By Dino Londis
Job interviewing, like performing stand-up comedy, is an unnatural act. Although on the surface it appears to be a conversation of sorts, it’s really not. It’s a high-pressure, high-wire act where one wrong move can end it all.
Think of your narrative as your act. A resume doesn’t explain why you got into IT or why you are leaving your current position. So you need to tell a story. Your resume defines your skills and experience, but you need to fill out the story line. Telling stories is a way to communicate without getting into the true complexities of a situation.
When I once left a job I had a menu of reasons why: The IT director was spineless. It was a miserable place to work. I couldn’t get along with my colleagues. What I decided to say was, "I’m there for thirteen months and I’m still the new guy." That was my thesis and I built my story around it. It was an effective tactic: It said the personality conflict was in their hands. I wasn’t getting updated information and it was affecting my performance. Each interviewer nodded, as if they’d been through the same experience.
In another example, I was asked why I was leaving my job. I could have said I was angry over a cut in health benefits, or how the company opted not to match on 401K contributions on the last legal day. Instead I said, "They looked like they were in the first stages of going under." Then I used the insurance and 401K incidents as examples. The lesson: Keep the story simple and broad, and be prepared to back it up.
Recently, I advised a colleague who was desperate to transition from help-desk to applications. We knew he’d have to answer the question: "If you’re so good why won’t your employer promote you?" Our answer: "I love where I work. Unfortunately so does everyone else and no one is leaving to make room for me to advance." From that, he built his narrative around all the instances he was able to help the applications group from his help-desk chair.
Years ago, I got advice from Jay Leno (honestly). He said you should be able to do your act while falling out of an airplane. The same applies to interviewing: Be ready. Your interviews are too few and precious to do your learning on-the-job. Imagine how much better of an interviewee you’d be after you’ve done it 25 times. This is why rehearsing is important. It smooths over those spots where you might talk yourself into a dead-end or begin describing things you don’t want to reveal. You don’t need a perfectly scripted speech, but you should have an understanding of what avenue you need to go down.
When rehearsing, find a place where you can project your voice, like your car or the shower, and answer questions you’ve created in your narrative. Also, rehearsing is an ongoing effort: The more you do it, the more focused your answers become.
Whenever I interview, I get myself into a happy mood while I’m sitting in the lobby. That’s no easy feat after I’ve had to fill out mind-numbing applications, neatly writing in tiny boxes my last three jobs – even though that information is on my resume. I relax and put a smile on my face. (Smiles work backwards for me by getting me into a good mood.)
When the time comes, I start the conversation with a quick comment about something immediate and positive, like the commute, the offices, the location. Build a rapport with the interviewer.Your resume got you into the room. Now he or she wants to meet the person. So, don’t just answer questions – have a conversation. Ideally, you’re interviewing them to see if the company is a good fit for you. Part of that interview is where you ask some questions, such as:
1) How did this position become available?
2) What happened to the person who left?
3) How many people are in the office?
4) How many people are in IT?
Asking question turns the interview into a conversation that allows you to demonstrate your soft skills. Yes, managers want a talented worker for the open position, but they also want someone who is a good fit with the current staff. If you only field questions, you might give the impression you’re willing to take any job. In other words, you’ll look indiscriminate. You don’t want to do that.
All the world’s a stage. Write, rehearse, and perform your next job interviews. It gives you more control.
Dino Londis is an applications management engineer in New York.