2 Interviews I Totally Biffed and What I Learned from Those Moments

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?

 

The Worst Types of Interviewers on Your Job Search: #3 The Flighty One

We’ve met The Downer and The Egomaniac. Well, hopefully you haven’t had the pleasure in IRL. If you have, my condolences. Have a piece of dark chocolate with me and laugh it off. As with most things in life, a bad interview can be a learning experience. At the very least, it’s a lesson in how not to interview when you’re on the other side of that desk.

Today, we’re going to meet another “worst type” of interviewer. The Flighty One.

Have you ever had an interview that went like this?

Interviewer: (Texting on cell phone) Hey—have a seat! I’ve just got to answer this real quick.

Candidate: Sure thing. (Sits down and waits)

Interviewer: (texting)

Candidate: (waiting)

Interviewer: (still texting)

Candidate: (staring at the parking lot outside. watching cars back up and drive away. so fascinating.)

Interviewer: Okay! Sorry about that. Sometimes people are so impatient. (rifles through the mountain of papers on desk) Hmm… I haven’t actually had a chance to go over your resume, Jenny. Why don’t you tell me about you?

Candidate: Well, my name is Jane, and I just graduated with a BA in Human Resources Management. I’ve been working part time as a human resources assistant at–

Interviewer: (cell phone rings) Sorry, Jenny. I’ve got to take this really quick.

Candidate: Oh, okay.

Interviewer: (hangs up after a five-minute conversation about weekend plans) You worked at that law firm on 7th, right?

Candidate: No… I’ve never worked at a law firm.

Interviewer: (laughs) Oh, sorry. I’ve been staring at resumes for days. I can’t even see straight! You’ve been in retail for a while—is that correct?

Candidate: Nope. That’s not me either.

Interviewer: Okay, Jenny. Let’s start over. Tell me about you!

Candidate: My name is Jane. Would you like me to spell it for you?

Oh, the things we wish we could say in these moments. The Flighty One might seem like a fun person to be around, if only they could remember your name. Can you imagine what they’d be like as a boss? Even if a hiring manager has interviewed twenty people that day, they should make knowing who you are (or at the very least your name) a priority. Making you wait while they take phone calls (unless they truly are urgent or emergencies), calling you by the wrong name, or not bothering to review your resume beforehand are all signs that hiring you isn’t a priority. You are just someone and they need to hire someone. And when they hire that someone, they will continue to be someone (until The Flighty One remembers that someone’s name—but don’t hold your breath). Someone will be given expired login credentials for every account, resend emails multiple times (because The Flighty One does not do searches), take on urgent projects that stop being projects a day later, and constantly remind The Flighty One there’s no front desk person because they haven’t hired one yet. This is how I imagine it, anyway.

Here are ways I’ve dealt with The Flighty One in an interview:

  1. I tell them I’ll wait while they review my resume. The last time an interviewer told me they hadn’t reviewed my resume yet, I handed them a copy of my resume and said I’d wait while they reviewed it. They gave me a strange look—but, hey, at least they stopped calling me by the wrong name.
  2. I’ve told them we could reschedule the interview, if they needed to. When a hiring manager is taking phone calls or stopping and starting our interview multiple times, I’m not afraid to ask if they want to reschedule. Yes, their time is valuable—but so is mine. They’ll either take me up on it or suddenly realize how they’re coming across. Okay, well, sometimes this doesn’t work at all—and they’ll say, no! Now is fine. In which case, you could consider walking out when they take their next phone call?  In all seriousness, sometimes forgetfulness and lack of focus is a sign that the hiring manager is overworked. There is the chance that, once they get some very needed help, they will learn your name and even appreciate what you do.
  3. I ask how busy they are. When I’m not sure if a hiring manager is oblivious or just overworked, I ask if they’ve got a lot going on and how the new hire might be able to help them. Sometimes it’s clear they are dealing with a difficult situation, and I need to cut them some slack. And other times…
  4. I vent to trusted friends and family. Let’s face it. The interview process can be brutal, and some employers can treat you very poorly throughout the process, from ghosting you after an interview to calling you by the wrong name. It’s normal to feel frustrated and angry. Sometimes you just need to get it all out!
  5. Onward and upward! When I have an interview with a hiring manager who doesn’t know my name, I try not to take it personally. Because it’s not about me—it’s about them. Maybe they are a really nice person who is horrible at multi-tasking and time management. Maybe they fully intended to review my resume, but the day—once again—got away from them. The best thing I can do is keep applying and scheduling more interviews. After all, some hiring managers not only know my name, they’ve looked up every book I’ve published and are full of positive feedback about my work. That’s always a pleasant surprise!

