Can't be honest without being negative, can't be positive without being dishonest
May 31, 2011 8:54 PM   Subscribe

How do I not wear my resentment heart on my sleeve when it comes to job interviews?

I know this will come across as childish, but when I'm angry or upset, it shows. Not that I'm screaming or throwing things at people, but it's really hard for me to hide when I'm upset over something. It's leaked out in my facial expressions, posture and voice.

Here's the dilemma I'm currently in: I just finished up a contract job. I was hoping to get on board full time, and there had been hints dropped that this would occur. Now it turns out I don't have enough experience to handle the projects currently coming down the pike. I'm frustrated that after coping with unemployment for 7 months before getting this job, I'll be back in the unemployment office again. This has overall soured my attitude towards contract work, but full-time employment is hard to come by in the field I'm in unless you have a crapton of experience.

How can I be more resilient and talk about my previous experience in a positive way to employers? I've reached out to my network and they're keeping an eye out for me for new openings, and I do have some potential interviews lined up. How can I walk into these interviews without seeming as though I have an axe to grind (though in fact I do, sorta)?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Practice deep breathing in an inconspicuous way and work on your poker face. A sort of blank cheeriness is ideal, but make sure only to use it when you would otherwise be upset. An employer won't notice if you look blankly cheerful when talking about your past work experience but it'll seem off if you're that way the entire time, they'll think you are a robot and call the robot police and those guys are jerks.

But, you know, breathe. Let your shoulders down. Meditate, maybe. Do all this ahead of time so you'll be ready for it during an interview. Keep yourself in line by reminding yourself, mentally, that you will almost definitely not get the job if you get axe-grindful during the interview. Good luck!
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:00 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lose the axe. Seriously. Anything else is you trying to become a good actor on short notice. Bonus effect of not being resentful is that... you're no longer resentful.

Are you new to working? Because honestly, what you describe is pretty standard for a lot of industries. You try someone out to see if they're a good fit, with a built-in graceful way to exit if that doesn't happen to be the case. Would you have preferred that they hired you full time and then got rid of you after a month because it wasn't working out? Or if they ended your contract early (because I am sure it was written in such a way that they could have)?

It's not a big deal. You now have 7 months more job experience than you did before, and you are richer for it. You don't even need to let potential employers know you were hoping/passed over for a full time conversion. I mean, why would you even think to volunteer this information?

Or is your bitterness towards your chosen field, in general? That it's so heavily contract based? Because if that's the situation, you may want to get okay with it, or get out.
posted by danny the boy at 9:24 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ok, that sucks.

My advice to you re. not sounding resentful is: fake it till you make it!

Once you start acting that it's not a big deal, you will start feeling like it's not a big deal. And I'm not just talking about during job interviews. I mean, starting now, in all situations, act like you're not angry/hurt/resentful about it. When you hear yourself slipping back into the negative talk, make the effort to stop that line of thought and start talking about the positives instead. (And, uh, try not to indulge in pity parties as that will totally undo all your good "faking it" work.)

Good luck on the job search!
posted by coffeepot at 9:31 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Want the job you're applying for. Forget about the past. Want the job you're applying for - it's a new start.

Do not talk not-well about previous jobs. Really, try to avoid that if you can. Use euphemisms if you can't. Interviewers know/understand if you didn't have a great time at a previous job(s).

If at all possible, mention things that you *liked* about old job(s), especially things that made you a better employee.

Focus on the new job, new environment, new coworkers, new working customs, new new new. Clean slate.

DO NOT bad-mouth your old job. Unless it was a lawsuit that you won after they dismissed you and they ask why you left.

If you're pressed on bad stuff that happened in old job, frame it in ways that you would have improved the situation if you had the authority.
posted by porpoise at 9:34 PM on May 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm sympathetic - I leak feelings, I've had some unpleasant contract situations, I've endured prolonged unemployment. I hear you.

I think you should do some prep work before the interviews - figure out likely questions, and rehearse the hell out of some comparatively neutral answers. Not so you sound like a robot, but so you basically grow accustomed to addressing the whole situation a bit more impersonally.

Hiring managers know perfectly well that you wouldn't be looking for a new job if you weren't unemployed, underemployed, or badly employed.

They ask the question "Why did your last position end?" because they want to know. Your honest answer itself can easily be made palatable - e.g. "the contract ended and I decided it was time to look for other opportunities" (without mentioning that it was time largely because you had grown very fond of food and shelter) - but your delivery needs to jibe with that, so your metamessage isn't "and because those bastards led me on then threw me away, without ever understanding just how special I am!".

(Okay, I admit, there are occasionally hiring managers who ask the question adversarially, hoping to catch you in a lie or to piss you off. All the more reason to be serenely prepared.)
posted by gingerest at 9:35 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Imagine how a different sort of person might perceive this situation, and develop an alternate narrative that is not untrue (though it may not exactly be your real gut reaction.) Also think about typical expectations, and how your experience might neatly fit into a sort of neutral typical scenario.

