No longer an interview virgin

Since being laid off in May, I’ve applied for somewhere around 60-70 jobs. It was a slow summer and some jobs I applied for ended up being wrong for me for a variety of reasons – at least the ones I was contacted about. 60-70 jobs sounds like a lot, but one of my neighbors actually applied for at least 100 before she finally got an interview – and I’m happy to say she got an offer that she accepted from her one and only interview. It’s indicative of the timing and the market over the last few months that I’ve only been able to apply for 60-70 jobs. As soon as school started up again, I noticed a dramatic increase in the number of postings. It’s almost like the world shuts down for cottage season in Canada. But patience is paying off!

This week I had TWO interviews - both for very similar positions. I feel like my return on applications has been justified by those two interviews alone (when compared with my neighbor’s experience). The anticipation of meeting with these two prospective employers was nerve-wracking in a way that interviews hadn’t been for me previously. I know I’m capable, have a strong work ethic and I have always been confident in my ability to express myself in interviews in the past. However, in both interviews this week, I got questions that I couldn’t immediately answer and I floundered. It wasn’t pretty. That’s not to say that the interviews didn’t go well overall – I was actually fairly happy with the end result. I’m just wondering why I’m so nervous and I have a few theories.

I suppose it’s primarily because I really want to get a job sooner than later, so there’s some anxiety coming into play. Being off all summer has been nice, but I like being busy and at times that I’ve felt at a loss for what to do; there’s only so many hours in the day I can look for jobs online without being in danger of losing my sanity. Additionally, although the title of this post implies otherwise, I have interviewed quite a lot. However, it’s been over three years since I went for an interview of any kind – the longest period between interviews since I started working 15 years ago. In the past, even when I was working full-time for an extended period, I had temporary second jobs that I interviewed for that helped keep me sharp and ready for the next time I needed to meet with a prospective employer. I realize that saying I’ve interviewed a LOT may sound as if I have had lots of interviews and not been awarded the position. Au contraire, my friend, I have a pretty decent interview-turns-into-job-offer success rate. I’m sort of banking on that right now, to be honest. ;) Besides, you generally don’t get a call to interview if they aren’t pretty interested. Of course, interviews are a little like a first date. You go in dressed to kill, give your best impression and when the chemistry isn’t right, they figure out that they just aren’t that into you after all.

And thank goodness for that; who wants to spend most of their waking hours every week in the wrong relationship…uh, job?

Last week, when I knew I had two interviews coming up, I wanted to do something, anything to help myself prepare for the process and think through possible answers in advance. So, I found a Web site that listed 50 interview questions and I copied the list and its advice into Word and went to work answering all the questions. I spent HOURS and I think I got about halfway through the list. It was a good exercise and definitely helped with the first interview this week. The questions asked were very much in the traditional vein and even started out (same as the list) with the universally dreaded “tell me about yourself”. I’ve had that one in the past and flubbed it royally by saying, “What do you want to know?” This time, I knew how I would answer and was confident that it would be, at the very least, an acceptable and relevant answer.

My second interview was a bit easier, most likely because I felt warmed up for it. I’d already had one and I made an effort not to make the same mistakes in the second interview that I made in the first. It’s fair to say that I succeeded in that goal, but not that I didn’t flub up some of my answers. I’m still trying to stop cringing over my answer to one question in particular. It’s not worth stressing over, though. I was honest and straightforward and if that, combined with my mad administrative skills, isn’t enough then it’s not the right job for me and I’m fine with that. I must say, though, that I found the interview questions far easier to answer. They were behavior-based, so I was able to give specific examples from past experiences of how I have handled various types of situations. In every case, other than the cringe-inducing question, I was able to think of a valid example pretty quickly…whew!

I’ve always heard that panel interviews are the kiss of death for a candidate – nothing is guaranteed to induce more nerves than having to field questions from a group of people versus just one. My second interview was with two people, and though I wouldn’t categorize it as a panel interview, I did find it to be more informative about the company because the two individuals played off of each other well, giving me more insight than you typically get with only one interviewer. I also found that with two individuals, they hear answers from a different perspective and that seemed to generate more follow-up questions. The dynamic was totally different and may have been due to gender differences as well.

Now I’m just waiting to hear back from each of the organizations to see if my interview blunders were deal-breakers or not! Actually, I honestly don’t think my poor answers will prevent me from getting either job. However, another candidate with better qualifications would. Let’s just hope they didn’t apply or don’t get called for an interview.