Monthly Archives: August 2011

Too Much Practice

Recently, I interviewed someone who clearly had a lot of practice being interviewed.  In fact, it turned out, she had begun logging and maintaining her interviewing statistics:  21 phone screens, 30 in-persons, and 12 or so second interviews.  No offers, but it’s a numbers game, right?

Looking at it that way may result in treating the interview too superficially.   I observed while interviewing her that she anticipated my questions, follow-up questions, and requests for clarification.  She would lean forward and prepare her posture and expression, as if to say, “Call on me; I know that answer. Now ask me the one about the conflict resolution.”

And therein lies the problem.  An interview is not a pop quiz or oral exam, at least it shouldn’t be.  A good interview should flow like a conversation, so eagerly anticipating your next chance to speak would not be appropriate.  Appropriate behavior, even if you know and have rehearsed the best answer in the world to the question about to be asked of you, would involve at least the appearance of reflection.

Sit back, not forward, and relax.  Nod your head slightly, and look thoughtful (and reflective).  Tilt your head (okay, not that much) and say something introductory, like, “That’s an interesting question.” (Do not do this if the question was “Do you take cream or sugar in your coffee?”)

You know what I mean.  Eager though you may be, practiced though you might feel, this is not the time to raise your hand and shout “Yes, I know that one, the one about which tree I would be!  And I know my strengths and weaknesses, too!”

Practice, in Interview World, can create some unflattering dynamics that suggest you’ve been there and done that, that you think the interviewer is a robot, or that you lack a certain fresh enthusiasm.  You can be too confident.

I once had to recover from Too Much Confidence.  I realized I was sailing along but the interview for the job I wanted wasn’t going well. Fortunately for me, the interviewer took a phone call and it interrupted a rhythm that had become more of a Quick Step than the preferable Slow Waltz.  When his attention returned, I asked a question about an aspect of the company’s organizational development plans–one that required a fairly long answer.  An answer to which I listened, carefully and intently.  The rhythm and the tone of the conversation changed back to a conversation, not a sprint.  I ended up getting more interviews, and eventually the job.

We all get excited about possibilities, but you can overwhelm your possibilities with what always emerges as “I got this one; we both know it.”  It’s the conversational equivalent of tapping your foot, and it makes interviewers uncomfortable.

Breathe.  Forget the right answers.  Every company and every interview is a little different.  You have more than one weakness and more than one strength.  Instead of pulling out your Courage strength, say,” I used to think it was Courage, but lately, I’ve realized my Tenacity might be my strongest suit.  Mix it up.

Reflect.  Think about the question for a minute.  Glance skyward.  then answer spontaneously from your gut or your heart, not your head, just this once.

Pause.  Look at the interviewer and ask, “Did I explain that sufficiently? It’s a good question.” Then listen to the follow-up.

Consider more than one answer.  You might even say,”I think there is more than one answer to that question.”  (Unless, of course, the question is “What is your name?” )

It is partially true that there is a Numbers Game element to job searching and all that goes with it.  And you do need practice in order to gain confidence and overcome your nerves and nervousness.  One of the reasons, though, that passive job seekers (those who are not looking but somehow get found) seem to perform better on the Qualifying Hurdles is that they are relaxed and unrehearsed.

So, relax, and unrehearse.  Shake out the answers you used last time around, and freshen your interest in the questions, why they are being asked of you, and in who is asking.