Searching for the Perfect Interview
Having survived dozens of interviews, I’m finally beginning to understand the best way for potential employers to get to know me as a person and a prospective team member and the conventional interview is NOT the way.
A friend once told me something about hiring that I’m not recalling quite right, but basically it’s this: You can likely teach anyone to do anything in terms of the job, but you can’t change their personality. Finding the person who is the right fit is more important than finding the one who looks perfect on paper with all the requirements checked off.
Unless the position you’re trying to fill requires spontaneously answering questions in front of complete strangers, how is an interview the best way to evaluate someone’s potential? If a role requires certain skills shouldn’t those be assessed in a real world scenario applicable to your company rather than completely based on prior experience?
Whenever I have doubts about my marketing abilities, I remind myself that I’ve gotten a lot of interviews and that’s because I know how to market myself, on paper at least. When I think of the ratio of resumes submitted to phone screens to second or third interviews, I think I am doing pretty good considering the current climate. However, I can’t help but think that my aversion to the standard interview and my inability to play the game of first impressions has been the reason for only two offers. I know that I’m not going to change who I am and I’d rather show my true self from the get go, but part of me wishes I could have the perfect interview - one that is a real conversation, an open dialogue, an exchange with honesty and authenticity.
ATTENTION HR MANAGERS: Please share the majority of questions you may ask in an interview beforehand. Have candidates record a short video or submit written answers prior to meeting so that the interview can be more like a conversation. If you’re following a script, asking the same questions in the same order to all candidates, why keep it a secret? Wouldn’t you rather see who prepares and who doesn’t? Don’t you want to find out right away who cares enough about the process to research your company and think about what they have to offer and how they see themselves fitting in to your work culture?
I really love the section on Interview Questions in "The Ideal Team Player." (see sample questions below) I've decided to compose answers for these sample questions because I know it will help me learn more about what I have to offer and what I need to thrive in my next position.
* Tell me about the most important accomplishment of your career.
* What was the most embarrassing moment in your career? Or the biggest failure? How did you handle that embarrassment or failure?
* What is your greatest weakness?
* How do you handle apologies, either giving or accepting them?
* Tell me about someone who is better than you in an area that really matters to you.
* What is the hardest you've ever worked on something in your life?
* How would you describe your personality?
* What do you do that others in your personal life might find annoying?
* What kind of people annoy you the most, and how do you deal with them?
* Would your former colleagues describe you as an empathic person? Can you give an example of how you've demonstrated empathy to a teammate?
In the middle of writing this I had another great conversation with my Dad about my frustrations with the job hunt. I’ve been really struggling lately with what feels like a broken system in terms of the standard hiring process.
I can’t help but find comparisons between scrolling LinkedIn and Match.com. It’s a tedious endeavor filled with hope and despair. I’m quite grateful that I have been married for almost 22 years to someone I’ve known since 1994! Looking for a new job feels like searching for future husband on a dating app that has resulted in nothing but a lot of awkward first dates.
Sometimes I feel optimistic and determined. Other times I feel powerless, ignored, and desperate. I know that I’m one of a kind. I know that I have high standards of myself and others. I know that I throw myself 100% into everything I do. I love learning and growing. I thrive on being creative and responsive. I’m honest and I’m intense, but I’m also empathetic and supportive.
I want to be evaluated not only on my resume and personality, but on what I can do for the organization I’m trying to join. My greatest strengths are best demonstrated in my work and that’s why I’ve appreciated the opportunity to submit a specific writing sample, social content, or presentation tailored to the particular role. I’ve only been required to do this a handful of times, and I didn’t always get an offer, but I knew that I did my best and that’s all that mattered to me.
I’m one of those people who says “I’m sorry” so easily and so often that I regularly apologize for stuff that isn’t my fault or something that requires no apology.
That’s why I laughed so much during a recent episode of “And Just Like That…” when Charlotte wouldn’t apologize for knocking Harry over during a competitive tennis game. Things got heated when he confronted her with the number of times she says those two words, “I’m sorry,” to other people and she went off on him. Even though I do think he deserved that apology, I loved seeing her passionately explain herself. “Sorry, not sorry.”
As Ali Trachta describes in her review:“As any good marriage counselor will tell you, fights among longtime couples are rarely about the things that initiated them — this one seems to be more about mansplaining, insecurity and society’s expectation that women always apologize.”
I rarely ask for an apology, because, honestly, what’s the point. If someone doesn’t want to then it means absolutely nothing if you force it.
However, there’s one recent situation in which I’ve told multiple people many times that I deserved an apology from specifically named people and still, crickets. And that’s when I think, “Why can’t I even get the bare minimum two word forced apology?” Especially when everyone agrees mistakes were made in how a situation was handled and I deserved one.
