Puffins & The Dreaded Job Interview

I’ve been in the hot seat of many an interview in my time. Today, I got to be on the other end and watch the hopeful recipients display their wares of skills, expertise and life experiences. It’s always seemed like such a shallow procedure, a puffed up parade of puffins, waddling up and down in their plumage before an Emperor Penguin, hoping to be named top bird. I exaggerate, but only slightly. Sometimes I cringe at the individualism and think there must be a better way…

Interviewer: “Hello and thank you for coming to the interview today. I would like to ask you some questions. But who are the people sitting next to you?”

Interviewee: “Hello and thank you for the opportunity. Why, yes, with me today are both sets of my grandparents and also my parents. And in this urn I have here are my very great grandparents who came over on the Mayflower, you see, and first colonized America. My, the stories we can tell you about their sheer willpower. That’s where I get my skills in making spreadsheets!”

Tomorrow this extravaganza will continue and I’ll sit and pepper in some questions inbetween my listening and note taking. Some of the hopefuls I know and have worked with on past projects. I know their virtues, their warts and how at least one reacts under pressure. I’ll take the applicants, review, and sort them out, willing myself to be rid of any conscious or unconscious biases.

Some advice, if you’ll allow it, from one INTJ’s perspective:

  1. Be humble, but honest. You’re not the end all, be all, but you have some pretty neat stuff to offer, I’m sure. Confidence is important but temper it with reality and the willingness to learn and grow. Assume the interviewee knows more about the position than you do.
  2. Come prepared. Don’t ask if you should bring something; bring it anyway. Have copies of resumes, past samples of work, certifications, etc. Mention you brought these materials and can offer them for review if there’s time. This may differ depending on your career field, but try to do what makes sense.
  3. Maintain decorum. Even when speaking to the secretary when scheduling an interview, maintain your etiquette. Secretaries will pass on information about you to the interviewer, particularly if you yelled into the phone, were rude or even impatient. Your interview starts with that first phone call and continues while you’re in the waiting room. Your behaviors are always being monitored.
  4. Listen twice, speak once. Again, this may differ depending on your career field but in general, do not speak over the interviewer. Don’t interrupt. Answer questions concisely; expand if asked. Come prepared with examples and experiences. If you find yourself on a bunny trail, apologize and reiterate the main point and summarize concisely. Be respectful of the interviewer’s time.
  5. Don’t interview the interviewer. This relates to the above. Asking questions at the end of an interview shows interest and thought and is usually appreciated. However, don’t drill the interviewer about their qualifications, personal background or accolades. If done inappropriately, this comes across as (again) potentially arrogant, as if you’re trying to determine if the company is worthy of your time and presence.
  6. Forgive yourself; you’re only human. I’ve made mistakes in interviews; I make several every day in my human interactions. Remain humble and authentic. Apologize sincerely when needed. Ask for clarification and guidance when appropriate. Learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself and move on.

All of these skills transfer to our day to day life, including when talking with agents or while pitching our book ideas in query letters. And remember–don’t mix up your self-worth with your work; they are entirely separate things.

Happy writing and interviewing. May you find the puffin of your dreams–fictional or nonfictional–waddling towards you soon.

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