Do I smell bad or something?
July 18, 2013 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Over the last several months, I've noticed a job hunting pattern. I apply for a job. I get called for an interview. Yay! However, despite going on MANY interviews over the past 8-9 months, I'm not able to actually close the deal. What am I doing wrong?

I moved from New York to Los Angeles about 9 months ago. In that time, I've been on, oh, probably dozens of job interviews. It feels like a million. And yet over and over, those interviews don't turn into jobs.

Now, it's possible that this is just the luck of the draw, but I can't help but feel that there's a pattern here. Especially since, in my entire career up to this point, I have ALWAYS nailed job interviews. I think I went on three job interviews in my entire working life (15-ish years) that I didn't get. And those interviews obviously didn't go well -- I knew on leaving the room that I'd blown it, or that we didn't hit it off, or whatever.

Possible problems:

- I'm not appropriately dressed or groomed. The reason I bring this up is that there's a definite difference between NY and LA aesthetics, especially for women, and I don't feel like I've entirely figured out all the nuances. I don't wear much makeup, rarely wear heels, and my personal style tends to be more quirky/vintage than on-trend or corporate. I'm also about 10 lbs overweight. I feel like I'm nailing my New York "job interview look" that has worked in the past, but maybe something is lost in translation?

- I'm overselling myself in my resume and/or cover letter, or applying for the wrong jobs. (This seems weird to me, since I'm mostly applying to the exact types of jobs I used to apply for in New York.)

- I'm not talking about myself well, or selling my skills well in an interview context.

- Some faux pas I'm committing that I have no idea about.

Obviously you guys aren't in the room with me when I'm interviewing. So I guess my question is, what are some obvious things indicated by "gets lots of interviews, never gets job offers"? How can I gauge where the problem lies, or be more self aware of how I'm presenting myself in person? Is there a way to be a better "closer" in job interviews?

Note: I have a job currently, but it's very low status, low pay, and not in my field. This is the job I had to take because it was this or starve. Interestingly, I interviewed for this job via Skype. I have continued to interview for other jobs in my field since getting this job.

Another note: Up until now, I've worked in a non-creative capacity in the entertainment industry. I did not find it difficult to break into this field post-college, and I have a strong resume. I also have good references, and in at least one situation someone I interviewed with knew someone who had worked with me in the past in New York and commented positively about the connection. So on the one hand, hard field to get a job in, but on the other hand, "breaking in" doesn't seem to be the problem here.
posted by Sara C. to Work & Money (31 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
There's no way to tell you what you're doing or not doing to not get these jobs. Remember, though, that you're in a different city than you were before, so you don't know what the culture is like over there the way you do with New York.

Also, the economy is such that employers can be (and are being) extremely picky with candidates. So it may be a matter of them holding out until they get exactly what they're looking for.

It could also be that you're not picking the right jobs to interview for. Or that your interview skills aren't as good as you think they are. Or maybe you do smell. Who knows?

The best people to ask are the interviewers themselves. Some may not answer, but it's worth a shot to ask. And, in fact, if you could arrange for an informal talk to discuss your interview, that might open up some more doors.

I'm all about the informal interview these days. See if you can connect with some people in the industry you want to go into and find out if they can chat with you and give you some tips on the way you're presenting yourself. Who knows? It might turn into a real interview!
posted by xingcat at 1:15 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have any friends or acquaintances who work in the type of places you're applying to? If someone's willing to do it, a mock interview could be helpful. Be sure to wear an outfit you've worn to previous real interviews so you can get feedback on that too.

Good luck--this must be very frustrating for you.

[On seeing xingcat's response in preview: if you can get an actual interviewer to do this, even better!]
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:18 PM on July 18, 2013

From sitting on interview committees, I have learned that you can get rejected for any reason or no reason. They have to pick one person; everyone else gets the "thanks for your interest". And, as said above, there are a lot of great applicants for anything at all decent.