I apologize when it’s difficult and embarrassing, when it means admitting an error or acknowledging inappropriate or unprofessional behavior. For me, accountability is absolutely necessary especially at work and in personal relationships. I am not perfect and when I screw up or do something I regret, I am compelled to “own it” and apologize even if I’m apologizing for my gut reaction to how someone’s words or actions harmed me.
At some point I should search my text messages and emails for “I’m sorry” to see how many times I’ve said it when it was actually needed because of something I did and how often I apologize to someone who’s actually done something wrong to me.
Ever since my twin sister moved in with me this summer, I’ve been more aware of how I apologize to people i care about. We both have unresolved issues with people who have hurt us and never apologized. As identical twins and best friends who live together during difficult times, we often argue and fight, but we also apologize and forgive.
Here are some great resources about how to say, “I’m sorry” both personally and professionally. And, of course, I also have a “I’m sorry” playlist. :)
You're apologizing all wrong. Here's how to say sorry the right way. (NPR)
5 Steps to a Sincere Apology
How to Craft the Perfect Work Apology
How to Apologize Sincerely and Effectively
I completely missed out on the “West Elm Caleb” witch hunt in real time. I saw some references on twitter, had no idea what it was about, but kept scrolling. Today I finally read a piece in The Washington Post about what happened.
The result is a chain of memeification, where the person becomes a metaphor for something larger.Why people choose to partake in this phenomenon often lies in the gray area between wanting to fit in and wanting to hold people accountable, Richards said. With West Elm Caleb being a “stand-in for sucky men,” it made it easier for women to go after a figure “that society doesn’t generally hold responsible” — those, she said, are “very legitimate emotions.”
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week thinking about injustice and accountability, human decency and protocols, laws versus morals, right and wrong.
This Caleb situation felt strangely familiar to me although I’ve been happily married for 21 years. I haven’t been scrolling hinge or bumble, but I have been methodically checking LinkedIn, Idealist, and a few nonprofit and running related job boards. I haven’t gone on dozens of first dates, but I’ve had 50+ interviews over the past two years. The emotions involved in looking for true love and trying to find a new job are quite similar and it ain’t easy.
In the midst of pandemic-related layoffs and the great resignation, many job-seekers are spending hours writing tailored cover letters, preparing for zoom interviews, and waiting. And, for many, the waiting is the hardest part. Especially for someone eager for a new opportunity and suffering from an anxiety disorder.
So many of the emotions I’ve experienced in the job hunt are ones absent in my life for more than 20 years. It’s true that I haven’t had an interview since the 1990s, but I also haven’t had a date. The feelings involved in searching for the one - the one perfect love or the one perfect career - are quite similar and it’s exhausting. It’s emotionally draining to go from excitement to hopelessness, from anticipation to desperation, from confidence to rejection.
I joke that I could probably go into Human Resources now because I’ve learned so much about the hiring process and how to make it fair, inclusive, and compassionate. I plan to explore everything I’ve learned and all my recommendations in future posts, but I feel compelled to get something written about this today because I’m feeling quite raw and writing helps me heal.
1. Do not post a job without including the salary range.
My favorite local job board is the Center for Nonprofit Excellence because of this:
“Effective January 2020, CNE will review all submissions before going live to ensure salary ranges are listed as part of our commitment to equity and transparency.”
I really don’t like to play guessing games. Posting a job announcement without including a salary range is like listing a house for sale without an asking price. It makes no sense and it’s wasting everybody’s time.
Yes, there should be room for negotiation and salary is not the only thing that determines whether or not a position is the right fit, but if an organization or company is not willing to be transparent about salaries then it’s not somewhere I want to work. One of my first employers, AcademyHealth, would give all positions a level with an accompanying salary range and that information was available to everyone including potential applicants. That compensation visibility spoiled me for future positions where everything was a secret.
2. Utilize auto reply.
If you have applicants send an email to apply for a position, then set up an auto reply. Keep it simple and honest. “We’ve received your resume. If your qualifications match our needs, we will contact you.”
3. Schedule interviews with Calendly, Doodle, or similar software.
Nothing feels like a bigger waste of time than sending multiple emails back and forth to schedule an interview when there is scheduling software available to make it easier for everyone.
4. Give an overview of the hiring process with firm dates on when decisions will be made and honor those.
I’ve seen position announcements that include all the stages of the interviewing process with dates and I’ve found that to be quite useful.
Target Date to Hire:
As expected, I’ve had many more phone screens and virtual interviews than final interviews. I’ve learned to ask for specifics about when decisions will be made regarding next steps and I appreciate when these deadlines are honored.
