How to Psyche up for a Long-Shot Job Interview
August 13, 2018 2:17 PM   Subscribe

I was here earlier bemoaning my mindless "technical writing" job that is actually just assembly-line-style copyediting; now I have an interview invitation to an actual technical writing position and I'm feeling pretty defeatist about my ability to convince them that I'm qualified to do a job I currently hold in title only.

My questions/requests related to this are threefold.

- I need an attitude adjustment. I am feeling kind of sorry for myself that my week has been invaded by this new intimidating challenge instead of excited about an opportunity for changing my life. I know there will never be a "good" time for putting myself out there or carving out the time for an interview, so it might as well be now, but that's as far as I got. Any thoughts about how to frame this as a good thing without ratcheting up the pressure to succeed at it?

- Personal anecdotes. Have you done well in an interview that was a stretch for your skills? How did you talk yourself into feeling like you belonged there? How did you respond to questions intended to "catch" people with thin qualifications without sounding guilty or dishonest?

- Positive, encouraging interview advice resources. The internet is full of scare-mongering interview advice about how easy it is to throw an interview, and I would like to avoid that stuff because I've already done a good job of intimidating myself, but still could use some good sample questions/advice on answering them.
posted by space snail to Work & Money (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, I interview people. It's true that a big part of the interview is looking for disqualifications; it is a huge amount of work to bring on a new person only to find out that they are fundamentally unsuitable. But no sane hiring manager wants to be disappointed in a candidate. And in fact, once you've reached the point of an actual in-person interview, with potential co-workers and everything, they are very much hoping and expecting that you are likely to be good for them. Be honest, don't talk yourself down, and summon as much legitimate enthusiasm for the new position as you can muster. Don't let your doubts about yourself stop you from asking questions about the job; good workplaces and good candidates know that the job needs to be work for both sides.

From what you're saying, you're going from a less creative job to a more creative one. Does that excite you? From the outside, it sounds a lot better, the kind of job that many people would want. Good luck!
posted by wnissen at 3:30 PM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A line I've found helpful is "At my old job, I spent 10% of my time doing [kind of task]. I really enjoy it and find I excel at it, and I'm looking for a job where I can do more of it." I used that line to go from an editing job where I was mostly catching typos and doing formatting to one where giving substantive feedback is a major requirement. It's a more positive framing of the situation than "At my old job, I spent 90% of my time doing useless crap," even if it describes the same facts.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:57 PM on August 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I have literally never not gotten a job offer after I've gotten to the interview stage.* Here's my approach:

Get good sleep the night before and caffeinate to whatever your personal maximum is, so that you're nice and peppy and feel ready to give the world a good kick in the butt. Dress in clothes that you like, something that makes you feel confident and competent and which is one level nicer than what you would actually wear to work on a day-to-day basis. On the way to the interview, listen to some empowering, ass-kicking, high-energy music in your car (or your headphones if you take transit) at very high volume.

Then just get in there and sell yourself. Have you ever had a job that involved sales? Foodservice, retail, anything like that? Put on your best "customer face" and spin, spin, spin like it's your job, because in a job interview it bloody well is. Remember that job interviews are highly subjective and that whatever they may think, your interviewers are mostly interviewing for fit—if you have the interview, they've already looked at your app and your résumé and decided that you're qualified. What really gets you in is when your interviewer likes what they see in you, so try to figure out what they're looking for in a hire and be that person for half an hour. (You can decide later if you want to be that person 40 hours a week, after you get the offer.) Who are they? What can you say that might speak to them? Are they looking for a super hard worker, are they looking for someone who shares their company's mission, are they looking for someone who they think is part of their personal tribe? (Probably yes to all three.)

Whatever you think they might like, find something in your work history that you can spin in that direction and just sell it with a totally straight-faced, sincere demeanor. Interviewers love earnestness, they love to feel like you're breaking through the wall and making a real connection. When they're asking why you want to work at that particular company, I like to pause a moment, ask them, "Can I get a little philosophical here for a second?" and then basically parrot their corporate mission to them, but in my own words. They love that.

Remember that the interview is not about you deciding whether you want to work there, and it's not about giving your interviewers a chance to fairly evaluate you. It's about selling yourself as hard as you can. Make them like you. You can decide later if you like them, but for the brief time that you're there at the interview just be whoever you think they want you to be, and fully commit to the role. It's bullshit, but if you want the job you need to go all-in on the bullshit. Afterward, you can decide at your leisure what you want to do. During the interview, your job is to make your interviewers think that you are everything they could ever have dreamed of in a hire. Don't lie about your experiences (you won't be able to maintain the lie if you do get hired) but do portray them in the best possible light, and shamelessly, shamelessly promote yourself as the perfect type of person for their company.

Hasn't failed me yet.

*Why yes, I am a white male, why do you ask?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:04 PM on August 13, 2018 [16 favorites]

Best answer: And hey, it's no problem that the job you're interview is a level beyond what you're doing right now. That's
good and normal and exactly what interviewers are normally looking for in my experience. You "want to grow your skills and develop in your career," and you "think that this company feels like a perfect place to do that." You like your existing job, but you "feel like you've learned everything that they want to teach you," so you're "ready to move on." You think you "have a really solid foundation in the type of work that this job involves," and you're "excited to take it to the next level." You "see this as a long-term move, and are really looking for a place where you can develop your skillset and challenge yourself."

