MONDAY BYTES — July 18, 2016
Ever bomb a job interview?
While most of us have done our fair share of ruthlessly critiquing our auditions and performances, we rarely apply the same scrutinizing to our interviews.
And unfortunately, without reflecting on what went right and what went wrong—and why—we can end up repeating the same interview mistakes again and again.
My first college teaching job interview was unsuccessful (I didn’t get the job)—but in hindsight I’m so grateful for what I learned in doing it.
I was completing my doctorate in cello at the time and had made the short list for a cello teaching job in the midwest. As one of the 3 finalists, I was flown to the school and put up for 2 days of meetings, master class, a mini recital, chamber music performance, and teaching a music history class session. It was grueling. (These types of interviews always are, so pacing yourself is crucial.)
But the most important lesson I learned was to be prepared for the unexpected: every interview throws at least one curve ball.
For me, the unexpected thing was . . .
an inappropriate comment made by a search committee member at the end of the two days, while he was driving me back to the airport. It was something along the lines of, “When we first saw you with the cello case, you looked so small, we never imagined you’d have such a big sound.”
I’d like to assume the search committee member meant this as a compliment and not as a condescending sexist putdown. Although I caught a hint of the “you’re such a cute little munchkin” kind of sentiment.
FYI: I’m 5′ 4″ and not physically imposing. And (at least back then) looked younger than my years.
Although I didn’t like it, the comment was a helpful wake-up call to the reality that how I thought I was coming across was different from how others saw me (apparently as small, young, inexperienced).
While I couldn’t change my height, I realized I could do a lot more to convey a greater sense of confidence and ability — through how I dressed, spoke, and carried myself.
The experience made me realize that to succeed I couldn’t simply wing interviews, and that “being yourself” wasn’t helpful advice.
Truth is, even if you ask for feedback after the fact, an employer is never going to tell you outright what you specifically did to blow the interview.
Why? Because they don’t know you, don’t want to hurt your feelings, or risk litigation. You might get some clues from a kind employer but you’ll never get the complete unvarnished truth.
So the comment that faculty member made helped me. It prompted me for the first time to fully consider the impression I made on others. Because I didn’t want any future employer to underestimate me.
To prepare for subsequent interviews I read several books on how best to present myself in interview situations, and I asked mentors for advice.
I learned that in job interviews (and other professional situations) I needed to wear something that would help me look and feel professional and strong (blazers or jackets help). And I needed to make sure that my demeanor, conversation, and presentations likewise fully communicated my abilities.
With one of my DMA advisors, Richard Kramer, the Chair of the Music Department at Stony Brook University, I also did a mock interview.
For this, he met me at his office door (in full role play mode), and extended his hand, introducing himself. I shook his hand and he promptly told me that my handshake was terrible: it was wimpy.
Another tough but important lesson!
Fast forward: I did improve my interview skills and went on to win cello teaching jobs first in California and then in upstate New York. Years later I shifted my focus to career development and entrepreneurship and since then I’ve helped hundreds of musicians successfully prepare for interviews.
Typically we do mock interviews and I give clients honest, direct feedback and tips to more effectively convey their strengths. I also ask clients questions about their mindset and their preparation process:
What questions do you imagine you will be asked?
Which of these questions are you most worried about?
What 3 short anecdotes do you have that illustrate your distinct teaching skills and experience?
What questions are you planning to ask during the interview?
What qualities and core values do you want them to “get” about you?
What helps you to feel strong and centered?
Having an excellent cover letter and CV may get you considered and may get you the interview but they won’t get you the job. There’s the phone screening and the in-person interview (sometimes more than one, depending on the job). So, what are you doing to improve your interview skills?
For this week: Reflect on an interview that didn’t go well. What did you learn from it?
Stay tuned: next week I’ll send my list of specific Interview Mistakes (and how to avoid them)!
As always, I welcome your comments and examples—would love to hear your interview stories and lessons learned!
And if you’d like help preparing for interviews or job applications, let’s talk! I’m easy to reach at angela@BeyondTalentConsulting.com
Specifics about coaching with me are HERE.
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well