5. Interviews should only be one part of the hiring process.
One of my greatest strengths (and weakness) is my honesty. I really hate interviews and sometimes I am really not very good at them. Often I’ll admit that to a prospective employer even though I know I probably shouldn’t, but it’s the truth. I have an anxiety disorder and sometimes it gets in the way of me making a good first impression. I’d much rather complete an assignment or project to demonstrate my ability to perform the tasks necessary for the role. Yet I’ve only been asked to do something like this a handful of times. I might not always be great at interviews, but I know that the depth of my experience and the quality of my resume and portfolio showcases my creativity, enthusiasm, and strong work ethic. I would take any opportunity to work on a project tailored to a particular position to see if I would make a good fit.
Consider requesting videos or sharing interview questions in advance.
Preparation is a crucial part to my success. One of the reasons I hate interviews is because I never know what I’m going to be asked so I feel unprepared at the onset which causes anxiety. If I ever had the chance to review the questions before an interview, I know I would be more succinct. If a job doesn’t involve public speaking without having prepared remarks, then why do we ask that of applicants? Asking candidates to submit a video with their answers to a few complex questions beforehand is a great way to even the playing field.
Require an assignment.
The first time I was asked to create a presentation before an interview I felt liberated. I thought, wow, they’ll get to see my creativity, skills, and work ethic before they even meet me. This is awesome! It was a great learning experience even though I didn’t get the job. When I didn’t make it to the next round, I was offered the option to receive feedback on my interview from the hiring company. The analysis I received ended with the opportunity to pay for Coaching Services. ?!?!?! That seemed rather shady and perhaps unethical, but luckily it was the nudge I needed to talk with my dad, a retired successful strategic marketing consultant, as a free resource for career advice. He’s been a lifesaver!
6. Personalize correspondence with applicants you’ve interviewed and who have completed tasks.
People who are interviewed deserve a prompt response and more than a form letter.
I’ve been ghosted by so many potential employers and even though everyone tells me not to take it personally and that’s just the way it is, I cannot accept that. If you create a connection with another human being by having a conversation with them, albeit a staged professional one, they deserve to be treated with respect and honesty.
I never say I’m going to do something and then not do it. Not in my personal life and not in any of my professional or volunteer roles. Responsiveness and communication are top priority for me and my expectations of others are based on what I give and provide.
“No news is bad news” when you’re in the job hunt, but when I receive a response from a company that never even interviewed me, I feel even more hurt and angry at the individuals who met me, spent time with me, and still never gave me an authentic response and official rejection letter.
True story: I had an interview with someone on the evening before Thanksgiving and although I sent a thank you to multiple emails immediately after and then followed up a week later, the final email I received from the person who scheduled the interview was: “Thank you so much for sharing this information. We will be in touch with next steps.” That was 11/30/21. It’s 1/23/22. Yeah, I know I didn’t get the job, but it would have been nice if someone confirmed that.
I recently had a conversation with my sister about this “pet peeve” of ours - when someone doesn’t follow through on a promise. That’s how I came across this amazing organization: “because I said I would.”
“because I said I would is a social movement and nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity through promises made and kept. We are changing lives through character development programs and volunteer projects in partnership with schools, juvenile detention centers, prisons and communities.”
This seems like a movement I could have started! I’m excited to learn more and volunteer to help.
People who submit an assignment and/or go through multiple rounds of interviews deserve a personal note.
The reason I’m writing this today is because I just endured a torturous week. On Monday, January 10, I had a second interview for a position at an organization where I felt I would thrive. I completed two group interviews and an assignment and was told a final decision would be made the following week. I honestly thought I was perfect for the role and would get an offer on Monday or Tuesday. When that didn’t happen, I couldn’t take the anxiety of waiting anymore so I sent an email asking “when” a final would be made. Four hours later I received a message with the five most frustrating words in the hiring process: “We will be in touch soon.”
For someone with anxiety, the word “soon” is akin to ghosting. I know there are studies out there documenting how people who know they have to wait x number of hours for something can handle the waiting better than people who are repeatedly given a vague delay without any clear end in sight. It’s why those upcoming train boards on the DC metro almost made commuting less stressful. When interviewing feels like a delayed train with no ETA it zaps the energy out of you and it makes it harder to prepare for other interviews. In a word, it sucks.
I’ve gotten to the point where I can start compiling the pros/cons of any potential offer so that if it never comes I can console myself… to a degree. I’ve been seeing a lot of articles and cartoons lately about imposter syndrome and the pains of unemployment. In a society that asks, “So what do you do for a living?” it can feel quite demoralizing to be unemployed whether or not it’s by choice.
