Apparently I'm just the worst at interviewing.
November 17, 2014 9:55 AM   Subscribe

My interview to offer (or even second interview) success is abysmal. (I think?) What can I do before an upcoming interview?

My most recent full time job was seasonal and ended in September. Since late August, I have been on a lot of interviews. I've sent in around 20 applications (15 full-time position applications) and have been invited to 15 or 16 interviews (around 12 interviews for full time positions, 4 for part time). These interviews have been for education positions at nature centers and zoos, and coordinating positions for kid's programs like after-schools.

I haven't even gotten a second interview (though I have been invited back for first interviews for other jobs at organizations I've already interviewed at). I have been offered most of the part-time positions I applied for, but the interviews have felt like formalities-- they've been like, oh great, you have lots of experience, here answer a question or two okay when can you start?

I have historically had better luck with phone interviews than in-person interviews, though that might just be because the phone-interview positions were less competitive.

Spoken articulation has never been one of my strong points, and I do practice and practice but I think I still come off as nervous and just kind of scattered. I do mock interviews with my boyfriend, but maybe he's too close to me to be brutally honest about my skills. I research the organizations and I think through questions to ask.

Another possible issue is that I look significantly younger than I am-- I'm 27 and am often mistaken for being in college or even high school. I see makeup being recommended for this issue-- I don't generally wear a ton of makeup to interviews as I feel like it's not really in keeping with organization culture usually (I wear more if I'm interviewing at a school vs. a zoo though), but maybe I should start, or do something else to make myself look older/more professional (?).

Anyway, two main questions:

Is this indicative of me being really terrible at interviews? I was trying not to worry about it and chalk it up to the luck of the draw but it's just been too many now, I feel like I'm doing something really wrong. I am in a bad economy (Rhode Island, fourth highest unemployment in the states, sigh).

I have an interview coming up (at a children's museum). Any ideas on what I should check myself on or new ideas on how to prepare?
posted by geegollygosh to Work & Money (14 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Any ideas on what I should check myself on or new ideas on how to prepare?

Think about a question and formulate an answer before you start answering. When you're in the interviewee position, any delay between the question and the answer seems like an eternity. When you're in the interviewer position, a delay is generally not even noticeable because you're switching from the thought process of asking a question to the thought process of understanding the interviewee's answer. The most effective interviewees I've met are the ones that provide concise and clear answers to questions, even if they're not the exact answer desired, rather than convoluted answers that are difficult to parse into a "good" or "bad" answer.

Another possible issue is that I look significantly younger than I am

Clothing is just as important as makeup, if not more so, for communicating an age. As another person who tries to look older than they are, I find that wearing clothing just a bit more formal than would be expected for your age-group - but not overly so - is a good way to add a few years to your appearance.
posted by saeculorum at 10:17 AM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I do mock interviews with my boyfriend, but maybe he's too close to me to be brutally honest about my skills.

Find someone who you think will be constructively critical about your mock interview. Also, record your interview and watch it.

I see makeup being recommended for this issue-- I don't generally wear a ton of makeup to interviews as I feel like it's not really in keeping with organization culture usually

Trust your judgment about what the organizational culture would be like. As saeculorum says, you want to maybe be slightly more formal than what you would probably be wearing to the job, but not so much so that you seem like someone who might not fit in.
posted by grouse at 10:22 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't generally wear a ton of makeup to interviews as I feel like it's not really in keeping with organization culture usually (I wear more if I'm interviewing at a school vs. a zoo though), but maybe I should start, or do something else to make myself look older/more professional (?).

Even if you wouldn't wear makeup on the job, you should consider wearing makeup to the interview. You wouldn't wear a suit to work, but you do wear a suit to the interview. (You do wear a suit, right? If not, do!) It sucks that women have to put on warpaint for these things, but it is kind of expected, and it can make you look more pulled-together and mature.

Hairstyle can also be a big factor in looking mature. Wearing a ponytail or wearing your hair long and straight can read as young. A French twist or a bun reads older, as does well-styled long hair, cut properly, blown dry, etc. If your hair is shorter, put some product in it.

Avoid young-sounding habits of speech, like "like," or rising intonation (Like you're always asking a question? Which you shouldn't do?)

If you can find a mentor to practice with, that would be really good... Are you a member of any professional organizations who could connect you with someone in the field?
posted by BrashTech at 10:28 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Interviewing is choreographed. You need to learn the dance.

Don't be so over-rehearsed that you sound mechanical, but think of good sound-bite answers to common interview questions that sound polished. Sixty-Seconds and You're Hired is excellent for helping you organize your thoughts.

