Friday, March 13, 2009

If You're Worried About Acing the Interview, You're Barking Up the Wrong Tree

It’s hard to be choosy these days, isn’t it? The news is filled with stories like the public school that received more than 700 resumes in response to an advertisement for a janitor’s position (did you hear the emphasized detail that the resumes had to be put into a safe? What’s the deal with that? I truly don’t understand what that signifies. I’m thinking that’s just media hype, designed to get you all in a dither about something that’s neither here nor there.). It’s hard to hold onto hope and high standards for what kind of job you’d like to ultimately land when you’re surrounded by messages that the job market world is coming to an end.

Buy into the terrible headlines that people are losing jobs right and left (and, make no mistake, they are), and you’ll be tempted to abandon all hope for a job that’s good enough for you. But let me remind you, as Lauren Doliva said in my new book, Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss, there is still a war for talent. “And talent is winning,” she said.

In other words, find the job opportunity that matches your skills, abilities and passions, and you’ll nail the interview – regardless of how worried you are about whether or not you’ll “ace” it. People are still looking for you. You just have to find those folks. And that means you have to be just as choosy as your interviewers are.

Easier said than done, right? Right. I get that. And it’s hard to forget that it’s the interviewer who has the ultimate power to actually offer you the job. I get that too. But remember, you have the ultimate power to say yes or no to that job offer. “Talent is winning the War for Talent,” and you’re on the winning side. Even if we find ourselves in a national economy of 10% unemployment, that means 90% of America is still working. So why not you?

So what does this have to do with worrying about “acing” the job interview? One word: Desperation. Regardless of whether you’re single or married, you probably remember at least one date when all you wanted to do was crawl out of the restroom window. Puppy dog eyes that transmit the message, “you’re my best and only chance for happiness.” Ew! Just typing those words makes my skin crawl. Memories….

So what are you going to do to keep the desperation to a low boil? Or a low howl? Here are some ideas:

Keep your dance card full. Don’t just rely only on online job boards for lining up interviews. If you do, you’ll be sitting at home staring at the unringing telephone forever. Seek out networking conversations that might lead somewhere, even if that lead is only more introductions to additional people you can have informational conversations with.

Get over your aversion to networking. I’m writing a new book right now with the ultra-fabulous Duncan Mathison, who is teaching me (and ultimately you) all about the fantastic networking techniques that remove you from those expensive, soulless, schmoozy schmoozy hiya hiya mixers that make you want to run screaming for the ballroom doors. But while we’re waiting for the book to actually hit the stores, I’ll share with you what I can. Let’s just say for the moment that one introduction leads to another. And you probably haven’t yet met the person who will offer you the job of your dreams. That person will most likely come into your life through a series of personal referrals. And it’s likely that you have met the person who will ultimately lead you to that person. Hmmmm, who could that be?

In the meantime, network your brains out so that you have plenty of options to pick from (or at least you feel as though you do), so you won't worry so much about "acing" the only interview on your calendar -- all the while ignoring the signs that you could be walking into the job of your nightmares.

Remember that when you are in the interview itself, you must be just as careful a shopper as the interviewer is. When you’re talking with the person who might be your boss, find out from him or her specifically what makes the person who will ultimately land the open position a top performer – in the top 20% sparkly bracket. First of all, it’s important to know exactly what those characteristics are. But it’s also important to know if your potential boss actually knows what those characteristics are. How can you please a boss who doesn’t know what he or she actually wants? And then decide whether or not you want to please your boss in just those ways. Qualify your potential boss just as much as they're qualifying you.

Make sure you are willing to actually meet those characteristics. If you’re picking up a vibe of prejudice, attitude or cynicism, don’t automatically think, “it will be different with me.” It probably won’t be. But you won’t really know for sure until you find out what’s behind that ‘tude.

I remember that during my first job interview, I heard the sentiment, “It takes a special person to do this job well.” Well. Let me tell you, that spoke directly to my confused, codependent heart. I thought to myself, “I’m a special person. Whatever the challenge is, I’ll muscle right up to it.” Translation: “I will earn your love.” Boy was I wrong. Boy was I stupid.

What I should have said was, “Really? Tell me more. What do you mean by, uhm, special?” If they were honest they would have said, “You won’t mind being treated like crap by a narcissistic prima donna witch – I mean, boss. You won’t mind being humiliated in front of strangers. You won’t mind being on the receiving end of smug abuse from the person who just had the job before you and was promoted to be your direct supervisor. You won’t mind being set up to fail by people who really don’t care that this is your first job and maybe you could use a little kindness and understanding.”

If all of those things were said to me in answer to a question that I posed: “Really? Tell me more,” then I would say that I aced the interview by getting the fact that I didn't want it. I got the job. I took the job. I lost.

I get emails all the time from people who feel abused by their bosses. They need so much help and emotional support. But the first piece of advice is “beware of the dog.” And in this case, that dog might be a lousy job. Don’t be so eager to ace a job interview that will chain you to a dog.