We all have those interviews we look back on and think—if only. If only I’d taken ten minutes to review the company website. I might’ve said something better than “um” when they asked me what I knew about them. If only I didn’t forget my portfolio. If only I’d sold my skills more. We all make mistakes, just like we burp at the most inopportune times. But, in my book, mistakes make us more interesting. I grow a lot more as a human being when I make them.
Here are 2 of my not so glamorous interview moments and what I’ve learned from each experience.
Interview 1: When I showed up with my shirt inside out.
Yes, I actually showed up to an interview with my shirt inside out. Granted, it was one of those dress shirts, where the “inside” isn’t immediately distinguishable from the “outside”. I mean, it’s something you’d notice if you weren’t running fifteen minutes late and didn’t grab the first thing out of your hamper.
But I was running late, because… Okay, I didn’t have a good reason. I simply got distracted and lost track of time. So, I showed up at 8:59am (the interview was at 9), short of breath, because it was one of those maze-like office buildings and the suite was the last door I came to. You know, just like when you’re late for a plane, your gate is pretty much guaranteed to be at the end of the terminal. I discovered my shirt was on inside out, tag hanging out and all, right before the interviewer appeared to greet me.
Can you imagine how I came off when we shook hands? I watched their lips move, but all I could think was—oh my god. My shirt is on inside out. Have they noticed? Just how bad does this look? Should I ask to use the restroom or will that make everything worse? It’s probably rude to ask that now and make them wait. I was so inside my own head, I didn’t even realize the interviewer had asked me a question. Now they were looking at me expectantly.
Me: I’m sorry – what was that?
Interviewer (looks at me like I grew an extra head): Did you find us okay?
Me: Oh, yeah!
As you can imagine, the interview didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I was so distracted by my shirt that my normally cool and confident demeanor was replaced by nervous rambling.
What did I learn from this experience?
The importance of preparation, for one thing. These days, I make sure to pick out my interview outfit the night before and have it ready to go. I also put every interview on my Google calendar and have notifications turned on (I set mine to remind me thirty minutes before I have to leave). That way, when I get caught up in a project for a client, the latest book I’m working on, or even just a text conversation with a friend, I get a reminder to stop whatever I’m doing and start preparing to leave. So, if you’re easily distracted or have ADHD like me, you may want to consider setting reminders for yourself, even if it seems tedious or unnecessary.
When I come to an interview prepared, my mind is clearer and I just feel more confident.
Interview 2: When I let myself get rattled.
Sometimes interviewers don’t ask you the questions you expect. They throw things out at you to see how you respond. It first happened to me early in my career. We were having a standard interview until…
Interviewer: How many gas stations do you think there are in the city of Seattle?
Me: Um… I don’t know?
Interviewer: Take a guess.
Me: A hundred?
Interviewer: (smirks) Do you know the population of Seattle?
Me: Six hundred thousand or so?
Interviewer: So, you think there are a hundred gas stations in a city of six hundred thousand?
Me: I…honestly don’t know.
Interviewer: Well, how did you come up with that answer?
Me: The fact that I can never find a gas station when I need one?
Interviewer: (laughs) No, seriously. How’d you come up with that?
Me: Uh… (mind goes blank)
In that moment, I felt foolish. My answer must have been completely off the mark—why else would the interviewer look so amused, I thought. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t about the answer—it was about my thought process. But I’d let myself get rattled to the point of being speechless. For the rest of the interview, all I could focus on was how that one answer had completely did me in. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get a call back for a second interview.
Look, I don’t agree with that particular style of interviewing, even though I can see its purpose. I think it’s demeaning and not a great predictor of future performance or how well the candidate will fit into the role. I feel the same way about assessments. Not everyone tests well or fits into a neat little box. But some companies (and hiring managers) believe in them, so we, as candidates, either need to deal with them or refuse to move forward with companies that require them. Unfortunately, the latter isn’t an option for a lot of us.
What did I learn from this experience?
I realized that any interview I go on can have a curveball (or five) thrown at me, and I needed to learn how to take the unexpected in stride. It’s not about how fast I can answer a question. If I need time to answer a question, I ask for it. The world isn’t going to end if I don’t have the right answer. Like in the above example, it’s not even always about having the correct answer. It’s about how you handle the situation. Staying calm and having confidence in myself has made a huge difference in how frequently I get called back for second interviews.
How do I stay confident? I remind myself of my strengths. I also do my research on the many types of questions employers can ask and prepare myself for them. For example, when I schedule an interview with a company, I look them up on Glassdoor. Sometimes, under the Interviews tab, there are quite a few “reviews” from other candidates about their interview experience with the company, including what questions the hiring manager asked. This can often give me a clue about what to expect.
I’m always going to make mistakes. Some interviews just aren’t going to go well, no matter how much I prepare or how much experience I have under my belt. Maybe I didn’t sleep well the night before or I don’t mesh at all with the interviewer. Beating myself up over it isn’t going to do me any good. The only thing I can do is get back up, have a good laugh at myself, and move on to the next opportunity. After all, I want to find the right one for me.
Now it’s your turn. What interviews have you totally biffed and what did you learn from the experience?