Job hunting can be so demoralizing. Just keep going and try not to get down. If you are concerned that there is something wrong about the way you interview, maybe there is some way to practice that or get feedback? Of course the people who do that stuff for a living want money, which one is typically loath to spend while in a period of uncertainty.
posted by thelonius at 1:26 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I dunno, I can't believe it's the clothes or presentation. Have you asked for honest feedback, post-interview? I mean, you might pick one of 'em that you particularly wanted, and send a note asking what didn't work. In that way, at least you'd be able to re-tool the resume so it's more reflective of your in-person presentation or vice versa.

Are you meeting with multiple interviewers for each job? I think this makes it much harder as who knows what goes on internally that might set forth roadblocks to consensus after the interviews. Is this a hot field? That just ups the ante -- it becomes a numbers game.

(If it makes you feel any better, I waited three weeks for the results of ten-hours/five people worth of interviews for a job I was recommended for by the person leaving it, that I was headhunted for, that I didn't even want (until they made me want it!) and I just heard the verdict: Nope. The vague reason was along the lines of "couldn't come to internal consensus; we've decided to keep interviewing, can you come back in September." So, they want me to dangle in case they can't find someone they can all agree on!)

Finally, if you want a cold read on the resume, memail me, I'm the go-to for my friends.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:28 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: So, a couple of things, and keep in mind my experience is limited to the creative end of reality TV which may be a different beast than what you're looking at:

-I've mostly worked in LA, but when I worked in NYC for a while I was shocked by how underdressed I felt EVERYWHERE. To that point, you may want to consider drastically dressing down your interview look. Most people I know wear jeans or similar to interviews, and I've definitely been in offices where people have a good laugh at someone who comes in dressed up. It's icky and part of that weird too cool for school LA thing, but there you have it.

-In my experience, this is how it works when someone needs to be hired onto a show: a coordinator or similar is told by a Production Manager or similar: "Hey, hire a story producer (or whatever)" The coordinator then goes through some channels--online job boards, asking around the office--and lines up a few interviews. Simultaneously, some executive has someone in mind they've intended to hire the whole time but haven't bothered to tell anyone because most creative executives suck at communicating. A bunch of interviews are then conducted for no good reason. Obviously, this sucks and is something you have no control over.

From what I've seen, it seems like anything past the PA level requires a personal connection to someone already associated with the project. In less depressing news, once you get in with a solid crew or two, you'll probably get to stop interviewing for jobs. Hang in there. The first year in LA sucks, kind of.
posted by justjess at 1:32 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Nth'ing "sit down with a professional," whether that's one of your interviewers (warning: they may be loath to do this, as you could be a troublemaker) or someone you know who's willing to tell you that you suck at it.

And remember two things about job-hunting in today's market:
  1. There are at least dozens, probably closer to hundreds of applicants for every job. The fact that you're getting to the interview stage means you're in the 90th percentile already.
  2. About 75 percent of jobs are already filled before they're posted anywhere -- there's an internal candidate or someone's college friend who's going to get it, but they want to go through the motions. Unless someone comes out of left field with the exact skill set of Internal Hire Guy or Fellow Alumna who will work for way less money, you're only being interviewed as a courtesy (and possibly to fill Internal Hire Guy's job once he gets promoted). And, as justjess points out, in the entertainment industry, it's probably higher than 75 percent. So really, you're somewhere between the 90th and the 98th percentile.
So don't let it get you down. Practice, and keep networking, and keep plugging.
posted by Etrigan at 1:34 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sara C.: So I guess my question is, what are some obvious things indicated by "gets lots of interviews, never gets job offers"?

My answer to this is to always be extremely specific about the concrete things you can do to be successful in the position you are applying for. Say things like, "That question reminds me of the time I cut 10% off our monthly budget by aggressively negotiating with our suppliers..." or "My biggest professional challenge was the time I brought our flagship project in two weeks and $200,000 under budget. The things that helped me do that were my expert time-management skills, and my ability to herd cats using a combination of catnip and cattle prods..." and "It sounds like this department could benefit from my elite spreadsheet management skills. Why one time, I..." Connect the dots as to why you specifically are the person for the job.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:34 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

It might be the clothes. LA is SO image conscious. Before you interview at a place, take a run down there and do some people watching. See what folks are wearing and try to put together an interview outfit that evokes that same feel.

I had a real problem going from San Francisco to Miami. I would wear a suit, heels and hose to interview with people in sleeveless dresses and flip flops.

