Friday, July 29, 2005

The No-Good, Very Bad Job Interview

So, we cut short our time at a family reunion week on account of my Tuesday job interview. The job was a part-time administrative job in an interesting area of the university. If I landed the job, I would have split the time between it and my upcoming research year. And after that...

"Are you giving up teaching?" relatives wanted to know.

"No. That is, I don't think so. It's only part-time."

You might say that I was overqualified for the job, which required only a BA. But that means little in this town, with its surfeit of overeducated and underemployed academic types. Still, I might have an edge, if only for all the part-time jobs I held while in graduate school. In applying for ther job, I'd created a resume, something I hadn't needed to do since I was 21. And I was surprised at how strong I managed to look on paper. I have a shadow career in graduate school, the result of my own distractions and the post-divorce necessity of paying a mortgage by myself.

I studied up on the history of the university, of this department. I was ready for any question the committee might have for me.

Except for this one, which kicked off the interview:

"How would you describe a satisfying day of work?"

It would be an understatement to say that I botched this one, and I botched it badly. I stammered. I rambled. I interrupted myself with stream of consciousness points that only made sense to me.

Next question: What would you say is your biggest weakness?

Softball! I'm ready for this one. But my carefully prepared answer isn't what comes out of my mouth. Instead, I'm horrified to hear myself referring to my research and how I struggle to make time for it. Research!? These employers don't care about my research. They need to hear about my organizational skills. They need to know that any research life, if I insist on having one, won't interfere with my work in their office.

The rest of the interview is a blur. Historically, I've been a good interviewee — skilled at reading my interviewers and able to present myself as the personable and highly competent candidate. On this day, however, my responses are impolitic, irrelevant, and tedious, as I swing between bouts of inarticulateness and logarrhea.

On my drive back from New Jersey, we'd listened to book on tape about Lyndon Johnson. As I chatter to my interviewers, I hear the narrator's voice in my head: "You are LBJ. Famous for giving long speeches in which he said absolutely nothing."

Am I hormonal? (I can't tell you how much I hate that word. But I have some bleeding that afternoon and worry that I am miscarrying.) Did I deliberately self-sabotage?

The interviewers' body language indicates that they are tired. Bored. I prattle on.

The narrator sighs. "Quagmire. What are you doing, Cello?"

I have bad-interview hangover all the rest of that day. And the next. And the next.

Finally, I write the principle interviewer a carefully worded thank you note, in which I attempt to do some damage control. I feel slightly better. But I can't stop fretting about my sorry performance and what it might mean. I wish I could interview again for another job —any job — just to put this feeling of failure behind me.

Adam is supportive, but also — I can tell — as appalled by my bad answers as I am. That feels lousy.

I learned something. And I’ll do better next time. But, boy, I wish I could sleep this yucky feeling away.

12 Comments:

At 12:13 PM, Blogger meg said...

Well, having just sat through a set of interviews in which a couple of the candidates did NOT comport themselves as I would have wished, I am reminded that even the best candidates have awful moments.

That doesn't sweeten the memory, but it will fade. And at least you only hurt your own feelings, not anyone else's!

And my vote is for hormones, btw.

 
At 3:34 PM, Blogger Benedict said...

I do not possess innate talents for interviewing, but I too have shocked myself by taking tangents against my preparation and sabotaging myself. I suspect you were too well prepared for the interview, and got too comfortable. This led you to be more truthful, in fact, damningly honest about your interests.

 
At 11:35 PM, Blogger What Now? said...

I agree with Benedict's thought about being over-prepared for interviews. Also, if this was the first time in a while that you interviewed for an administrative rather than academic position, maybe you were just rusty about what kinds of questions you'd be asked and what kinds of answers would be appropriate (hence the remark about your research, which would be fine in an academic interview). And now you know and will do better next time. Not that this makes this week's experience any better, obviously, but don't beat yourself up too much.

 
At 1:14 PM, Blogger YelloCello said...

I don't know why the thing about research popped out of my mouth. I knew that was the absolutely wrong thing to say. Oy. Thanks for the comments, friends. The bad-interview hangover is slowly abating.

 
At 10:22 PM, Blogger PPB said...

oh there's really nothing quite like the feeling of a sinking ship interview.....ouch. You got out alive. I vote for hormones. And you'll be on top fo your game next time.

 
At 9:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may no longer be checking for comments, but here are mine:

I interviewed today for an administrative position at a well-respected position. First, with the search committee, then the assistant dean, then the divisional deans and staff. I know I blew it. I know I was trying too hard, and backing myself into verbal corners out of which I could not get. You get the picture? My mind is a blank today,but when they asked questions
I could not stop answering. BLAH blah-blah blahblah. OH well. I'll feel better tomorrow.

 
At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I meant to say, "a well-respected university." See what I mean? Except, this posting is after two glasses of wine; what was my excuse this afternoon?

Come to think of it, have you ever wondered how many people are drinking while they're posting?

 
At 10:22 PM, Blogger YelloCello said...

Hi there -- Maybe the interview didn't go as badly as you think? No matter what, I totally understand how you might be feeling right now. I had an awful bad-interview hangover for a whole week. Then I moved on to cringing. Now I'm at the stage of trying to block the whole thing out.

Anyway, it sounds as if some libations are in order. Cheers to better interviews -- for both of us -- in the future!

 
At 1:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi There,

I had an awful interview today. I stayed up late preparing (I think I was overprepared). I prepared handouts and slides for a PPT presentation. I stumbled over my words and couldn't correctly answer all the questions. I messed up on the presentation. Anyhow, after looking back on it, I believe the "feel" of the job wasn't right and that the best opportunity will present itself. It was a learning experience, and I will remember the answers I floundered on, so I can learn from them. Anyhow, I did awful on an interview a few years ago, and then I thought it was all over! I nailed the next interview and got the job! Take care of yourself and stick in there.

 
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