In the acting community, it’s well known that auditioning is a separate skill from actual performing. The problem is that, if you don’t have an established reel of filmed performances to show casting directors, auditioning is the only way for them to get a sense of your prowess, style and look. Thanks to this, the world’s next Meryl Streep could be in a studio apartment with six roommates somewhere in L.A. because she can’t pick a decent two-minute dramatic monologue.
Job interviews are pretty much just auditions for non-entertainers. You could be the best accountant, marketer, salesperson or even casting director in the world, but if you’re also the world’s worst interviewer, you’re probably not going to get the chance to show that off. It’s an ugly system, but it’s the way it is.
So far, my bouncing back plan has been a moderate success. I had a job for about two weeks, before the company decided to outsource said job to a firm–but I walked out with a paycheck and a promised recommendation, so that’s good.
My philosophy right now is “it could be a lot worse”. After two budget-related layoffs in two months, this is more out of paranoia than Pollyanna-like positivity. If The Road to El Dorado is any indication, the moment you think it couldn’t get any worse is the moment it does.
Luckily, I’m actually not half bad at interviews. I clean up good, I dress well, I know when to be funny and when to shut up (most of the time)–and since all my elementary school report cards say “A joy to have in class!”, I assume I must be convincing people that I’m good to have around, however briefly. I may not yet be great at keeping an office job, but I can sure get one like a champ.
If you’re worried about convincing others that you’re a good investment (or at least not going to be That Weird Person who hangs out at the coffee machine and makes awkward small talk), here are some tips to improve your interview game.
1. Work on your handshake. Short, firm, but not bone crunching, while making eye contact. There are YouTube tutorials for this, folks.
2. Do some recon. Google exists for a reason: finding pictures of Jennifer Lopez’s dress from the 2000 Grammy Awards.
No, wait… that’s Google Images. Regular Google exists so that you can find information about your prospective employers.
Focus on names first: the name of the company, the person who will be interviewing you, the owner or CEO of the company, any parent companies that the company operates under, any big clients the company serves if that information is public… basically any name that could come up in the interview.
Make sure you also find out the basics of what the company does and what you would be doing for them if they hired you. Try and get a sense of the company’s image. Is it fun and innovative, like Google? Is it serious and fast-paced, like The New York Times? Is it a little weird and sarcastic, like Cards Against Humanity? These are all clues as to not only how you should act in the interview, but whether you’d like working at that company at all. If you don’t speak French, you probably shouldn’t work for Le Monde.
3. Assemble your outfit. Unless somebody at the office tells you otherwise, dress business casual for your interview. Here’s what that means specifically, but in general: get a blazer, leave your jeans and t-shirts at home, wear closed-toe shoes, and make sure nobody can see your underwear. Basically, make it so that nobody could object to what you’re wearing for safety- or legally-related reasons.
4. Clean up your social media. To some people, this means removing everything from your social media that anyone could disagree with ever, or that implies you have a life outside of work. To me, this means a) never posting anything vicious, prejudiced or illegal online and b) making as many of my social media private as possible. (Obviously Twitter is a different story.) If you’re in a creative field, it’ll be to your benefit to be social media-famous–or at least present. If you’re concerned about intersecting your professional and personal lives, make separate accounts: one Twitter feed for your work, and another for your live tweets of Scandal.
5. Be early. Google directions from your house to the location of your interview. Find out how long it’s going to take you to get there, and then double that time to figure out when you should leave. Worst case scenario, you end up getting there 20 minutes early and have to sit and wait in the parking lot until five minutes before your interview time so you don’t look like a loser. Second worst case scenario, you get lost and end up getting to your interview on time because you left early, you well-prepared little minx.
6. Talk like a person. Make yourself look good, but don’t lie. Don’t say your biggest weakness is that you “care too much”. Be relatively formal, but avoid stiffness. Read the room–sometimes (not always) it’s appropriate to make your interviewer laugh.
7. Follow up. Send a handwritten thank you note to the person who interviewed you. Say you appreciated them taking the time to talk to you, and that you hope you can find a way to work together in the future. If your handwriting is hopeless, you can send an email, but make sure your email signature is professional. Regardless of whether you get the job or not, it’s important to remember that you’ll eventually get a job. It’s the only way to stay sane–and, as far as I know, as long as you keep applying, it’s true.