Lessons Learned: Interviewing.

After a series of freelance projects I just worked on, I felt it to be the perfect opportunity to reflect on my experiences as a new professional and to share them with you.

One of the most pivotal part of job searching is the interview process. It’s a green light from the resume stage that proved you were theoretically qualified. It’s the interview process that highlights if you’re a fit for the culture and mission of the company/organization/team.

And I’ve had a lot of experience in interviewing. I’ve had amazing, great interviews and I’ve had horribly awkward (and once, demeaning) interviews. I’ve had interviews where by the end of it I was asked if I could start Sunday. I’ve had interviews where I followed all the interviewing rules verbatim and once had an interview where I showed up in jeans (light-colored jeans, I was 18, give me a break.)

Here are some things I wish I knew many, many interviews ago.

Don’t take the interviewers’ coldness too personally.

I stress this because it’s definitely one that helped me build a thicker skin. I realized, I’ve been through too much in my life to let someone’s off-putting behavior rattle me. Hands down, best lesson, in job searching and in life.

Ever talk to someone who acted like they had a million and a half things better to do? I have. And it was most unfortunate to encounter in an interview. I thought it was a knock against me and I wasn’t sure what I did to deserve it (because obviously I’ve never met this person before). In one case, the one where I thought it was demeaning, this woman looked at me up and down the moment I walked into the office. From there, she looked at me despondently, made no real attempt to get to know me (says me, subjectively), and I felt like I was dismissed within the first minute. Did this work against me? Probably. I was turned off instantly and felt disrespected. Maybe she was hating for some reason but I should have taken that opportunity to prove her wrong rather than shut down.

That is a situation I call a “lesson learned.”

How did we apply this lesson learned? In one of the most nerve-wracking interviews I’ve had to date. It was at a company I would have LOVED to work for. The opportunity kind of fell through but I don’t think it was my fault. In fact, I felt that the interview went amazing. Though the interviewer was kind of intimidating, nothing like the aforementioned interviewer but still intimidating, and I told myself to take the experience in stride. I didn’t want to appear nervous (I still may have but I did my damnedest not to) and portray myself as a confident 22-year old. I considered it a success when at the end I felt we engaged on a more personal level (without getting too personal). To me, that says we were able to connect on a more familiar level, which is what the culture of that organization seems to thrive in.

I once also had an interview where I wasn’t sure who was in charge. After I submitted my resume, I ended up corresponding more with the “assistant to the director” leading up to the interview. Once at the interview, I spent more time talking to him than to her. I must have still be impressive enough because I was given the internship I interviewed for but it took me by surprise when he said, “She’s the boss.” Uhh… oops.

What did I learn from this? Research the company and the department you’re looking to be apart of. Most organizations have a Staff or Department listing that you can reference. Most even have corresponding pictures so that you recognize them later. Since that interview, I have looked at everything I could find to know more about the people (and know who is ultimately the boss!). Social media is there for a reason so I use LinkedIn and Twitter to find prospective employees if they’re on it. What do you know, it works both ways!

Mostly, through my experiences in interviewing (I’m estimating 18 interviews in my short life) I’ve learned how to have tougher skin, how to ask questions during the interview (I like showing I have that much initiative because I do!), and how to appear comfortable even if you’re the most frightened you’ve been ever. Do I have more to learn? Definitely. And I’ll have the opportunity too, because I’m not done searching for something more permanent just yet.

And in case you’re wondering, I haven’t worn jeans to an interview since I was 18. That rule is now absolute, no matter the kind of interview.

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