If people are wearing heels, wear heels.

I can't imagine that it's an extra 10 pounds. But if it means you don't look comfortable in your clothes, or that your clothes don't fit properly, you might want to get some a new interview outfit that works better for you.

I'm finding it harder too, but persistance will pay off!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:34 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing to keep in mind is that the economy in LA is much worse than in New York. I am from Los Angeles, and went on many interviews over six months. In the end, the only place that offered me a job was in the San Francisco Bay Area, where tech is keeping the area booming.

In other words, it's not you, it's the economy.
posted by so much modern time at 1:34 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Pretty sure you don't smell bad. And if you're getting interviews, your resume and cover letter are fine. Don't worry about mild overselling.

I'm not appropriately dressed or groomed.

It's possible, but I wouldn't over think it. A lot of people who work in production are around ten pounds overweight and don't dress well. I think a little make-up generally makes women look a little more "Hey, I'm professional" than no make-up at all, but I'm not sure. Maybe a little quirky is too quirky? I have no idea. Looking back at my LA interview faux pas, I know that I was way overdressed (too corporate) for job interviews my first year out here. The LA assistant interview uniform seems to be: Nice dark jeans, a nice top, and flats or a low heel for women.

I think it's possible that nepotism is a bigger problem in the entertainment industry in LA than it is in New York, and that there are more people out here competing for these jobs than there are in New York. But I'm not sure. If you're applying for writer's side positions (Writer's PA and up) you are competing with approximately a bajillion people for the job. The economy here sucks, and yet, this is where people move to make it in show business.

This business makes no fucking sense, though, and I'm sorry that you're on the opposite of a job-hunting hot streak. Justjess is right that a lot of jobs are filled by some executive's pick and a lot of interviews are just for show.

Oh! And I'm sure you already know this, but just in case: When your interviewer inevitably asks what your career aspirations are, be careful. That question is a minefield. If it's for a production job and you tell them that you want to be a writer, that might be a strike against you.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:39 PM on July 18, 2013

Now, it's possible that this is just the luck of the draw, but I can't help but feel that there's a pattern here. Especially since, in my entire career up to this point, I have ALWAYS nailed job interviews. I think I went on three job interviews in my entire working life (15-ish years) that I didn't get.

This was me before the recession, and I've had a number of interviews the last couple years (it's actually a tremendous improvement over the years before that that I'm actually getting interviews) where I've done very well, certainly well enough to have gotten the job in 2006, but I'm not getting it now. I had one interview that included a test that they told me I wouldn't finish - I finished and they said I'd done the best they'd seen so far, but I was an early interview for the position. Discussing the difficulty in getting hired with some former co-workers, we were all getting the feeling that we were somehow blacklisted or something. It's the economy.
posted by LionIndex at 1:55 PM on July 18, 2013

Best answer: Some thoughts:

-It's a disconnect between NY and LA style but not fashion style. That exists of course (I was told by a palm reader in LA that there was something "very East Coast" about me. Why yes, you master of clairvoyance, there is!) But I think there's a far more difficult thing where conversational style is just ever so slightly different in various places and you can think you're on the same page as someone else but later find out you're not. So what would be nice in Place A is too sweet in Place B, or they don't understand that you were making a joke, etc. I'm sure you know what I mean. I thought of this right away because it has happened to me with people from LA who I otherwise had a lot in common with.
-There are so many qualified people looking for work, so someone else has to be only like 1% more qualified than you and they'll get the job. This is probably it if you're going on those really frustrating kinds of interviews where the person spends half the interview telling you how perfect you are and then doesn't hire you.
-There are *less* qualified people than you, who are younger, not as experienced, and employers think they can get them for cheaper and force them to do things you know better than to do. (IIRC from another thread you're 30-ish? I remember being told at 29 that someone wanted to hire me for a temp job because I was "more mature" than the other candidates. Which freaked me out, but that could also go the other way.)
-There are more connected people. (Assuming you didn't move to LA because you had tons of connections there already.)

