Is it REALLY not a good fit, or do you just suck at interviewing?

In most places, you will have a few hours, sometimes minutes, to create impressions that make them believe “this is someone I want on my team,” or “we cannot let this one get away.” Based on my own interview faux pas and stories I’ve heard others tell, I give you five general tips for not sucking:

If you suffer from permanent mean face, figure out how to change it. See Chronicles of a Girl with Chronic Bitch Face if you need a more refined definition of “permanent mean face.” In other words, think about how the look on your face might come across to others. Interviewers are often looking for someone with whom they want to work. Your focus and seriousness may appear to interviewers as cold or unfriendly. You may be fun, a great team player, and all of your peers and former coworkers may rave about you in this regard. Yet, you have to be able to show this in a brief amount of time in an interview.

Prepare, prepare, prepare for presentations and interview questions. Adequate preparation is a key to your success. If you’ve been asked to give a presentation, practice it at least 7 times out loud (advice given to me from a mentor), do it in front of others, ask your mentors or other professionals to proof-read your materials (Power Point, resume/vita) and offer suggestions. You can do this exact same thing with interview questions. Write down a list of common interview questions and your responses to them. Read them, and practice answering them out loud.

You generally have about 1 hour to adequately relay your professional skills, future potential, and aspects of your personality that help them know you would make a great colleague. I understand that preparing takes a lot of time that you may not have. I work full time plus hours, have two children, and commute 2 hours, five days a week to my job. It. Doesn’t. Matter. We’re all busy, and they don’t care why you aren’t prepared; they just sense when you aren’t, and they may view it as a reflection of how much you cared about the job (or how much you didn’t). Also, see Job Interviewers are Prepared, are YOU?

Do your homework. One method of preparation is to search for information about your possible job site, those that will be interviewing you, and those that already work there. Talk to others who have worked there. Talk to others who know the supervisors or employees. Know as much as you can about them and the company/agency before you walk into to an interview. This will also help you to think about the types of things they might want to know about your skills and help you to come up with really great questions for their questions. See more information on doing your homework in Job Interviews are Prepared, are YOU?

Balance confidence with humility. Sometimes individuals graduate from college exploding with the confidence that they have important knowledge that they hope to use to help others or to excel in their positions at work. It is really exciting to be in this position, and you should be so very proud of yourself! Seriously – I believe that you can change the world and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Yet, remember that you just graduated and likely have little work experience compared to many people with whom you might be working. Most of the people interviewing you have years of experience. Honor and respect that. No one wants to hire someone who is overly confident, or even arrogant. At the same time, you don’t want to come across to others as insecure. Balance is key, and this can be hard, especially if you get nervous during the interview and are trying to focus on other things; when you practice in front of others, ask them if they would view you as confident, yet humble. Also, see Self-Confidence, Humility, and The Job Market.

Be thoughtful about the questions that you ask them. Don’t tell an interviewer that you don’t have any questions. And, don’t just ask questions to ask them. Ask them questions about the company that you would really like to know. Ask them questions to find out how they value employees (i.e. what types of support services are offered, are educational/training opportunities available). Ask them questions that reveal that you are well-prepared for the interview and insightful. Ask them questions that reveal that you are interested in working for the company long-term. For more details and examples of questions you can ask, see Future Employers are Interviewing You; Are You Also Interviewing Them?

Show them that YOU are a great fit for them. They may not be a fit for your interests and goals. But, at least you will have the option to decide.

Other Career Skillet resources on this topic:

8 Tips to Nail a Job Interview

Dress for Interview Success


About Jill Bowers

Jill is a certified family life educator (CFLE), certified family and consumer scientist (CFCS-HDFS), and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Human and Community Development at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She developed the idea for this project when she was working on a research project where she interviewed emerging adults (18-20 year olds). Work and career related content was something about which the emerging adults were most interested in learning more, and many of the issues that were at the center of their daily concerns were those surrounding their career plans and navigating the job market. Although some of the emerging adults in the study were aware of the fact that they could find information on the Internet to answer their questions or that there were resources available through their college or University, most of them could not recall being required to participate in any professional development courses that helped them with career-related skills and most of them suffered from “information overload” related to their Internet searches for information that would help them with their career paths. For example, some of them had been told about the importance of networking (e.g., at Career Fairs), but they did not really understand what this was or how to do it. Therefore, as a result of her experiences working with emerging adults, Jill initiated this project to help FCS students by providing them with information that will help ensure their success as they navigate the job market.

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