 

Have you ever had an interview like this? How did you respond? Feel free to share your story below!

 

The Worst Types of Interviewers on Your Job Search: #2 The Egomaniac

A couple weeks ago we met The Downer and talked about ways to help determine if the role is as bad as the hiring manager makes it sound. Now, it’s time to meet The Egomaniac.

Have you ever had an interview that went like this?

Interviewer: Tell me about yourself!

Candidate: Sure. I’ve been a social media manager for the last five years, where I–

Interviewer: That’s great. I can read. But what have you done?

Candidate: I was just getting to that. When I started at my current employer, I developed a new social media marketing plan that increased engagement by 80% and–

Interviewer: 80%? Is that supposed to “wow” me? I’ve increased engagement rates by over 1000%. Engagement is just one piece of the puzzle, anyway. What about followers?

Candidate: We started at around five hundred and now we have almost nine thousand on Facebook. On Twitter–

Interviewer: Nine thousand? We’ve got almost forty thousand here.

Candidate: Well, you’re a much bigger brand that has been around awhile. We’re a start-up–

Interviewer: That’s my point. I’ve never heard of you. Your marketing plan must not be working that well

Candidate: Actually, if you look at the increase in followers in the last year–

Interviewer: See, if I was in your shoes, I’d be asking myself why I only have nine thousand followers. When I first started here, I doubled our followers in a month.

Candidate: That’s…very impressive.

Interviewer: It wasn’t easy. I was pulling seventy hour weeks, giving up my weekends. But that’s me. I don’t stop at good enough. I break records.

Candidate: Good for you!

Interviewer: Look, I’ve got more than two hundred applicants for this job. You’re my tenth interview today. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. I’ve turned around every company I’ve worked at–quadrupled their business. You will not find a better mentor. But I’ve gotta wonder–do you want this bad enough?

Candidate: Are you sure there’s enough room for me? Your ego is making it hard to breathe.

Don’t you wish you could say that last line? If your interviewer is frequently interrupting or talking over you and/or cutting down your achievements, while boasting about their own, chances are you’re dealing with what I like to call The Egomaniac. The interviewer might not be as over-the-top as the above example, but the impact is the same. You are being made to feel small. If this is your would-be supervisor, take heed. You’re getting a taste of what your daily life might feel like. Unfortunately, unless you enjoy working for an egomaniac, taking this job probably isn’t the best idea. But that doesn’t mean you have to let them get to you.

Here are ways I’ve dealt with an egomaniac in an interview, when they’ve tried to make me feel small:

  1. I don’t let them rile me up. I once had an interviewer attack my website and portfolio, piece by piece. In fact, it seemed like they’d called me in just for this purpose. I listened, mentally pasting a big, red clown nose on them while they spoke (I’m a designer, after all), and reminded myself that this wasn’t about me. Plenty of employers had complimented me on my portfolio, and I had the stats to back up the success of my work. After they were done, I remained calm and thanked them for the feedback. When they called for a second interview, I told them I wasn’t interested.
  2. If I’m on the fence (is it them or am I just having an insecure day?), I ask them what their expectations are – what do they want me to achieve within the first three months? If their expectations are unrealistic, I know this probably isn’t the right opportunity for me.
  3. I vent to trusted friends and family. Let’s face it. The interview process can be brutal, and some employers can treat you very poorly throughout the process, from ghosting you after an interview to giving you false hopes. It’s normal to feel frustrated and angry. Sometimes you just need to get it all out!
  4. Onward and upward! When I have an interview with someone who makes me feel small, I vent about it and then I move on. Life is too short to let someone like that take up any more of my time. I’ll save my energy for the hiring managers who do see what I can offer and understand the power of positive feedback and encouragement.

Have you ever had an interview like this? How did you respond? Feel free to share your story below!

Job Search #IRL: It’s Tough Being a New Grad

If you’re a new grad, you probably already know this. Getting your first job requires persistence and a serious amount of hustle. I graduated with a B.A. in Cinema Studies and a B.S. in Psychology (variety is my jam), and I wanted to find a role that directly related to my degrees. Since being the next Kathryn Bigelow wasn’t in the cards just then, I tried for counseling, HR, and executive assistant roles, given my IRL experience in the latter two. But I quickly ruled counseling out because you need even more schooling (ugh), and I’d really like to contribute to society quickly rather than be in school…again. So, I came up with a better plan. Focus on human resources and executive assistant roles and look in two locations—Seattle and San Francisco.