Also, I think this:

in my entire career up to this point, I have ALWAYS nailed job interviews. I think I went on three job interviews in my entire working life (15-ish years) that I didn't get.

is pretty unusual. Not that you're not good or maybe even great at interviewing, but there may have been good luck/timing in your past that's giving you a skewed sense of how easy it should be.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:57 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ten pounds overweight is not overweight. The economy is still pretty bad, so it's not surprising that it's tough to find work. I think it's a credit to you that you're getting these interviews at all.

At the risk of stereotyping LA, if you're working in any capacity in the entertainment industry, there may be certain expectations of look/dress/etc. prevalent in LA that you're not meeting. Other than that possibility, it's probably not you. (And if that is it, it's one of the big reasons I can't deal with LA).
posted by cnc at 2:00 PM on July 18, 2013

Best answer: Why don't you just ask them? I've found many places to be willing to give honest feedback about why I did not get a position.

Often it was something I would have never guessed ("You mentioned possibly wanting to go to grad school, and we were looking for someone who wanted to make a long-term career here.") or that I would never be able to change ("The chosen candidate had 10 years of experience with the software package we use.").
posted by unannihilated at 2:07 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would wear a suit, heels and hose to interview with people in sleeveless dresses and flip flops.

I know nothing at all about your industry, but I know that in my game (academia) this is actually pretty much the norm. Academics tend to be schlubs (or, at least, to accomodate schlubs) and yet they expect people interviewing for jobs to "look the part." So job candidates are meant to dress up in a way that they will never be expected to when they're actually on the job.

I find it hard to imagine, though, in the end, that being a little overdressed is what is the determining factor here. I think recognizing that there's a huge "luck of the draw" element involved (I'm sure all of these openings are getting way more qualified applicants than you could imagine) is probably helpful to the psyche and then the advice offered multiple times above to just ask for some feedback is really good. Make sure you do it in a way that doesn't sound aggrieved (i.e., "how could you not have hired me, wonderful me") or else they might not want to reply out of fear of possibly entangling themselves in some sort of lawsuit (and they might not want to reply out of that fear in any case), but I'm sure if you ask nicely in a "I'd be really keen to know what I can do to give a better account of my abilities in interviews in future" way you'll get some useful feedback.

One thing, by the way, that I wouldn't explicitly mention is your fear that it might be an East Coast/West Coast thing; there's always the risk that will come across as "how do I dumb myself down for you stupid West Coasters?" I think just asking flat out for "what are the areas I need to improve in" is the better strategy.
posted by yoink at 2:30 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've always thought it was kind of weird when I've heard of people asking hiring managers why they didn't get the job, but this is the kind of situation-- trying to unpack/defuse a potential pattern-- where it actually makes sense to me. If you make a particularly good connection with one of these interviewers, try asking in a consciously non-wheedling way if they'll oblige you with some constructive criticism.

(I'm kind of jealous that you're getting actual rejections. Right now I'm in multiple hiring processes where I went in for an in-person interview and can't get either an acceptance or a rejection out of them multiple months later. Wtf? I wore a SUIT for you people, a SUIT!)
posted by threeants at 2:40 PM on July 18, 2013

At the end of your interview when they ask if you have any questions, ask them - directly - if they have any particular hesitations about hiring you that you can address for them right now, while you're still face to face.

They might lie and say "Nope! You're perfect!" and then never call you back - which would really be a dick move - but they also might be honest and give you a chance to address their concerns. It's not a question you can prepare for though, so be ready to come up with a great answer on the fly.
posted by windbox at 2:51 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah it could be the clothes, although there are certainly plenty of non-locals in LA. But when I lived in New York I absolutely wore hose to interviews, even though I had never done so before in my life (and when I moved home to CA I left my hose in NY).
posted by elsietheeel at 2:55 PM on July 18, 2013

Best answer: Just off the top of my head: is there any possibility it could be a NY vs. LA style of conversation? That is, do you tend to speak really fast, interrupt or finish someone's sentences, etc.? Not that there aren't fast-talkers or sentence-finishers in L.A., of course, but this is definitely a place with a different verbal vibe than the East Coast. So I wonder if you might need to mirror conversational patterns a little more?
posted by scody at 2:57 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

You might watch the employes as they leave your target business - see how they are dressed. That would give you one clue.
posted by Cranberry at 3:43 PM on July 18, 2013

This sucks, but if you're a woman in your late 20s to mid 30s, could they be afraid that you'll be looking to go on maternity leave soon? Yes, illegal, etc, but very very common.
posted by third word on a random page at 4:54 PM on July 18, 2013

Best answer: This is a complete generalization based on people I've worked with in both places, so apologies, but I bet it is a difference in east and west coast "attitudes."

