Job interviews are considered some of the most stressful, nightmare-inducing encounters modern humans have to face. The stakes are high — someone is going to use the results of this interaction to decide whether or not their company will employ you or not. The cost of failure is unemployment or being stuck in a job you are trying to leave.
And yet… there are some things to said for the job interview.
I’ve been job hunting for most of the past year. I’ve had 25 job interviews in that time. And for the most part, I’ve enjoyed all of them. I think that enjoyment came through in the interviews, resulting in me making it through most phone screens, to second and third round interviews, and a couple of offers.
I’m certainly not an expert in “mastering” the job interview. But there are some tips that I’ve picked up that have helped me to enjoy and benefit from the job interview process.
Here are six things I enjoy about job interviews:
1. I Get to Talk about Myself
Everyone likes to talk about themselves, even if they won’t admit it. I definitely like to talk about myself — the things that I’m passionate about, the stuff that I’ve done, the experiences that I’ve had. Job interviews are an opportunity to share my best self with another person.
Some people are concerned about “selling themselves.” For me, it’s more about filling in the gaps in your submitted application materials. At this point in the process, the interviewer knows your qualifications. Now they want to hear you say it, in case there are things that they missed or nuances that didn’t come through in your application.
My responsibility is to tell an accurate, clear, and hopefully engaging account of why I think I’m a strong candidate for the job. That is a thing that I like doing.
2. I Get to Learn about a New Company / Industry / Product
I cast a pretty wide net in my job search. I applied outside of my industry, to companies I had never heard of before, that provide products and services I didn’t know much about. Of course, I researched, talked to people, and reviewed their online presence. But there’s a lot I don’t know going into the interview.
So for me, the job interview is just part of the research process, to see if this is the right place for me.
Often I learn something valuable, even if it turns out I’m not the right candidate for that position. I didn’t know much about test prep services before I was interviewed by one of the top test prep sites in the country. Now I know quite a lot about that industry, and it’s really fascinating and huge. The same goes for the Open Data movement, online game development platforms, learning management systems, and teaching coding to kindergarteners.
3. I’m Helping Out the Interviewer
This is kind of a Jedi mind trick. It’s about mentally moving the interviewer from an adversary to an ally.
In my mind, I picture the interviewer as being on my side. They want me to do well. They see something special in me. They are fervently hoping that I am the right candidate, so they can move on to whatever else is on their plate for that week.
This may not be reality. But it COULD be. As someone who has hired a lot of people, that has certainly been my perspective. And by putting that intention on our interviewer, it helps dissipate a lot of the anxiety of the process for me.
4. I Get to Learn what the Job ACTUALLY Is
This is a big one. Often managers are not the best at describing the position or the candidate that they are looking for. Typically, they put in way too many “requirements,” based on the skills and background of the previous person in that position, plus whatever additional skills and attributes they want in the next person to hold that job. Sometimes the job description is a laundry list of responsibilities with no clear prioritization.
So the job interview has been the place where I get to find out the truth of what the gig actually is, after getting past the marketing of the posted job description.
One job I applied for was for an “instructional designer.” But after going through three interviews, and having three radically different perspectives on the position described to me, I realized that this startup had no idea what they wanted the person in this position to do. Whatever it was, it had very little to do with instructional design.
Another company posted that they were looking for a “community manager” for their online service. But what they really wanted was a salesperson, and could give a damn about community. No, thank you.
5. I Learn What I Want to Be Doing, and Not Be Doing
This is related to the previous thing. By engaging with people at a company, it helps me get a bead on the things I want to spend my precious time doing, and what I want to avoid.
I interviewed with one company that provided online learning solutions for other companies and organizations. They were looking for someone to help build online courses for their customers. That sounded like something that I would really enjoy. Some of my best experiences at my previous job were building courses and educational modules for different audiences.
I found out during the interview that this particular job was 90% focused on just cranking out course after course, for a variety of clients, as fast as possible. As we got into the details of what the job would actually entail, I realized that course building was only one part of what I wanted my work week to be spent on. I knew that I would be unhappy after the first few months there.
These kinds of experiences helped me immensely to narrow down my job search parameters to find the position where I would really thrive and be happy.
6. I Get Comfortable being Uncomfortable
This last one is kind of a mental hack. When something makes me very stressed and nervous, I try and unpack that discomfort and make peace with it.
Sometimes the discomfort is because I don’t think I’m qualified for the position I’m being interviewed for, and I feel like an imposter. In that situation, I go back to the job description and see what are the listed qualifications and whether I fit them or not. If I don’t fit all of them, or feel like I may have oversold my skills and experience, I get honest with myself and decide if I’m the right person for that job.
More likely is that I am qualified, but because of my eclectic work history, it can be hard to see that. So my task in the interview is to be as clear as possible as what I see as my qualifications. Back to point #1.
At other times, the discomfort is from not knowing what to expect from the interviewer. In those cases, I try and be like those talk show guests who clearly are there for a specific agenda. Whatever question you put to them, they always steer their answer to promoting their new book or trashing their competition or bragging about their kids.
In my case, I decide ahead of time what are the main things I want to make sure to get across during the interview, and find for opportunities to say them. E.g. my appreciation for the mission of the company, my past collaborations with people there, my history of work in their field.
So the “enjoyment” for me is going into that place that is scary and defeating that fear. Slaying dragons is fun.
As I re-read through this list, I recognize that a lot of my own privilege comes through. I have the financial security to walk away from a job opening if I feel like I won’t be 75-100% happy there. I’m not trying to put food on the table for my family, or worrying about making rent payments next month.
But even in that scenario where you NEED that job, being able to deal with your anxiety, tell your story well, put the interviewer on your side, and dig into what the job actually is can help you nail that interview. If that is you, good luck and Godspeed.