Okay, so the “better” plan wasn’t perfect. Flying myself back and forth between two cities for interviews wasn’t a cakewalk, but it ended up being worth the hassle. More locations=more opportunities. I also treated the job hunt as a full time job, devoting a set amount of time each day to researching opportunities and improving my application materials. For example, if I wasn’t getting any hits off the current version of my resume and cover letter, I asked for feedback from my network and made changes accordingly. It’s all about the hook. What can you offer that most other candidates can’t? We all have something we kick ass at—hopefully something related to the jobs we’re applying for. I’m really great at being detail-oriented (perhaps to a fault) and multi-tasking. So, I made sure my resume, cover letter, and answers during my interviews reflected that.

After a long, tough search—seriously, I thought the day would never come—I got an offer from Vittana, a non profit that allowed people to lend money to students in developing countries via peer to peer lending. Part of my job was as Kushal’s Executive Assistant, and oh my god, we couldn’t be more different. Kushal was and is a total cowboy, full of wild ideas, and I’m the one that made sure things worked logistically and didn’t fall through the cracks. I grew and accomplished so much at Vittana, allowing me to gain more responsibilities, be promoted to Development Associate, and gain the confidence I needed in my early career. I definitely have all the lovely people I worked with at Vittana to thank for giving me that first chance.

When Vittana merged with Kiva, Kushal went the extra mile and helped me get a marketing/development role at Code.org. I loved the people I worked with and gained new experiences in a company that required its people to have some incredible amounts of hustle, and to this day, it keeps hitting milestone after impressive milestone. But I got to that point where I needed to do something different—I just wasn’t quite sure what that “more” was. So, I left Code.org and entered funemployment, trying to figure out more about myself and where I wanted to go next, what I wanted to do.

If it’s financially feasible, I recommend doing this to anyone who feels like they’ve hit a wall. Let’s face it. Many of us don’t have it figured out before we’re thirty and that’s okay! There is no law on the books that says you have to stay on the path you started on when you graduated. How boring would that be? Like nearly every job you will ever hold, life is all about throwing curveballs your way. We never stop figuring out who we are and what we want, because we are always changing. 

At some point I had come up with a goal: I wanted a job where I could lead a team/manage people before I was 30. So, what came next for me? Enter Kushal, part II. Yes, that pesky Kushal called up and pitched me on TalentWorks, an idea I loved and could relate to—helping other people find jobs. I met the team, interviewed with them, and I was a fit! I mean, you should see us together on Slack. It’s a good mixture of business talk, friendly banter, and emojis and it’s great. My role started off as Lead Talent Advocate (TA) where I supported people with their job search (resume editing, 1:1s, mock interviews, etc.), and I loved every minute of it. Helping people is my passion; to empathize with people’s struggles and provide solutions and make them feel they’re not alone? That feeling is priceless. What am I doing now? Well, because of aforementioned detail-orientedness and multi-tasking abilities, earlier this year I became the Director of Operations and Project Manager for the company. I still do some TA’ing on the side when I have time, but to be honest this is the role that I was looking for when I was “soul-searching” during funemployment, and I couldn’t be more appreciative for it.

One big thing I’ve learned over the course of my career is the importance of my network. I know we hear it a lot. Network, network, network. That’s how you get the good jobs. But I really have found that to be true—I know you introverts are covering your ears right now. I get it. I had a pretty limited professional network when I graduated, mostly from my part-time job during college. If you don’t have a professional network, don’t stress. You have other networks — peers, friends, family, etc.— take advantage of those relationships you’ve already got in addition to figuring out your strengths and using those to your advantage during your job search. Like I said, there is something we all kick ass at. Once you start your first job, your professional network will grow and take note to remember the people you worked well with. These are people you can hopefully reach out to again during your future job searches. Who knows? You may even have a Kushal hidden about who will help you find opportunities for years to come.

Keep persisting and don’t be afraid to take a chance or two. You never know where those jobs will lead you or who you will meet along the way.

10 Signs That Say–You Probably Don’t Want to Work Here

We’ve all been on interviews that don’t feel right. Maybe we can’t quite put our finger on it. Maybe the hiring manager had glowing red eyes, but your rent is overdue and you stuck it out. No job is perfect. So, how do you know if you should proceed with caution or run away screaming?

Well, only you can decide what you’re willing to put up with—we all have different boundaries. But there are signs that should make you think long and hard before taking that job. In fact, you may be better off having the manager with the glowing red eyes.

1. They only give you one day and time to interview. If you can’t make it, too bad.

I’ve had employers call and invite me for an interview that day. Well, “invite” is too polite of a word. It was more like—here’s when we can meet with you. Take it or leave it. If an employer refuses to work with you to find a good interview time, especially if you’re currently employed, that may be the first of many unreasonable demands. Do they want to interview you or are they just going down a list? In my experience, employers who were truly excited about talking to me asked when I was available and did their best to find a time that worked for both of us.