In NYC, you want to hire a go-getter, someone who is serious and driven and has the experience and can get shit done. Competency and efficiency.
In LA, it seems to be more personality-based and niceness and sunny dispositions seem to be the name of the game. Like, maybe you can't lay out the 19% growth rate of X under your watch, but hey you are chill and you have enough experience and you aren't uptight so you'd fit in.

It's exactly the opposite of some of the advice above, but maybe try your next interview with less of the "here are my 8 strengths with 2 examples each" and more of the "this place seems great, it's kinda like some things I've done before." And wait for the conversation to roll out more without getting straight to the point.

Being a NYer myself, I add an extra 10 min to the LA calls I schedule because I know that there is just so much bullshitting that needs to happen for people to feel comfortable there. Whereas my boss and I have 5 word conversations and that works for us.
Here is the LA phonecall:
So, hey, how's it going? crazy weather etc
-Yeah, crazy weather here too
Lets talk about pets or movies or something
-Yeah pets are fuzzy and movies are interesting to watch
----5 min later
Oh by the way, I was just talking to Larry and I mentioned the X project because it came up in conversation about Y, and it got me thinking about you.
-Yeah, X project.
Ok so it seems like we are doing great on it so far, yeah?
-Yeah, everything is awesome!
Great! just what I was hoping to hear. Do you think it is almost done?
-Sort of, we are working really hard on finishing it.
Cool, so like do you think it will be ready for the Z meeting tomorrow?
-Sure, probably!
Ok, thanks, talk to you soon!

NYC gchat version:
Thing done?
-15 min.
posted by rmless at 5:05 PM on July 18, 2013 [25 favorites]

Best answer: There's an old formula joke, that Ed Burns used in one of his movies: "You can tell a New Yorker, but you can't tell him/her much."

If you've been out in LA for 9 months, your NYC life is dust in the wind. If you were in NYC for fifteen years, you probably can't minimize your resume references to NYC to zero (but you might be able to tone them way, way down, maybe to just addresses and phone numbers on a reference sheet), but if the majority of your interview doesn't demonstrate and thoroughly reinforce your personal enjoyment and commitment to remaining in LA, then, as an employer, I'd think you wanted the job I was offering mostly to save a little money, to get back to NYC. and if I asked the right questions, I could probably get you to admit that this was equally likely to the case for you staying and making a Left Coast life. Worse, I'd be weighing the likelihood of endless references to NYC and how things get done on the tail end of the Hudson River, the whole time I employed you, if I did hire you.

No way I'd pay for any of that.

You're in LA. Be in LA, in speech and mind, whenever you interview for local jobs, and think about your future.
posted by paulsc at 5:18 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Awesome answers so far! This is exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for. For example I didn't really think it was OK to follow up with/ask questions about jobs I didn't get. But knowing that it's not the end of the world, I will start doing that.

I also love the advice to be more L.A. in outlook and conversational style. I definitely try to play up being a driven go-getter in interviews, talk fast, cut to the chase, etc. Also, when I'm inevitably asked "tell us more about yourself" questions, I tend to lead with "I recently moved here from New York." At this point I've been here long enough that it's not really relevant, and I suppose I'm still doing it out of habit and as a way to contextualize my resume a bit. But it's definitely true that I could stop doing that.

Dresswise, for the record, I usually wear either a cute top and nice jeans with flats or a quirky/vintagey dress with flats.
posted by Sara C. at 6:09 PM on July 18, 2013

I have no idea about NY or LA, but sometimes people prefer to hire locals, or people who show a commitment to the own they're in. I was going to suggest playing down your 'I'm from NY' thing, but you just mentioned it. Have things to talk about that show how much you love and and are making a life for yourself in LA.
posted by inkypinky at 6:13 PM on July 18, 2013

I can't comment specifically on the job market in LA, but i really wanted to chime in on this

in my entire career up to this point, I have ALWAYS nailed job interviews. I think I went on three job interviews in my entire working life (15-ish years) that I didn't get.

