Interviews: How to Put Your Best Foot Forward (and Not in Your Mouth)

Reflecting upon my recent interviews, I realized, I am either getting better at this, or interviews are getting easier. To be honest, I think they are getting easier. The last few I’ve had I just had to smile and listen. I barely even spoke, which might be why they went so well. I’m sure I am also getting better at them, but that isn’t saying much. I am so epically terrible at interviews, I had nowhere to go but up. Let’s take a brief tour through my Interview Hall of Shame as I share some of the tips I’ve learned over the years.

One of my very first interviews ever was my admissions interview with a Duke alum:

“So, you have been working at the FDA. Are you interested in science?”

“No, not really.” I apparently felt no need to elaborate.

Tip #1: Interview questions are very rarely meant as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions.

“…so why do you work there?”

“You know, a job is a job.” Gotta get them dolla dolla bills, ya feel me?

Tip #2: You don’t have to lie, but you don’t have to be brutally honest either. You win no points for being frank and indifferent.

Though she had probably already written me off, the interview went on.

“I see you write for the school paper. What are some articles you have written?”

“Well, I just wrote this one about ideas for Valentine’s gifts as an alternative to flowers and chocolates. Like, if your girlfriend really likes cheese, you could get her a block of cheese. And other stuff… I don’t remember.”

“Cheese?”

“Yeah, it was funnier in the article. You had to be there.”

I could tell, she was not impressed.

Tip #3: Don’t talk about cheese in an interview. No matter what your favorite movies tell you, cheese is not a good ice breaker.

Image credit: www.tumblr.com

Image credit: http://www.tumblr.com

Years later I had a similarly unpleasant interview for an HR analyst job. I think. I am not sure now what it was for, nor was I ever, which was a big part of why the interview failed. I got on the phone and really just had no idea what this lady was talking about. I very haphazardly bs-ed my way through her questions and most of my answers sounded a lot like this:

Image credit: www.fanpop.com

Image credit: http://www.fanpop.com

I wasn’t even prepared for the most obvious question of all: “What interested you about this job?” Woah, didn’t see that one coming! I don’t remember what lie I eventually came up with as my answer, but nothing is convincing after a long pause and an “uhhhhhhh.”

Tip #4: Always be prepared to answer obvious said question. Also, know what job you are being interviewed for.

Around that time, to pay the bills while I was job hunting, I got a part-time job at Pottery Barn Kids. Luckily, I had learned my lesson and knew to anticipate that sneaky “Why do you want this job?” question. When asked, I answered, “It’s close to my house….yeah, that’s pretty much it.” Nailed it!

Image credit: go.lawlogix.com

Image credit: go.lawlogix.com

I had learned from Tip #3, but had already forgotten Tip #1: nobody needs to know what you really think. I still got the job, but my manager later told me that she didn’t want to hire me. Sounds about right.

Shortly after that, I finally got my head on straight and managed to make it through an interview without making a total ass of myself. Until the last question.

“What are you passionate about?”

Um, I’m sorry, what? I’m not one of those people who is ‘passionate’ about things. I’m passionate about not leaving the toilet paper roll empty. I’m passionate about not wearing leggings as pants and other inappropriate wardrobe choices. I’m passionate about dogs and people respecting my personal space. But if you expect me to come up with a real answer here where I talk about my ambitions or hobbies…

Image credit: www.tumblr.com

Image credit: http://www.tumblr.com

I got nothin. Now at this point, a lot of time has passed. A lot more than is necessary to answer a very simple question about my interests. She was tossing me a softball here. This was not supposed to be the ‘stump her’ question. The interviewer had a look on her face like, “Did I say something wrong? Did I break her?” because I’m looking at her like she has just uncovered my darkest secret.

So it’s time to spring into action. I start thinking of an answer. Can I say TV? I love my TV shows? No that is extremely pathetic and lame. Should I say world peace? No, God, this isn’t Miss America. What does she want to hear, volunteering? Training for marathons? Finally I just blurted something out to put us all out of our misery.

Tip #5: It is great to think about your answer, but at a certain point, you need to just say something, anything. Because the longer you spend thinking, the better the end result should be, and after a certain period of extended silence, you hit a point of diminishing returns. You just aren’t going to be able to live up to the expectations you’ve created, so it’s best to just cut your losses and give the best answer you have at the time. And as long as the answer isn’t “nah” or “cheese,” you should be okay.

