I’ll be honest: among all of the workplace dynamics and customs that exist, interviews are almost certainly my favorite (well, I guess second favorite behind the sadly-forgotten three Martini lunch). For whatever reason I just “get” them: with one ridiculous exception, I’m glad to
humblebrag say that I’ve never been rejected from any job I’ve interviewed for and actually wanted.
(That one exception: I applied for a job at American Apparel in college just to prove to my parents I was actively looking for work. Since AA only looks for a certain type of person — you know things are great when the job application requests a recent headshot — I decided to treat the whole thing as a joke, feeding the poor hiring manager lines that would have probably made me look like a mentally unstable lunatic in any other context. I told her my interests outside of work were gardening and freestyle rapping, and that my last job was as someone who wrote essays for money. They called like the next day and gave me an outright rejection. It was awesome, and I highly recommend applying for a nothing job at least once in your life, if only just to have fun with it. But I digress.)
To me, interviews feel pretty natural: you, the prospective employee, are ostensibly interested in a job at a place you likely know very little about; the company, interest ostensibly piqued by your resume and/or cover letter, thinks you’re at least a potential fit for the role. Neither of you REALLY know anything about each other, though, and the interview is a great chance to learn about what kind of a fit it’d really be. Not too difficult of a concept to grasp, right?
That’s how it sounded when I typed it all out, at least. But all too often people treat interviews like they’re an audition where they need to be TOTALLY PERFECT in order to impress the employer. People get nervous and clammy, trying to script every little minute thing that might be said in a desperate attempt to come across as valuable and desirable. They treat every job opening like it’s PERFECT for them, building it up into something massive that’s not even grounded in reality, but is instead just the by-product of their imagination. It’s a lot like how I treated talking to girls throughout
grade middle high school.
It’s those people I’m reaching out to today with this amazing new strategy for conducting interviews. That’s right, good ol’ JSG has you covered, people. Are you ready to hear my amazing tip? The one weird trick that has HR departments everywhere hating me? Good, because here we go:
Stop treating job interviews like they matter at all and act like you’re better than any and every position you apply for.
I know what you’re thinking: “But Joe, that’s easier said than done!!” I know, you sad and pathetic losers, I know. There was probably even a time where I was “nervous” about things like this. But trust me on this one, you can do the same thing I’ve been able to do, no question. Part of my “success” comes from realizing that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” job — even the dreamiest of dream jobs is going to have a handful of cons associated with it. Maybe it’s the pay or the benefits. Maybe it’s the lack of schedule flexibility or the fact you have to spend 50+ hours a week there. Maybe it’s even ancillary, like your coworkers are all creepy and you feel isolated at work.
Surely you’ve heard this countless times before, but the REAL trick is to treat each job interview like a two-way street where no one is beholden to the other. Besides the fact you happened to come across the position and they happened to reply, there’s almost literally no context in which you’d meet the hiring manager and feel subordinate to them or nervous around them. You can only glean so much from job postings, too: what may sound like your dream job might be anything but, and vice versa. No sense in building it up into anything bigger than it is.
I can’t stress it enough: With only some extremely rare exceptions, your job is going to have a lot of negative elements that eventually just grate on you — it happens to everyone in every field. Think about the job where you’ve been most dissatisfied, and now imagine that, halfway through your time there, you were asked to interview for the exact same role again. How excited would you be now that you know the reality? How willing would you be to accept the status quo without making sure it better aligned with your desires? Wouldn’t you take as many steps as possible to ensure things were tweaked to your liking? Exactly.
That’s what makes your attitude in interviews so key: don’t just act disinterested, treat it like you openly DISDAIN the position, as though you’re already past the honeymoon period where everything looks and feels perfect and into the day-to-day doldrums of it. Look for every possible flaw and downside to it possible, even if you’re actually interested in it — you know there’s going to be SOME amount of bullshit you eventually deal with, and it’s better to do your best to do your best to learn about it and/or ensure your happiness up front than to worry about it later. It should go without saying, but unless you’re incredibly desperate, odds are you can do better than pouncing on the very first thing that comes your way.