I had a friend like this. She would walk in to places that weren't even hiring that she wanted to work at, figure out who to talk to, and end up getting an interview and getting hired. She moved cities at least 5 times and always walked right in to a job like she was gamesharking real life.

When suddenly that streak was broken, she was completely freaked out and thought she must be doing something wrong or the problem was somehow her. When in reality, she was really lucky.

It's like being one of those people who hasn't been in even a minor car accident(even if they weren't at fault) who are around your age who seem to just think it's not luck, but that everyone else is just a shitty/inattentive driver. You rolled the dice until now and you just kept winning. Maybe you're better than a lot of people at reading a room or the person interviewing you, but that isn't invincible.

So yea, this is not a personal failure. Chill.
posted by emptythought at 6:52 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Born and raised in LA, working in advertising/entertainment production.

Agreeing with those who mention being easy going, sunny, etc is the way to go. My experience has been likability always wins. I'm a very "just the facts ma'am" type of interviewer but, without fail, everyone else I've participated in hiring decisions with likes to be charmed. I've literally had to aggressively point out a candidates lack of skill more than once to avoid hiring a total failure of a person because my coworkers found her sweet. YMMV depending on age range on whether sweet or funny or warm is the way to go, but out here it's the ticket to getting a job.

Yes to makeup. Not going out to a club makeup, but I'd even go so far as to say going on an afternoon blind date for coffee makeup. Not over the top, no dark eyeliner or lipstick, but purposely trying to be pretty. People like to hire pretty people in LA. I know tons of strikingly beautiful, aggressively feminine women in high level positions in this city.

I'd also say...try to put yourself in the interviewer's shoes and be brutally honest with yourself about things you may have done that could be a red flag or areas you missed an opportunity to make an impression. You may not be able to really do this objectively - perhaps you are easily charmed by people like you! - or you may have nothing meaningful here but it might help give you some perspective on things you could improve upon.
posted by amycup at 7:38 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just got a job after being unemployed for a couple months, so I understand what you're going through.

I can't comment specifically on the differences between interviewing in NYC vs. LA, but I used some great online resources to help me interview. If you haven't already, I highly, highly recommend you check out the Career Tools Podcast and Ask a Manager. The Ask a Manager interview guide was especially helpful. (You have to give your email address, but I've not been spammed.)
posted by pear at 8:12 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

LA native here but not an industry person. i think most of my friends in the industry usually get their jobs because they know someone. so, making that first break might be a little more challenging, but after that it will probably be a lot about networking. definitely agree on softening that NY edge a bit. we like to have fun out here so do be personable. that doesn't mean we aren't driven though. i'd also suggest wearing a moderate amount of make-up for the interview and show you have some style in the way you dress. most professionals do wear make-up & dress well in LA and as amycup said we are quite image conscious.

our economy still isn't that great even with being down to 8.5% unemployment just today. everyone moves to LA and wants to work in the industry so competition is probably quite stiff here.

don't give up and good luck finding a job! :)
posted by wildflower at 9:45 PM on July 18, 2013

I definitely try to play up being a driven go-getter in interviews, talk fast, cut to the chase, etc. Also, when I'm inevitably asked "tell us more about yourself" questions, I tend to lead with "I recently moved here from New York."

Yup I'm betting this is the culture clash interviewers are sensing. I would definitely go along with what paulsc mentioned about making clear your commitment to staying in LA. Talk about NY as if it were merely a stage in your life; one anecdote among many others. Stereotypes stink, but recognizing them can help you defuse them – one that still has a strong hold among West Coast people is that NYC and its inhabitants are uptight, rude, and could care less about anything outside of their NYC bubble. I don't know why it focuses on NYC in particular (so go most stereotypes), but as a born-and-raised Oregonian, I can still recall it with clarity even though I left in 1997. What West Coasters want to hear is that NYC is a city like anywhere else. Getting enthusiastic about it would, unfortunately, play into the negative stereotype.

