Interviews Ahoy, Pt. 2: The Interview!

12 Aug

Last I left off in this story, I had just been invited come in for a two and a half hour interview with a non-profit that focuses on student achievement.  Four days, a couple traffic jams, and a half dozen interview outfit changes later, I was in Brooklyn, ready to take these Human Resources biyatches down in the most polite and professional way possible.

Let me cover what I took away from this interview experience:

1) When you’ve got a big ass interview coming up, you must prepare, prepare, prepare.  Knowing what you’ve written on your resume is not enough–you’ve got to practice for the questions HR is going to ask you.  I’d done the whole “run through practice interviews with your friends” bit–I even called up my alumni advisor at my college, and had her give me some tips as well.  However, I was worried because I knew I couldn’t articulate my organizational skills well, as evidenced by my failure to properly do so in previous phone calls.  Part of me thinks it’s a silly question: “Describe your organizational skills.” “Well, I do XY and Z.” “Tell me more.” “But I told you everything!” “Give me an example.” “…Um, I’m just super organized okay?” Regardless of how I feel, I still needed to answer it in a way that didn’t make me look like an incompetent mule.  I knew they were going to ask me this question, and I worried about my response.  So, I finally sat down and created an example of my project planning to bring in and show them. And when they asked about my organizational skills, all I had to do was say, “Well, I happen to have an example right here! Go on ahead and have a looksee.”  Check and mate.

2) There comes a point where you can only do so much preparing before it becomes counterproductive. The night before, my friend read out some interviewing tips, which were incredibly helpful, and I was scouring the web looking for relevant articles on education reform.  But once I thought about all the questions that could potentially be asked, all the articles I should probably read, I got overwhelmed.  Some say that brains can be like sponges; they soak up knowledge.  I like to think that is more like a teacup; perfectly functional, but you can’t overfill without making one big ol’ mess.  If I kept pouring info into my teacup brain, I was bound to spill some out in the process.  This was also my reason for why I very nearly failed high school chemistry.  Once I learned that a mole was a number and not an ass-ugly naked rat, I’d had my fill.  My point is, there’s only so much you can do, so you might as well stop worrying and be confident in your abilities.

3) That being said, you will be asked unexpected questions that you probably don’t have a ready answer for. I was asked “What’s the nicest thing you’ve ever done for a person?”  I blinked at my interviewer for a bit before I sputtered an answer.  Who dwells on their good deeds unless they’re a self-satisfied prick?  One of my interviewers was a major hardballer, and asked me questions that were couched in negativity.  He wanted to know what I was like when I was stressed, what part of this job didn’t excite me, what I considered to be my professional failures in my last job, and criticisms my last manager had about me.  Like, holy crap, right?  I know these are common, important questions to ask, but I’d been used to the happy-go-lucky “Why do you want to work here?” and “Describe a project that you lead.”  These other guys came out of a back alley, ready to shake me down and steal my lunch money.

I have a memory the size of Mischa Barton’s career, and tend to forget about tasks after I’ve completed them.  This was more than my teacup brain could handle.  What’s more, I’m a surprisingly laid back person.  When you’ve been vommed and crapped on as much as I have (I am the oldest of eight, you know), you tend to think that nothing could be more stressful than kids.  I honestly couldn’t answer those questions, and that’s the truth.  And when I did, I came up with a long-winded equivalent of a shrug and a “Beats me.”  And because I could tell he wasn’t satisfied, I volunteered one of my weaknesses.  I overcompensated by telling him what I thought was wrong with me.  *facepalm*

4) Caring about the field and the job you’re applying for allows you to show a genuine interest. This means you’ll ask well-informed questions.  There’s nothing more reassuring than hearing, “That’s a great question, I’m glad you asked.”  This will lead to a discussion about the organization and the field as a whole, which will make you feel warm and glowy and qualified for this position.  Hopefully the employer will be impressed by your rays of competency.

I left the interview feeling like it had gone okay.  There were some things I wish I had done better, like not make an embarrassing mistake on a task they assigned me, or think about my answers more before they tumbled out of me.  But overall, I learned three things: you’re nerves will get the best of you, you just have to deal; it’s not about what you say, but how you say it; and the interview is supposed to test mutual fit, so don’t change yourself or your personality in order to better fit the ideal candidate profile. (That last one may be in defense of the mini-argument I had with the hardballer regarding positivity and workplace attitude.  I stood my ground, respectfully.)

I couldn’t wait to share the dirty deets of this experience with my friends, who were supposed to meet me in Brooklyn.  But I couldn’t, because Leslie and Alicia ended up in the uber conservative Orthodox Jewish part of Brooklyn, wondering where all the hipsters had gone, and I was in Clinton Hill, needing pizza and a comfy chair. Two and a half hours is a long time to be grilled, you know.

Long story short, we didn’t meet in Brooklyn, and it took me two hours to get back to my friends and share my interview story.  (Imagine me, sweating through a borrowed button-up, a subway map crumpled in my fist, resigned to walk the four miles to Manhattan.  NOT pretty.)  When we reunited at a pizza parlor, I was too grumpy to give them much satisfaction beyond, “Meh, it went okay.  I don’t think I did too well on this part.”  So to them, I apologize for being such a Grumpy McFart Pants.  You guys were so much nicer to me than I was to you!

Now that I was off my feet and full of greasy yum yums, there was nothing left to do except lounge in the A/C and wait.  I’d be notified of my status within the week.

Coming up: the thrilling conclusion to Interviews Ahoy!  Did I or did I not land the job?  How much longer can I possibly draw this out?  Answer: A lot.


One Response to “Interviews Ahoy, Pt. 2: The Interview!”


  1. Interviews Ahoy, Pt. 3: The End « - August 19, 2010

    […] Part 2: The Interview […]

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