July 20, 2024


The value of truth

How to Get a Job If You’re Bad at Job Interviews

4 min read
How to Get a Job If You’re Bad at Job Interviews

I’ve done everything you’re not supposed to do during a job interview — appearing unpolished, bad-talking past bosses, and revealing too much. At one job interview in 2011, I even cried.

Straight out of college, I felt confident and at ease in front of potential employers. Then, I worked for three years in a very negative and taxing work environment. I started to feel less confident in my abilities and nervous about how I came across in interviews.

In 2010, I was a victim of mass media humiliation, and interviewing for my next job was an excruciating experience. In front of potential employers, I froze and fumbled. I decided to become a freelancer, partly to avoid the entire job interview experience.

I love working for myself, but I’m always looking for more stability and better-paying clients, so I recently sent my résumé to a publishing-services company. I was invited to interview for a lucrative position as a ghostwriter. It sounded like a dream, but I had never done ghostwriting or worked for a corporate firm. Doubt crept in.

I asked Melea Seward, the director of recruiting for The Hired Guns, a talent agency focused on professionals in digital and emerging technology, for advice.

“Of all the human interactions in the world, job interviews are among the most triggering — even for people who don’t come to them with a traumatic experience,” Seward said. Here’s the advice she gave me to present myself in the best light.

Have a strong opener

The first question during most interviews is “Tell me about yourself.” Seward said I should have a strong answer memorized beforehand.

“Don’t start with ‘I’m a father of two’ or why you left your last job,” she said. Instead, memorize a line that sums up your experience and focuses on what’s most applicable to the role.

She said to “keep it short” — 90 seconds max — and be concrete. People often talk about themselves in generalities. Instead, “imagine that the first sentence is a headline,” she said. I may be bad at job interviews, but I’m great at writing headlines.

I decided to say, “I’m a freelance writer and writing instructor who’s been providing book editing services since 2010. I’ve helped hundreds of writers publish personal essays, op-eds, and reported articles worldwide.”

Come prepared to talk about the good and the bad

People who don’t like job interviews may try to avoid thinking about them ahead of time, but Seward said that “everybody can benefit from prep,” especially folks like me who freeze or crack under pressure.

Once, a guy interviewing me said, “This is a great job for someone interested in elder care.” I couldn’t think of anything to say except, “Well, that’s not me.” “I don’t know anything about incarceration” is also something I once said at the start of a job interview for an organization with a mission to end mass incarceration.

Come with a couple of anecdotes you can adapt to whatever question they ask you, and be prepared to talk about any elephants in the Zoom room. Seward said you should give the necessary context, including the challenges you faced, but more importantly, talk about the steps you took to achieve a positive result in the end.

I came fully prepared to explain how my provocative past and ultimately writing a book about it prepared me to help others usher their underheard stories into the light. “It’s not about what happened,” Seward said, “it’s about what you learned from it.”

Slow down

When you go into any experience thinking it’s going to be dreadful, it probably will be, but Seward said that “when you get legitimately, decidedly, and whole-body curious about anything,” it would be “hard to maintain the same level of anxiety.”

Instead of focusing on yourself in an interview, Seward advises job candidates to get curious. “Asking questions is a cortisol reducer for humans,” she said. It’s also a smart way to slow a situation down.

Seward said people would often sprint through job interviews. To slow down, she said, “say to the person interviewing you, ‘I might not look at my screen because I’m actually taking notes,’ and show your notebook.” When you get hit with a tough question, this tactic becomes a great way to acknowledge that you’re paying attention while giving yourself time to respond.

I applied the notebook advice at the start of the interview and took deliberate pauses throughout the conversation. I tried to treat the interview as more of a conversation and leaned into my genuine curiosity about the ghostwriting industry.

Don’t forget to breathe

Thanks to Zoom, we can control exactly where the interview will occur. Seward advises creating a situation where you’ll feel physically comfortable. Spend time visualizing the experience in advance and imagining it going well.

Seward also recommends somatic interventions such as breathing techniques and listening to binaural beats before and after the interview.

On the day of my interview, I worked from home instead of trying to Zoom from the café I typically work at. Before the interview began, I sat for five minutes to just breathe and feel my body. I felt at ease and prepared with answers to a couple of predictable questions.

I was confident and poised the whole time. Before the interview ended, we talked about the next steps of the hiring process, an obvious indication I’d gotten the job. Even if I hadn’t, the experience was the opposite of excruciating. It was fun — something I never thought I’d say about a job interview.

Have you overcome a hurdle to land a job and want to share your story? Email Lauryn Haas at [email protected].

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