As for talking fast and cutting to the chase, breathing can help you out here. On the West Coast we tend to leave breathing space between exchanges, although I am saying this as an Oregonian, and we in Oregon have a stereotype of Los Angelinos as being fast-talkers, so YMMV :) That said, it's better to err on the side of laid-back. Interrupting and finishing sentences are out. This is difficult, I know, I had to learn the opposite coming to France where everyone interrupts and talks over each other and if you can't follow three or four conversations at once, you might as well not be participating. When you feel the urge to interrupt, remind yourself that you'll have the chance to speak soon, breathe to relax (so you won't give off physical cues of impatience), and make a mental note of what you want to say. For sentence-finishing, wait a beat once they've finished, smile and say, "wow, I was just thinking the same thing!" then segue into why you were thinking it. Always wait a beat once a person has finished speaking. Cultivate a reflective, relaxed demeanor that you can get into for those beats spent waiting. When you first start doing this, it helps to focus on the other person – you may well see them relax and smile as they see you doing that. People with that style of communication see that reflective pause as a sign of listening. I know the opposite's true as well, from having lived in a different culture... over here, being interrupted and talked over is a sign of being genuinely engaged. Took me years for it to sink in, so don't be too hard on yourself if it takes time and practice for you as well. It's different!
posted by fraula at 2:20 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I admit I think it's possible that your GogettingNewYorkiness may be undercutting you. The New Yorker stereotype is somewhat based on reality, and New Yorkers can come across as steamrollers in other settings without meaning to.

You said your most successful interview was over Skype - where they presumably could only see your head and shoulders. While you may want to start staking out putative workplaces and disguising yourself as one of the natives, try this first: a plain white shirt, and tailored pants in cotton in a neutral color, as well as neutral leather shoes with a 1- to 3-inch heel. If it's your "personal style" that's causing a problem, basically try replacing your personal style with this totally neutral businesswear. I know people say to "dress as if you already had the job" but that ignores the fact that an interview is a special occasion. The advantage of the outfit I describe is that it is bang-on formal but yet not noticeably not-casual in any way that allows anyone to accuse you of anything (how dare she show up in a suit!!! freak!!!).

I hate to say it, but if you are getting a lot of interviews but no offers, I suggest recruiting a trusted friend to go undercover and pose as a potential employer to all your referees. Even if they mean well, they may be saying something about you that they don't realize is undermining you.

Also check your LinkedIn profile. Do you maintain links to colleagues that you don't trust? I have heard that it is a thing for recruiters to go through your network and approach former coworkers unsolicited in order to get an "honest" opinion. I don't know how much this really happens, but I could believe it happens sometimes. I am not suggesting you go on paranoid lockdown and order a full background check on all your 1st and 2nd degree contacts, but I have removed people who showed themselves to be actively untrustworthy over time.

I am not sure about the advice to ask for feedback. It always surprises me when people come out with "the only person who can tell you is x! ask x!" in a situation when x is the least likely to give you an honest answer (as in "my BF has dodged three of our last four dates and when I called his number a woman answered, he is a special forces agent so I understand that he is busy but why would he etc etc etc").

Number one, you risk putting people on the spot because they think you're fixing to sue them or argue with them or whatever, and they don't think they have time for stuff like this. Number two, interviewers who want to give feedback tend to give it without being asked, and sometimes they give their honest opinion, but sometimes it's hard to see what they're trying to achieve other than being mean ("poor problem-solving skills" untrue and basically a high-register way of saying "you are dumb"), and sometimes their feedback is kind of vacuous ("we felt you lacked experience with the $publiclyavailable dataset" when the choice of dataset is irrelevant to an experienced database developer anyway, etc). I've also heard people deciding who to invite for interview and saying stuff like "too old" etc., but even they wouldn't have been stupid enough to say that to the candidate's face, I mean, come on.

What I do think would help is to get a coach to do a mock interview with you and identify if you're doing something you're not aware of.

FWIW I had one of these, and I was told that I wasn't doing anything wrong and it was just a matter of chance. That may also be true in your case.

Finally, hiring procedures have become much more lengthy and nitpicky in the UK over the last few years and I wouldn't be surprised if the same were true in the USA.
posted by tel3path at 4:25 AM on July 19, 2013

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