What are some of your interview lessons learned, worst interview questions and answers, or other interview horror stories? Please do share, and make me feel like less of an idiot:)

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41 thoughts on “Interviews: How to Put Your Best Foot Forward (and Not in Your Mouth)

  1. This post had me rolling! am lucky that I have not had to interview in a long time, but I do interview others for sales and editorial positions under me. The worst is when I ask for each person to bring a sample of their writing or a sales letter they wrote. Good gawd almighty! It’s amazing some of these people actually graduated!

  2. I don’t “like” this post – I absolutely LOVE it. When I was at the park with my son, I read it and I was literally howling with laughter. I love the way you write. You’re so candid.

    Okay – another job interview tip:

    1. Before an interview – DON’T take your car through the car wash AND LEAVE THE MOONROOF OPEN. (Yes, I did that. I thought the car wash attendants were being friendly and waving as my car entered the car wash tunnel. They were actually trying to tell me my moonroof was open. Like an idiot, I simply waved back). I didn’t have time to go home and change so I showed up to the interview in wet clothes.

    2. Don’t swivel around in your swivel chair. (Also true story. I think I made a complete circle at one point – it was simply too tempting,) Needless to say – I did NOT get the job.

  3. Wow, and I thought I was the only one! Thanks for reminding me that I’m just human, too. Interviews are so tough – condensing who we are into just a few minutes of conversation.

  4. A few true stories.

    I used to be HR Director at a 5 diamond hotel. An applicant for our open restaurant manager position listed his email address as pornstar69@….

    Another restaurant manager applicant, when I called him to schedule a screening interview, said “I’m actually at work right now.” I responded “call me when you are off work then.” His response “No that’s OK, I can interview with you right now.”

    As I was about to graduate from college, when I still thought I knew something, I was interviewing for a graduate assistant position.
    Interviewer: “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”
    Me: “I’m not really sure a pseudo-scientific question like that has any relevance to the interview process.”
    Interviewer: (stunned silence)
    Me: (thinking “HAH! Showed her a thing or two.”)

    Me interviewing an applicant for a sales position, candidate asks me about company’s policy on relocations/transfers. After I explain it, candidate says “You are probably wondering why I’m asking you about that.” (no, not really, it’s a reasonable question)
    Candidate: “See, my husband and I have an open sexual relationship, and I’m free to explore my sexuality wherever my heart takes me.”
    Me: stunned silence, followed by opening the door to my office.

  5. I’ve been a SAHM for so long I’ve forgotten how to answer any questions at all. I get flustered when the checker at Kroger asks about my bread. If I had to go to an actual interview I’m certain I would hyperventilate, foam at the mouth, then wake up on the floor with my shirt over my head. And that’s before leaving the house.

  6. My best interview was a total fluke. My current company was going out of business and found me a place to interview in the same industry… On a Monday – after a weekend of playing outside and my back was slightly sunburned, so during the entire interview I sat slightly forward in my seat (so as not to hurt my back) and she perceived it as eagerness and openness and the fact that I appeared interesting in what she was saying (she told this to my current boss when he called to see how my interview went).

    I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth! I got the job, though! 😉

  7. I interviewed a young man once and at the end of the interview I glanced down at his resume to verify his email address. “So, I can reach you at redhotlatinlover at hotmail dot com?” I innocently asked. His face started sweating and he stammered out a, “Sh-sh-sh-sure.” I enjoyed torturing people during interviews for making stupid mistakes on their resumes. I eventually became a professional resume writer!

    • haha it didn’t occur to him when he put it on there that someone might read it and/or have to use it to contact him? I once called someone I had interviewed to offer her the job, but got her voice mail, and her outgoing message was one of those ‘what…i can’t hear you…. you are breaking up….oh wait I’m not hear leave a message’ recordings. I almost didn’t give her the job.

  8. One time an interviewer pointed to her head and asked “And are you very attached to this?” (I have long hair, it was neatly and chic-ly tied back in a bun. Also I hail from the male persuasion.) I replied quizically,” Well it is growing out of my head, soooo, yeah, I guess I am attached to it.” That didn’t work out so well.

  9. Interviewing is a muscle. Work it, work it, work it and it’ll get stronger. You develop a library of clever, witty responses. Ignore it and flab will set in. You become a babbling idiot. Not that I’d know anything about that.

    Do you know which one I love? “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Good god, are you friggin’ kidding? I’ve never had the ability to project that far into the future. In five years I could be counting cotton balls (100 to a bag) for all I know.

  10. Interviewer: What would you say is your worst fault?
    candidate: Saying what’s really on my mind.
    Interviewer: I wouldn’t think that to be a fault.
    Candidate: I don’t give a ***** what you think!

    😎

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