For instance, I was all nervous about how to answer this question when interviewing as well, as I was quite full of resentment towards my employer, and had been for years. But I had forgotten how unusual it was that I'd stayed put in one job so long -- as long as I didn't explode with vitriol, my response was a non-issue. OF COURSE I was looking to move on after so many years doing the same thing.
posted by desuetude at 10:41 PM on May 31, 2011

"The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly." - Buddha.

Damn hard to do, but give it a whirl. It's the loss of power and security that drives the resentment but know that even if you did get a permanent position anywhere it cannot last forever. Everything has to end.

You can't go backwards, you can only go forward.
posted by mleigh at 11:31 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

It is a really beneficial skill to be able to be aware of your body and its outward reactions. Learning how to control this is something that you will never regret.

Practice telling the story to your friend and let them tell you when they see something. While you are talking pay attention to your breathing, the muscles of your face, your shoulders, posture and arm position. Since you are not employed you have plenty of time to work on this.

Most important as previous posters said, frame the answer positively. You left your last job because you were looking for a better opportunity to stretch and grow.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:54 AM on June 1, 2011

Lots of good advice in the comments here. A key thing that is so simple and yet so many people fail to do it is practice. Not just think about in your head but actually role play, speaking out loud, your answers to these questions. Clearly you realize they will almost definitely ask why the position ended or didn't work out. So sit down and take a few minutes to explain what happened. It's OK to express disappointment, but stay upbeat and clearly articulate your thinking.

For example: interviewer - "How come you left XYZ?" you - "I was doing XYZ which I really love and is what I want to do. However, the project needed some one with X skills which isn't my area of expertise. I'm interested to learn more about how I can do XYZ for you."
posted by seesom at 7:04 AM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seesom is so right. Practice so the words come fluently out of your mouth. And absolutely, tell the truth about the contract -- that you did a great job for them on the task they hired you for, and that you liked it, and that the contract ended because the work coming down the pike was going to be outside your area of expertise. Bring it back to the good part so you can demonstrate that it did go well and that you were an adult about it. "It was a great contract, I liked the people and the work. I think we were all disappointed when it turned out that my skills wouldn't be on point for the work that was coming up. But it's ok, I wouldn't have wanted to be hired for a job I wasn't going to be good at. I think what we're talking about for THIS job is right in the zone."
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:48 AM on June 1, 2011

Yes, lose the axe. There is nothing you can do to change that they are not making you permanent. There is nothing you can do about your experience level or that your sector is very competitive and harsh. It is ok to say you'd have liked to continue with that organisation and the stated reason why they didn't make you permanent. But then focus on how that contract makes you even more suited for the job you're applying for. In preparation for any interview actually make a list of all the good things you take away from this and any other contracts. Hopefully this allows you to reframe the whole thing in your mind so that you won't feel so negative......
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:39 AM on June 1, 2011

"Mona Lisa smile"

Many people don't realize when their lips get tight and the corners frown, and their eyebrows pinch together and glower. This gives them a forbidding and harsh appearance.

You don't need to grin like a monkey. Wreathe your mouth with uplifting muscles, you should feel your cheekbones firm up below your eyes. Raise your eyebrows and make your eyes round while you are listening to questions

By consciously controlling the expression on your face, you are presenting an outwardly calm and reasonable persona. Some research shows that your body precedes your brain's responses; if you have an angry face, you must feel angry and the brain sends out angry signals.
posted by ohshenandoah at 10:04 AM on June 1, 2011

Not only did fingersandtoes give you the script for your interview, he gave you a method of exploring a new mindset.

You said: ...but full-time employment is hard to come by in the field I'm in unless you have a crapton of experience.

Merriam-Webster says experience is
a : practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity
b : the length of such participation

Taa Dah! You now have more practice in your skills as well as more time in the field. It would be a PITA to have nine more short-term contracts, but if you do, you will have 10 good references, and crap-ton more experience, as well as showing grit and determination to continue in your chosen field, and you'll magically, if slowly, become more desirable as an employee. Being faster and more experienced at what you do now know, as well as showing your willingness to take on and do your best with what you don't will make a good impression on any employer.

See if you can reframe this contract job as a step up into more employment, rather than a roadblock. Your former job was a good thing! (And for Maude's sake, if you haven't gotten a letter of reference, GET one.)

Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you find the right mentor, it can make all the difference.
Good luck, and keep us posted.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:15 AM on June 1, 2011

Practice. Ask a a friend to role-play interviews and ask about your current position. That will help you frame the right words and attitude.
posted by theora55 at 3:31 PM on June 1, 2011

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