2. Your potential hiring manager and/or coworkers are rude or seem indifferent to you.

I once had an “interview” where the hiring manager looked me up and down (from head to toe), gave me a terse greeting, and then sat me in front of a computer and told me to take a test. Only the directions were contradictory and confusing. When I asked for clarification, the hiring manager snapped at me. I walked out and didn’t look back.

If they’re looking at their phone while you’re talking, being demeaning, asking inappropriate personal questions, or making you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to say—see ya! As candidates, we’re expected to bring our A-game to every interview. Why should it be any different for an employer wanting to attract the best candidates?

3. They keep mentioning how many other candidates they have over and over…

We get it. A gazillion other people applied for this job, and you have your pick. Yay you! If a hiring manager sifts through a stack of resumes in front of you, mentions how many interviews they have today, tomorrow, and next week, and generally can’t stop talking about how many GRRREAT candidates they have, you have to question the motivation behind it. It’s not like we don’t know we are competing against other candidates. I don’t know anyone who has gone into an interview thinking—I must be the only one they’re talking to. I’m just THAT fabulous.

So, why would any good employer need to constantly remind you how many options they have? If they’re a great place to work, it’s generally assumed they get a lot of applicants.

4. They put down other candidates or former employees

I’ve heard it all in interviews. We got 200 applicants, but half their resumes went in the trash. Another candidate did this or said that. One time a hiring manager even said—the person who used to be in this role could be a total b***! But you seem chill.

This is just straight up unprofessional behavior. And you know what they say. If they’re doing it to others….

5. They try to sell you on the benefits of working in a closet…with the copier and 4 other people.

Ah, lack of space in the office. That’s right up there with IT being overwhelmed and really bad coffee. Does playing musical cubicles sound familiar? It’s common to feel the squeeze, especially if you’re working with start-ups or smaller businesses.

But this is also a place where we have to spend 8-10 hours of our day…5 days a week. It matters. We can’t all expect the corner office with an ocean view, but you should have a space that is comfortable, sanitary, and your own. It should be a space you can be productive in, even if it’s not ideal. If they can’t provide you with that, ask if you can work remotely. If they say no, well…how badly do you want the job?

 6. Everyone acts like they’re stuck at a timeshare presentation.

An interview is a great time to scope out the culture and environment. You can actually tell a lot about a place in a short amount of time, if you’re paying attention. Are people talking to each other and laughing or are they all at their desks staring at their computers with zombie eyes? Do they look at your hiring manager in fear? Do they smile at you or stare at you with suspicion?

One question I always ask is—what do you love about working here? If they fumble with the answer or the best thing they can come up with is “I like the challenge of getting a lot done with little to no resources”, I know I’m probably looking at a not so great environment. You can tell when people love where they work. Their passion and energy is infectious and obvious.

7. They leave you waiting for fifteen minutes or more, and they don’t apologize.

Shit happens. Sometimes your dog eats your thumb drive, which has the only copy of the presentation you need to give in an hour. Sometimes your client’s website has crashed, and it’s all your fault. You knew you shouldn’t have installed that plugin.

But a candidate’s time is valuable too. We have places to be—like back at our current jobs. If a hiring manager leaves you waiting and doesn’t apologize or acknowledge the wait, don’t ignore that behavior. It might not be deal breaker the first time, but it’s concerning if it happens more than once.

8. They have bad reviews that point out the same issues. 

Isn’t it great that employers and toasters have reviews these days? Pay a visit to Glassdoor, Indeed, or other employer review sites before going on your interview. If you see multiple bad reviews that all point out similar or the same issues, take heed and ask questions that hit on some of those issues. For example, if people are complaining about micromanagement, ask the hiring manager what their management style is like or how projects get approved. If you don’t like their answers, that makes your decision pretty easy!

9. This role has been restructured.

I hate it when this happens. You think you’re interviewing for your dream job, and they sheepishly giggle and say – well, the role has shifted. You’ll actually be doing (something not even close to the original job). At best, they didn’t think the role through well enough. At worst, they have no clue who they need or what direction they want to go in next. Either way, they’ve wasted your time and that’s really not cool.

10. They pressure you into accepting the job offer immediately.

If an employer doesn’t want to give you time to think an offer over, which is in their best interest as well, consider that a huge red flag. Asking for a couple days is perfectly reasonable, especially if you have other offers to consider. You have to do what’s best for you, and if an employer doesn’t understand that, is that really someone you want to work for?

Remember: Interviews are a two-way street. They should be selling you on the job and company as much as you’re selling them on your skills. Listen to your gut, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.