One of the lessons I learned from acting came from the audition process. That was that no matter how great you are, if you are a blonde who wears a B cup bra, and they are looking for a redhead wearing an A cup actress, you are not getting the gig. I learned to separate the word “No” from my self-esteem. Being told no didn’t mean I was a bad actress. It meant I wasn’t the right good actress for the part.
That has served me well in job interviews. I look at them like auditions. I’m going to go in there, give my all, and hope I am the right height, so-to-speak. If something is wrong that I can change (or if I can change something semi-permanently, like my hair color) I’ll go out and make sure I have developed the skill for my wheelhouse. If there is something I can’t change (like how that REM video called for people who could dance…yeah. no.) I let it go.
Two job interview stories:
I really wanted to work for KCM. At the point that I first interviewed for them, I had everything they wanted, but I was lacking even basic computer skills and my typing was too slow. They loved me. They told me how much they loved me. They wanted to work with me. They gave me 30 days to get my skills up to par, and I went after it like a madwoman. When I went back to test again, I passed all the computer skills at a beginner level, but still couldn’t meet the typing minimum speed of 35 wpm. They called me back in to tell me face-to-face that they couldn’t hire me, and the hiring manager and I both cried.
But I am not one to accept defeat when I can affect the change to get something I really want. What I lack in knowledge, I make up for in determination. With a bonus from work that year, I bought myself a computer. I also made a very purposeful change of job that allowed me access to a full suite of software training. I worked on my computer skills diligently and I spent hours working on my typing skills in Compuserve’s chat rooms. (Yeah, I’m calling it time spent building my skills, not time wasted talking to fake British men.) When another position in my area opened up about a year and a half later, I passed all the computer skills at an advanced level, and was typing at a speed of 70 wpm. I got the job.
I changed what I could and it paid off.
Many years later, I was up for a promotion there. Hiring Manager told me I had everything she wanted. I went through an extensive interview process, which included travel for a 3-day long on-site work audition. That is, I did the job for three days without any formal training. Because I had all the skills and knowledge the job required, I knocked it out of the park. I don’t mind telling you that I was amazing because everyone else involved said I was. Hiring Manager told me to expect an offer when we got back into the office on Monday.
Monday came and went. Tuesday. On Wednesday, I got called up to her office. She told me I was perfect, that she’d never seen a more capable candidate, a harder worker, or enjoyed an employee’s company so much. But she had decided not to hire me. Why? She reminded me of the story of how David became king of Israel. How Jesse brought all his perfect sons before Samuel, but none of those perfect boys were quite right. She said she couldn’t put her finger on it, but there must be something wrong with my heart. She and I both cried.
Well, clearly there was nothing I could change there. If she wasn’t even sure why she didn’t want to hire me, I couldn’t work on making myself more hirable. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t hiding any horrors in my soul. I won’t lie and tell you that was easy to get over. It wasn’t. It was personally (and at that time spiritually) hurtful and disappointing in a way that being told I was too short, too tall, too fat, too skinny, too shrill, too well spoken ever was.
The point here is, I couldn’t change it, and I really couldn’t dwell on it. Now, it’s a funny story. Sometimes hiring decisions are just completely arbitrary.
I still can’t change whether or not someone has a gut feeling against me, but I will always work to build my repetoire when a hiring manager suggests it. I’ve ended up with some awesome jobs that way.
That said, here are 4 questions I think are good to ask in an interview situation, and why:
- If you don’t already know, ask why the position is open. This can tell you a lot about the environment. Was it a promotion? Was it a firing? Did the other person leave? Don’t be shy about asking why either. The Hiring Manager should be asking you why you want to leave your current job/left your last job. It’s the mirror image question, and as the potential seat filler, you deserve the heads-up.
- Ask what qualities make the person in that position successful. Jot down notes as the HM answers because you are going to use those notes later to detail how you have every one of those qualities.
- Ask how the position fits into the overall success of the company and department, and what you can do to help them achieve it. This is going to tell you a lot about the company as well, and shows that you are forward thinking. Take notes here, too.
- Ask if the HM has any hesitations about hiring you. It’s bold, and you need to be ready to hear the answer, but it also gives you the opportunity to address any questions the HM might have about you. Better to clear up any misconceptions in the interview and get the job, than miss the chance and never find out what went wrong.