Be present in the interview. Really listen and connect to the inteviewer. Don't worry so much about slipping your sound-bites in. Be warm and genuine.

If something sounds weird to you, question it. "You seem to be asking a lot about my knowledge of X. Is that something that comes up frequently here?" There's nothing worse than being half-way through the interview and realizing that while the job description advertized for Y, they're interviewing for X. It's perfectly okay to say, "This seems like a great opportunity for someone with that skill-set, if you ever need someone with Y experience, please keep me in mind."

Remember that hiring is a two-way street. You want to know as much about them as they want to know about you. So have some question ready that will set your mind at ease:

1. What's an average day around here like?
2. What kind of person best fits into your organizational culture?
3. What about my resume attracted you?

Let them woo you into the job.

Most of all: relax. You must have great skills, you get asked to interview a LOT! They want to hire you, so be what they expect on the outside, and then wow them with all the extras you have.

Confidence is the best interview skill to have. Don't be timid or desperate, don't fret over each word. Don't be afraid to say, "Gosh, that's a great question, let me think about that for a minute."

At the end of the day, the interviewer is a person, a person who really wants to hire you. Make it easy for them to make that decision!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:32 AM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Re: Clothing-- Generally I wear a pair of charcoal dress pants and a button up shirt with nice flats. Hair pulled up. This is the first interview I've done since it got cold enough to need a second layer.... not sure what I'll do for that yet.

My feeling is that a suit would be overkill, but I'd appreciate feedback from anyone who is familiar with the kinds of jobs I'm going for.
posted by geegollygosh at 10:32 AM on November 17, 2014

I do think your high rate of success in getting to the interview and then low rate of response indicates it's the interview that you need to work on (and not your documentation).

I'm a university professor and I teach my discipline's career preparation course. In the interview-focused section of the course, I make my students do three mock interviews throughout the semester, interspersed with peer interview practice exercises, videos, readings, and Q&A sessions. If you went to a college, they will have a career services center that will do mock interviews. Schedule one. If they offer video recording of the session, definitely take them up on it.

Here are some online materials I have my students review:
Harvard quick advice
Longer general advice
Watching it go wrong/right (this has bizarre sexual overtones in the non-interview acting segments, but helpful nonetheless)

Common Questions
Questions to Ask

Ask A Manager - Interview Tag

Prepare your heart out (research the place, the people, the institutional goals, the population of children who attend) and to demonstrate passion for the mission and the position. Send a thank you email the following afternoon reiterating your sincere interest. Regarding looking too young - make sure you're wearing appropriate clothing (and definitely more conservative in terms of coverage; this is one of the biggest problems my students have with their attire) and have a haircut and/or hairstyle that looks sophisticated. I would wear at least "natural" makeup and probably nice jewelry (sterling/gold), both help with looking too young.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:36 AM on November 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

Spoken articulation has never been one of my strong points, and I do practice and practice but I think I still come off as nervous and just kind of scattered.

I am going to take a stab at your question because this describes me, although not at interviews. I can formulate ideas in head and blab on and on in writing, but verbally, I would label myself in the same (speaking is not my strong point). I am also shy/anxious, and it comes across even in minor interactions with people. But believe it or not, I trained myself to do very well at interviews. So because we might have dealt with the same challenges, here are my specific ideas for you that I did not see you list as already doing.

-When you do your research on the job/company, find things that pique your interest and drive your curiosity. Maybe the museum just got a grant on X, or has a really neat interactive display on one of your pet topics that you love. Write down questions about it, etc. But when you ask questions about it (weaving in your background), the excitement/enthusiasm can override the underlying anxiety.

-Practicing with people. I don't know how nervous you are (again, I was off the charts), but I practiced with more than one person (not your BF, because you know him/feel comfortable) to practice things like making eye contact.

-If you are extreme in anxiety (and have symptoms), talk to your doctor. I will not go into details here or connect the dots, but if it is extreme, there are short acting meds that can deal with anxiety.

-For the scattered appearance. I actually walked into interviews with a notepad to take notes when someone spoke to me (so I would not forget). I would also occasionally refer to a few of my questions. No one looked at me like a weirdo for having the notebook.

As to why you aren't doing well now - I wouldn't focus on the why. You have no idea who also applies for the job - someone might walk in who has 10 yrs experience doing the same thing, right? Just work on improving how you interview and present yourself for a job.