You got this. They're going to love you.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:18 PM on August 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

It was only last week I was chatting to a friend about these sorts of interviews. We agreed an effective technique, whether we wanted the job or not, was genuine ambivalence. Of course you don't front ambivalence – front friendly, relaxed carefree attitude. But inside, cultivate a giant bubble of I don't give a shit.

Psych down rather than up. If you're the best person for the job and they can't see it, where's their blind spot? Interview the hell out of them. Ask difficult questions. Relax. Be yourself. Enjoy it. If you don't get an offer, they didn't deserve you anyway.
posted by nthdegx at 9:12 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When interviewing for a job that I eventually got, I showed up ten minutes late because I got lost. While I'm certainly not advocating for showing up late on purpose, it did do a great job of putting me into a mindset of "well, I'm probably not getting this job now anyway, may as well relax", and I think that combo of genuinely thinking the job was cool and putting my best foot forward, but also being able to dispense with some of my usual "please like me" performance anxiety really made a good impact on the team that was interviewing me.

Also: in that same interview, I was asked if I knew .NET. This was for an entry level web producer position—there would be almost zero reason for me to know even the barest bit (hah) of .NET. It was a total gotcha question from the network engineer guy they'd pulled in to serve on the hiring committee.

Y'all, in that moment and in that context, the entire memory of what .NET could even be was just gone from me. I couldn't even pretend to have heard of it. And that's essentially what I told them: "I'm not sure I'm familiar with that—does it play a big role in the position?" He then explained that that was the framework they used and that context was enough for me to remember why the word .NET was familiar to me and I was like, "Oh yeah! .NET! No, I do not know .NET, but I have some experience with [semi-relevant things X, Y, and Z.]"

Later on, after I was hired, my new coworker (who was one of the interviewers) said that that .NET answer was when she was 100% certain I was going to be her top pick for the job. Apparently, some other applicants had actually tried to bluff their way through it and done poorly. But my bold tactic of FULLY admitting I had no idea what that was, asking about its role in the job, and then responding with what I COULD actually do had convinced her that, if nothing else, I would definitely ask questions if I didn't know how to do something rather than try to fake my way through it.

Parting thought: I know what it's like to feel so stagnated at your job that the idea of a new challenge starts to sound like terrifying amounts of work rather than the cool new opportunity that it is. Change is always hard, but when it comes to new/better jobs, it's almost always inevitably for the best. My favorite low-stakes job interview hype is this: they've already decided they're going to hire someone—why couldn't that someone be you?

Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:14 AM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified:
“Men are confident about their ability at 60%, but women don’t feel confident until they’ve checked off each item on the list.” The advice: women need to have more faith in themselves.
... 78% of women’s reasons for not applying, have to do with believing that the job qualifications are real requirements, and seeing the hiring process as more by-the-book and true to the on paper guidelines than it really is.
Being enthusiastic about the opportunity to do the work, and believing you can do it well, is a major qualification that's not listed on the job requirements.

Personal anecdote: My last interview went smoothly and felt easy; I knew the topics that were being asked about and I had answers that were outside of the expertise of the hiring team. (Why yes, I'd be happy to discuss your scanning requirements - what DPI and metadata are involved? Do you scan to jpg, png, or tiff?)

They asked why I was leaving my current job, and I was honest: it used to involve more of my skills, but it's shifted to an area that's not my primary focus. (In my case, more HR work, less docs management.)

I even had a negative that didn't work against me - the job wants some travel, and I don't drive. I was able to say that I'm mostly stuck on public transit, but would be comfortable with a 3-hour trip every couple of months if that's needed, and that I could arrange a one-time ride for special projects.

Mostly, I was very comfortable with answering question and describing my skillset: these are things I can do; these are things I would need to research (and I know how to do that); these are things that will be troublesome, and I am ready to work with those anyway, but I'm not going to pretend they'll be simple for me.

It helps to be able to say, "I love doing [major component of the job you want]." Of course they want someone who's qualified, but in almost all cases, they are willing to reduce the experience needed in order to have someone who will care about doing it right.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:56 PM on August 14, 2018

Review your professional portfolio and in the process of prepping it and the talk through of the skills you showed you will find that it is less of a stretch than you thought.
posted by jadepearl at 4:31 PM on August 14, 2018

Tech writer here. I regularly see people hired that have nooooo tech writing (much less professional writing) experience. Some rise to the challenge, others don't. If you're working with other writers, be prepared to accept critiques: the ones who succeed are the best at listening and understanding.

You're not an impostor. Good luck.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:56 AM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi everyone, here is the update: After an incredibly friendly and nonconfrontational interview (I think I asked them more questions than they asked me) I was offered the job on the spot. It seems they had already mostly made up their mind in my favor based on my writing samples and the cover letter-style responses I had given to the job advertisement. The preparation I did for the interview beforehand did seem to pay off, though, because I had things in mind and was ready for the questions they did ask. After a week of imagining disdainful interviewers and "gotcha" questions and horrible awkward silences, this could not POSSIBLY have gone more differently than I expected.

I'm a bit shellshocked, but excited, as this will be a large jump in pay and responsibility for me. Thank you to everyone who took the time to help encourage me! If I had come in pre-defeated and apologetic, I probably could have managed to talk them out of hiring me even though they clearly wanted to.
posted by space snail at 4:26 AM on August 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

Congratulations, space snail!
posted by nthdegx at 10:11 AM on August 20, 2018

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