Sometimes the best advice comes by learning from others’ (terrible) mistakes. This is a very personal story about how I completely bombed an interview, not once, but twice, with a former employer who I had a great relationship with. Here’s how not to approach a job interview. I hope you learn from my interviewing mistakes!
Applying for the Wrong Reasons
My current job was burning me out. I had lived through four years of 15 hour days and a complete lack of financial accountability by my boss, for which I was taking the fall. I was desperate to get out. At just the right time, I noticed a management position posted at the organization I had worked at before, and decided this would be my way out. I applied immediately.
But I didn’t think it through. I had left the organization for good reasons (no disrespect to the employer), and none of those reasons had changed in the four years I had been away. However, I carried on in desperation, and, sure enough, I secured an interview.
The problem with securing an interview out of desperation, is that your motivations are unclear. You have no idea whether you really want the role because of the career opportunities it presents, or just because it is a paying job that is different to the one you currently have. The former is a good reason. The latter is a very bad one. Not being able to differentiate meant that I couldn’t focus on the value I could bring to the employer. My overwhelming motivation was to get the heck out of my current situation. That doesn’t make for a convincing interview.
Not understanding the real reasons why I wanted the role, I really struggled when I came to prepare for the interview. Usually this is never an issue for me. I failed to identify the context that the hiring manager was working within and couldn’t clearly articulate what skills, values and experience they would want me to showcase to demonstrate my suitability for the role.
I also made one grave mistake. I failed to connect with my former colleagues at the organization to understand more about the role. At best this raised red flags about my attention to detail and, at worst, indicated a sense of arrogance – did I think I already knew what I needed to without actually doing any research? I cringe as I write this.
If you take away anything from this post, whenever you can, please do your research with actual people from the organization where you are applying. Ideally these would be individuals working in a similar role, or within the same department. If you can’t find anyone that close to the role, connect with anyone who may have insights and do as much reading as you can.
You know what they say; “‘Assume‘ Makes an @ss out of u and me”. How true. I had not done my homework and not connected with anyone who was actually at the organization. So I went in to the interview with a head full of assumptions about what they were looking for. My former boss, who was moving into a new role, (creating the vacancy I was interviewing for) had a very distinct management style. I assumed this is what the interviewers were looking for. So I responded to their questions in a way that I thought would emulate this style. I was so wrong. It’s not a good idea, in any situation, to pretend to be something you are not. Especially when you are pretending to be something that no-one is actually interested in!
Bad Choice of Language
What really sealed my fate was my inability to recognize that, although I had worked with the people who were interviewing me in the past, I could not rely on communicating in a ‘familiar’ way in an interview situation. Had I got the position I would have been an ambassador for the company in a number of external facing situations. As such I needed to demonstrate, for the purposes of the interview, that I could be formal, measured and diplomatic in my responses. Instead I behaved like I was gossiping with long lost girlfriends and gave far more information than I needed when responding to questions about how I managed difficult employees and my reasons for wanting to move on. Very unwise.
Not Following Up to Say ‘Thank You’
And finally, the rookie mistake to end all rookie mistakes – I did not follow up with a thank you e-mail to my interviewers. I knew this was important to my former boss and for some reason I just didn’t do it. I put this down, once again, to a lack of clarity in my motivations.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t get the job. I think that was a good thing in the long run and I do believe things happen for a reason. However I would have preferred to have delivered a solid interview performance and been pipped to the post by a stronger candidate, than bombed the whole thing and felt like I would have to duck behind the nearest lamp post if I ever met my interviewers on the street.
So, my dearest FoodGrads, what is there to learn here?
- Make sure you have a clear set of reasons (other than just “I want a job, any job!”) when applying to a position.
- Do you preparation. Research the company. Speak to current employees and read as much about the organization as you can.
- Don’t make uneducated guesses about why the organization is hiring or what they are looking for in the successful candidate.
- Do have a good understanding of the skills and experience you bring to the position and why they fit well with this role
- Maintain a level of professionalism throughout the interview. Even if it seems as though your interviewer is indicating that unprofessional behaviour might be OK. This could be a test to see how seriously you take the process.
- Always find out the e-mail address of the person you interviewed with and send them a thank you note. Alternatively, if you can’t find their contact info, send one to the person who set up the interview and ask them to forward the note to the interviewer
- Don’t forget that we all have our off days. If you bomb an interview, it isn’t the end of the world. Do some objective analysis on what went wrong and learn from your mistakes. If possible, call the company to ask for feedback. I am glad that I did. It confirmed I had done a bad interview, gave me the opportunity to reflect on what went wrong, and showed the employer that I was interested and cared about improving.
So now I have bared by soul – do you have any stories about interviews that went badly (or maybe really well?) that might help others going through the process now?
Author: Juliette Prouse