Sunday, 13 May 2007

Interview pitfalls

I've done plenty of interviews in my life, but they never cease to be nerve-shredding occasions. However well-prepared I think I am, so often there's something unexpected to trip me up.

I might start off confidently enough, with fluent answers showing my obvious suitability for the job in question, but how easily it can all be derailed. Sooner or later, any of the following may occur:

1. One of the interviewers reminds me of Basil Fawlty and I spend the entire interview trying desperately not to laugh.
2. I'm asked a totally unexpected question ("So why did your grandmother leave Romania?"), my mind instantly goes blank and I'm left staring inanely at the panel.
3. One of the interviewers is so aggressive I have a mounting desire to pick up the water jug and empty the contents all over them.
4. I accidentally upset the water jug and it soaks everything in sight, including all the job applications.
5. I realise a box of condoms has fallen out of my trouser pocket (I can't even recall buying it).
6. One of the interviewers is sweating profusely, and my increasingly bizarre theories as to why this should be are hopelessly distracting me (I'm pretty sure they've just had a quickie with someone in Accounts).

If my guardian angel is on the ball, none of the above happens and the interview goes swimmingly. If my luck is firmly out, I'm assailed by every mishap possible and wish I was anywhere else in the world but there.

But the upshot can be surprising. What I perceived as a perfect interview, wowing the panel with my glittering personality and dazzling expertise, leads to a deafening silence and polite evasions when I pursue it a week later.

On the other hand, the seeming interview-from-hell, where everything went arse-upwards from minute one and I virtually crawled out on my hands and knees, is followed an hour after by a job offer and the revelation that I was "the outstanding candidate". Who can fathom it?

I think one reason I stay in a job for quite a stretch is simply the terrifying prospect of another round of anxiety-ridden interviews en route to my next perch. Never mind a cure for cancer, what I need is a miracle drug for interviews. Oh, and strawberry-flavour, please.

(see also Flirty's Embarrassing Interview Experience)


  1. Hello Nick,

    Like your views. The last interview I had, ten years ago, assailed with what I thought were silly questions, I balled up my resume and foolishly tossed it into his coffee cup. Needless to say, I didn't get the job. But it helped me become my own employer.

  2. VERY valid point on the interview results, like results the worse you think you did the better the response. Bizarre

    Loving issue 2 - lol

  3. Robert - glad some good came out of a dismal experience. Also impressed that you showed your reaction so forcefully. I've never had the courage, I just button my lip and make off ASAP. Would leave a comment on your blog but you seem to have excluded comments.

    Flirty - intrigued that you have found the same paradox. The decision process of interviewers is indeed mysterious. LoL

  4. Nick:
    Can soooo relate to this. Even though self-employed I have to interview for projects. A few have stunned me. Like I walk in and it is so swish and sophisticated and I'm an automatic misfit in an upscale environment in some ivory tower. So I don't give a rat's ass what impression I'm making, even less when they tell me they've had 300 applicants.

    INVARIABLY I'm offered the contract.

    But when it is a contract I really, really want (for a variety of reasons) and I do all the do things, like send them a thankyou note, even revisit and lower my fee, it's a FOAD.

    I think the powerful message is to relax and WTF it. Easier said than done ;>)

  5. Gosh - even reading this post alone makes me feel nerovous - it's been years since I had to do an interview but those days are numbered I'm afraid - it'll have to happen soon(ish).

  6. www - great that you have the nerve to thumb your nose at them and it pays off in spades! Sorry about the lost must-haves though. Took me a minute or two to decipher FOAD and WTF till my filthy mind wised up.

    Con - sorry to make you nervous. Have exaggerated a wee bit for effect - don't we all? Hope your interview-free days can be spun out a little longer.

  7. Dare I ask why you had condoms with you during an interview? It's been ages since I've had an interview. My problem is with sweaty armpits. Gross.

  8. Yeah, I was going to ask about the condoms too

  9. Medbh - This would have been in the days before Jenny you understand. During some previous wearing of the trousers, I saw a chemist, this reminded me I needed etc....

    Jenny - see the above, my dearest. As if I could possibly ever ever be unfaithful to my loved one....

  10. No, Nick, I didn't think infidelity. I thought maybe you were hoping to get lucky with a job AND a quickie in celebration. It sounded like the male equivalent of Elaine's diaphragm falling out of her purse.

  11. Yeah why is it always the ones that go horribly that you end up getting offered the job and the ones that you impress with your wit and vast skillset never even call again?

    So why did your grandmother leave Romania then?

  12. Medbh - Of course, how obvious. Funnily enough, my preferred celebration mode is always a few glasses of wine. Have never watched Seinfeld so didn't catch the reference (had to search Google yet again).

    Caro - it's amazing how many people say that. There must be a name for it - the Interview Decision Paradox (IDP)? Granny left Romania to seek her fortune and died the billionaire owner of a strip-wax empire. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

  13. Just seen the brilliant insight by Primal Sneeze on the same subject. I quote: "If you thought it went well, it didn't. If you thought it went poorly, it's because they Jack Charltoned you - they only put you under pressure if they're interested and want to find out more. Otherwise they just smile and go through the motions."