Identity and Acts of Kindness
When I was unable to sleep on Friday night I caught an episode of “Back On The Record with Bob Costas” with Lindsey Vonn talking about how skiing is something she loves to do, but it’s “not who I am. It doesn’t define me as a person.”
And I was like whoa!!!! I had an epiphany. Here I was feeling like a complete loser because I didn’t get offered a job that I really wanted, but that decision didn’t actually change who I am. It doesn’t define me as a person. It’s their loss and maybe it will eventually be my gain because I’ll be available for an even better opportunity. Either way, there are so many things that make me proud of the person I am and what I do for money is not at the top of the list anymore.
When you interview someone and they are honest and raw about their strengths and weaknesses, please treat them with compassion when you decide to pursue another candidate. Including just one reference to something unique to their application and interview would mean a world of difference to someone who’s put themselves out there to be rated and judged.
Sure, it might be easier for you to send out a generic rejection letter regardless of the personal efforts someone made to join your company, but receiving a response full of standard “we regret to inform you” cliches, one that has been cut and pasted and could have been sent to someone you never even met negates any positive connections that were made during the interview. Please take the time to be kind, empathic, and sincere.
No Choice But Action
Ouch. My finger really hurts and it’s an important finger. It’s the index finger on my dominant hand and it’s the only one I use to type on my iPhone. So what happened? How did I lose a layer of skin from an open blister on my index finger?
Well, here’s the story.
Leah’s Snow Removal Service
For a couple days I risked my life walking from my townhome in Pantops to the grocery store and Starbucks because a few businesses felt it wasn’t their responsibility to shovel the sidewalk in front of their establishments.
I documented the lack of accessibility to the only crosswalk on Route 250 as well as the Charlottesville Area Transit bus stop near the DMV and tagged the Chick-fil-A Pantops and Atlantic Union Bank on social media. I even tagged the local news stations and newspaper. Obviously nothing happened.
I’ll do anything to avoid a phone call so I grabbed my shovel and decided to just do it myself. It was only after I was almost finished that I realized my throbbing finger had an injury from the cheap shovel and my lack of skill in moving huge chunks of slush, ice, and snow.
I talked about this in a job interview yesterday because I feel like it is a perfect example of my personality and work ethic.
I will never complain about something without trying to fix it. I’m a problem solver. I care about other people. I hold businesses and people accountable for their actions (or inaction). I’m willing to endure pain (both physical and mental) to do the right thing.
I keep checking my feeds for a thank you. For someone from corporate to respond to my tweets, reels, and Facebook posts. It hasn’t happened.
Luckily a couple of amazing things did happen as I was shoveling and it’s what gives me some hope and pride.
A couple in a car stopped in front of 2050 Abbey Road Medical Center and asked if I worked for the city. He mentioned that he saw me on the other side of the road shoveling, too. I told him no, I don’t work for anyone. I’m actually currently unemployed and I don’t have a car so it’s important that sidewalks are accessible. I explained that I had tried to use social media to “shame” the businesses into doing the right thing, but it didn’t work so I took matters into my own hands. They thanked me and gave me fist pumps in solidarity.
A few minutes later another truck stopped and a guy came out with a flyer. It was for a snow shoveling service and he asked if I could give it to management. I told him that I didn’t work for the building and I was just volunteering. He seemed shocked, kept his flyer, and said, “Wow, that’s nice of you!”
So I did get thanked and acknowledged, but it wasn’t from corporate headquarters, it was literally from the man on the street (x2).
One last thing. As I started walking home to clear the patches I missed in front of Atlantic Union Bank a van from the Albemarle County Service Authority parked in the lot. A man got out and opened the back of the van and pulled out a shovel. He said he wanted to help me out since he had a better shovel. He noticed I just broke off part of my low-end orange plastic one attacking a stubborn piece of ice. I was so grateful that not only did one more person recognize my efforts, but he stepped up to offer me a hand. I didn’t get his name, but I want to thank him. His generosity and friendliness made my day.
My husband is writing a book about post-punk music in Kansas entitled, “No Choice But Action.” It’s my mantra now. I have no choice, but to act when I see injustice. Shoveling a sidewalk is just another example.
Charlottesville has an ordinance that businesses and homeowners need to clear their sidewalks by a specific deadline after a storm. Clearing sidewalks is about accessibility and pedestrian safety. I saw children navigating piles of snow to get on the school bus this morning. We need to think about others and make our communities safe for everyone.
I’ll take recommendations on a good shovel to purchase. I have a feeling I’ll need one for the next storm.
“The time is always right to do the right thing.”
1/2 of @TwinsRun