In a few days I’m interviewing for a part-time job—just a little something to keep the rollercoaster anxieties of the freelancer at bay. It’s made me reflect on my past interview experiences…particularly when I was in the hunt for a teaching position.
Up until that time, I always ended up with the job after an interview—except once, when I chose truth over hire-ability, but that’s a story for another day. I never really needed to prepare for interviews. I have the ability to speak off the cuff decently, and that method hadn’t let me down.
One might even say I was a wee bit cocky. The kind of cocky that when I was asked if I had any questions, I would often simply ask when the hiring decision would be made.
I brought this confidence with me to my teaching interviews. I had an initial round of them, including my old high school. With that one, I not only met with the English department chair, but a team of teachers—many of whom I knew. My success from that day? Catching myself before I was about to say “You have a beautiful daughter” in regards to a photo the department chair had on his desk. Instead I said, “She’s beautiful” (or maybe “lovely”—something dreadfully ingratiating). His response? “Thank you—that’s my wife.” Whew. Crisis averted.
And then I met with the team of teachers, where, given my familiarity, we were pretty relaxed and chatty. So much so that when one of them asked me what I thought I could bring to the school, I actually replied, “Besides my lunch?” Yes. Those words came out of my mouth. The comedian scored. The teacher? Not so much.
And then something personally monumental happened. I didn’t get any job offers. Zero. Me. The one who aced interviews. When success results in shortsighted cockiness, it’s not really that successful after all, now is it?
Besides my lunch????
What the hell, Lisa?
I was forced to do something I had rejected up to that point: shut up and think. Hard. Think through the pattern of what was happening—and maybe even have a little personal introspection as to what I was doing WRONG.
I thought about the interviews and how they were pretty much asking the same kinds of questions. And, for the first time ever, I actually prepared responses. I didn’t memorize them, but I had sincerely thought them through, so I now was ready to provide a response with substance.
And I asked myself what did I really want to know about these places that could possibly be my future work world? What bubbled up were questions that showed I was an educator—not a comedian.
This preparation was new territory for me, but it felt good…And it worked. With my new mindset, I had four interviews—and I was offered four jobs.
Lesson learned, grade earned.
I shake my head at that cocky kid now. She has long since left the building. In hindsight, I think the swagger was really just me skipping stones over the façade of myself. My quick responses covered my fear of not being seen as capable. My preparation took away some of that fear and replaced it with substance that was much more convincing than my clever replies were.
I am now far too realistic to have that kind of bluster. Truthfully, though, I could use a little of that cocky kid’s assurance these days (as blind as it might have been). The pendulum has swung too far the other way. I no longer need to make an effort to think about what I’m doing wrong because there is a court reporter inside my head constantly putting it on record. I need to hand her a pink slip, but I think she’s union and super hard to fire.
The experience that my interviewing failure provided me was a life-changing lesson. Understanding how important it is to stop, examine, learn, and then change…well, I’m still putting that method into practice! And I suspect I will be till my last breath.
When I do walk into my upcoming interview, I’ll try to leave the “besides my lunch” quips out and remember that all those skipping stones I can so adeptly toss…eventually sink.
And I’d much rather swim the distance.