar with your trusted career advisors. Host a post interview discussion session. Some of the moments that stick out may bear further contemplation.
“they were so mean!”
It may well be that if you come away with the impression that one of your interviewers was just being unnecessarily meanspirited, it may be worth knowing that such behavior may have been their role! Stress interviewing techniques are something to be aware of, especially if you are applying to work for a high-stress job. It may be worthwhile information for both of you. They want to know how you function under stress, and if you are very thrown, it may in fact be something to ask yourself whether you have it in you to work in such a context, and/or with challenging people.
“They asked such strange questions!”
In one recent case, after taking the job, the candidate later learned that her interviewers were trying to warn her about the realities of the job. She had been asked questions like “how do you deal with challenging personalities?” or how would you function in X situation, describing a very stressful situation that seemed as through it was completely dysfunctional. In subsequent interviews, she has learned to pay attention for these kinds of questions and ask follow up questions to be sure that she is getting at the question behind the question.
“I just know that I failed that test they gave me!”
If they give you a task to complete: never doubt that it may have been designed to be impossible. You can’t know what the testis designed to measure, or what level of performance they are looking for. The best you can do is do your best. If what they gave you was an example of the kinds of work that you would be doing as part of the job, ask yourself whether you would want to do that day in and day out. Is it worth it to get better?
From my perspective, it really all seems to come down to managing stage fright. As a performer for many years (and someone who was drawn to improv classes precisely to manage my own stage fright), the only advice that I can give is: practice, practice, practice. Performance anxiety doesn’t go away, but what you can do is cultivate greater awareness of what is going on in the moment, so now I guess I am bringing it full circle with the before during and after of job interviews. Practice beforehand by doing mock interviews, practice mindfulness during so that you can be paying attention for moments of misundertanding that might lead to greater insight. And get into the practice of hosting conversations afterwards to reflect on what you learned, what you take away and how that will shape your decision-making process.