Quick autobiographical detour: About a year ago I was looking for work after moving. I interviewed a couple places and things seemed to be going well, so I jumped on top of the first offer I got — and I was miserable there. I dreaded going into work every day, I felt totally unchallenged by the work, etc. Odds are you’ve been there before. So I started looking elsewhere for work, mindful of the lesson I just learned about being hasty. I found a couple more jobs that seemed promising, and had a lot of solid phone interviews with various HR reps and hiring managers. Options were opening up for me! This was exciting!
But again, it’s good to keep things in perspective. Although I loathed my current job, it would have been just as bad to rush into another job without really working to learn all I could about the ins-and-outs of it — otherwise, I’d be facing the same feelings of dread I currently had.
So I stayed patient: I turned down a handful of companies after the first wave of phone interviews (one of which was the first of four [!] interviews, most of which were set to be several hours long and in-person — who the fuck does that, right? How am I supposed to convince my current employer that I’m just gonna disappear for an afternoon at a time?); I found several offers for contractor positions that seemed like slam dunks, but I ignored those because they lacked stability. Hell, the day I was scheduled to come interview for my current job, I decided I wasn’t feeling up to it — I was a little hung over, and all I wanted was to grab a beer and play NHL 14 with ST. (I’m happy to report that last part was a resounding success.)
I called in and had them reschedule the interview for the following week…and once that rolled around, I did basically everything wrong: I rocked an untucked collared shirt and a rain coat, with my sunglasses resting on top of my head. I fidgeted like crazy, crossing my leg from left-to-right and then right-to-left. I’m sure I probably said “um” a few more times than I’d have liked. Short of calling all of my old bosses cocksuckers or telling them I had a massive cocaine addiction, it’s hard to imagine how much more self-sabotage I could have done to my chances.
And yet…I got a good feeling about the position during the interviews , I clearly and accurately conveyed my skills and experience, and I got the job. I’ve been told it wasn’t even a close call, although that could just be my boss being polite to me. It may sound like an unprofessional approach to employment, and I’m OK with that sentiment. But to me, the interview process is collaborative. This will probably sound hippie-ish, but we’re all just people, man: your interviewers aren’t any different than you, at the end of the day. And again, the process is not supposed to be like a scripted rehearsal. If there’s one thing you SHOULD be confident in, it’s knowing your own story and your own strengths/weaknesses. No one’s trying to trick you or trap you, because that’s a ludicrous waste of time — they just want to know what you’re good at and how you can help their organization. You know who would be AWESOME at telling them what you’re good at?
Lest you think I’m being unfair, I should also mention that I’ve interviewed people myself, both as part of a group and alone. I had to take point on interviewing candidates to backfill my own position at an old job I was prepping to leave. Trust me when I say this: forget everything you’ve ever learned about appearance and body language and all that nonsense. It matters to some people, yes, but my team and I had our list narrowed down to two finalists for my spot after like 10 minutes of talking about the job itself. I don’t care if you come in and awkwardly mumble and stutter your answers or if you’re Dale Fucking Carnegie himself: I’m looking to see how well you’ll ACTUALLY do at the job, and I’m listening to your words. Lots of people get nervous in “pressure” situations, but that’s a terrible predictor of future success and business acumen.
So why the nearly 1,600 words of humblebragging about my own life? Again, I don’t mean to sound like I’m better than anyone else — if anything, I’m considerably worse, because I refuse to take things seriously and I have an open disdain for the concept of “professionalism” as most people define it. To me, professionalism is about knowing what it takes to make yourself and your company more successful, and that includes how to approach interviews — be open, honest and self-assured about yourself, and by no put the position on an impossible pedestal. At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you wore or how much your voice warbled, but they WILL remember what you say, what you know and how you’ll be a benefit to the company — the rest is just window dressing for the sake of keeping up appearances.