Good luck - you will get this job or the next one.
posted by Wolfster at 10:40 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're interviewing for a childrens museum job; that's an awkward choice about costume. On one hand, you're trying to project accessibility and engagement and excitement about working with kids; on the other, you're convincing them that you're professional, reliable, unflappable, can sit at board meetings discussing the funding for an exhibit, etc. You need both, but you can probably skip the suit if the position is entirely kid-focused.

That said, I'd recommend a blazer type thing as your extra layer. Jackets just look so sharp! You don't have to match your pants; you can even choose something that isn't a formal suit fabric, but some kind of blazer would look great.

Important: once you choose your jacket, wear it. Go out to dinner with the boyfriend, wear it with jeans for a day at the museum - anything to help you get used to the idea that this is something you wear, and that you look fantastic in it. Then when you're interviewing, you won't feel overdressed and uncomfortable, you will feel more like you're wearing Normal Clothes, and that will carry over into looking like you're comfortable with authority/formality.

If you don't have access to a professional network, but you do have a friend group who might help you out, think about whether you know any teachers. A teacher would probably have good insight on how to present professionally but enthusiastically, and may be able to help with phrases that mean something in the educational world (eg you wouldn't want to say "child-focused" if there was a big "focus on the child" philosophical push that was kind of fruitcake - but I just made that up...)
posted by aimedwander at 10:45 AM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're coming off as nervous because you're actually nervous, you might ask your doctor about a prescription for a small number of Inderal tablets for performance anxiety. It makes a big difference for me--it doesn't fix being emotionally/mentally nervous, but it reduces the physical symptoms and makes it easier to relax and just talk and seem like a normal, confident human being in the way you surely will once you have a job.
posted by Sequence at 11:28 AM on November 17, 2014

I'm currently in the same situation -- getting interviews, but so far not offers -- so I know it's frustrating. Have you been asking interviewers for feedback after learning you haven't got the position? If not, I highly recommend it. Many employers are happy to provide it, and it could give you insight into things you need to work on for next time.

Don't give up -- you only need to succeed at the interview for one position, and that one will come along sooner or later.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 12:19 PM on November 17, 2014

You need more than slacks and a blouse. You want to be polished. A suit is never over-kill for a job interview. Interviewers expect you to dress up. Of course it's not always necessary and there is something to be said for respecting the organization's culture.

I think you should invest in a sweater that looks like a jacket. Something warm and upscale. I'd wear a chunky pearl necklace or a pretty scarf to soften the look. You can also get a black cardigan, also with pearls or scarf.

Just a little something more than, "I threw this on and now I'm not naked."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:54 PM on November 17, 2014

I once interviewed someone who, as the interview came to a close and we said, 'anything more you'd like us to know about you?' or something to that effect, she said, "Sometimes people tell me that I look very young. In fact, it can be helpful with some kinds of customers because it makes them feel they can approach me. But I want you to know that in fact, I'm older than I look and have quite a bit of experience, as my resume shows." It was very effective, and we did hire her.
posted by Ausamor at 2:17 PM on November 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Whoever is coordinating your interview should be able to tell you what the dress code is. Ask! Seriously, this is not a thing where you should have to guess. There are museums that are nerdy casual and there are museums that are formal. There are people who will think wearing a suit means you won't be hands on, and there are people who will think that not wearing a suit means you don't know the rules. Don't guess and fall prey to potential pitfalls. Ask the coordinator.

Now, about being scattered. That happens to the best of us but yeah, it's dangerous. My only advice is to take a moment after the question's been answered -- you can nod thoughtfully during this interval - and gather your thoughts, to make sure you are giving the most relevant and organized response that you can. It's fine to ask a clarifying question if you're not sure what the best example to share might be.

It's also very important to do your own research and have intelligent, relevant questions to ask about the company, the job, the organization. The people interviewing you are not professional interviewers, remember -- be prepared to help them have a great conversation.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:48 PM on November 17, 2014

The better prepared you are the more articulate your answers are likely to be. Preparation might include doing some further reading on current literature in your field and then trying to explain it/make reference to it in practice interviews with your boyfriend. It should definitely include using any professional network you have to sound out possible questions and good answers. As someone who did some (in hindsight) laughably bad interviews early in my career, I can attest to the difference this makes. Essentially, you don't want to get any questions that you have not already rehearsed. Everyone is pretending that you are thinking on your feet but actually you want to do as little of that as possible. Of course rote learning answers will not go well, but thinking them through and practising them helps enormously with fluency.

None of us can really tell you why you didn't get those positions. A series of strike outs at that stage does sound as though interview technique is an issue but it may well not be. Try not to dwell on that. Instead, do the best preparation you can.
posted by jojobobo at 6:42 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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