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"I'm rubbish at interviews"

Two women shaking hands at job interview
Smile, and at least look like you're enjoying the experience...

So your CV meets all the criteria on the person specification, the cover letter hit the bullseye and after what seems like months of checking and refreshing your email and filtering all kinds of offers that YOU MAY BE ENTITLED TO A REFUND! from your spam, it arrives.

You've got an interview. Tuesday, 12:30pm, Microsoft Teams link to follow.

And after that initial moment of joy and a sigh of relief that you've been holding in all that time comes the sheer panic.

"I'm rubbish at interviews," you tell yourself, as well as anyone else who'll listen. "I never get the job. They'll have someone internal. They won't want someone my age/gender/height..."

Maths syndrome

Now unless you're a maths teacher, you've probably uttered those same words about that subject once or twice as well. But what would you tell your child if they said the same to you? Because the thing is, you're not rubbish at maths, or spelling, or singing, or drawing. It may be that you haven't learned how to do these things very well yet, and it may be that you'll never sing like Tom Jones or dance like Ginger Rogers.

But you can get better at anything, and interviewing is no exception.

Yes you can

One very simple fact to remember is that if an employer is bothering to interview you then they already think you're capable of doing the job. It's now down to which of the candidates will best fit at the organisation or in the role.

Ultimately, conducting interviews is a pain. The process is drawn out, expensive (in terms of advertising but also in people hours) and tiring for those interviewing as well as the candidates. You're not being brought in to make up the numbers. They'd rather have fewer numbers.

Also, unless this is your first ever job, then you have had interviews before (however they were run) and you have been successful. There's no "but" after that, for you to retort with, it's how it is. So I'll say it again:

You've already been successful at interviews.

If you know you can do the job, and they know you can do the job, then just go and have a chat with them about how you can do the job. That's all an interview is.

If you don't believe in yourself why would they?

You'll hate this, but...

Now you're probably going to hate this next piece of advice because you'll have heard it a thousand times before. Be yourself. (See, told you!)

And the reason you've heard it so often is because it's true. No one wants to employ someone only to find out that they're a completely different person when they enter the office. That those promises of "always going the extra mile" and "getting on with everyone" translate to someone who never speaks and is out the door at 5pm on the dot.

The flip side is just as important of course. The interviewer is going to respond to you depending on how you come across. You may not like how they respond and that will tell you something in itself: do you want to work for this person?

man and woman blindfold at romantic dinner
A job interview is a little bit like going on a blind date

In some ways, it's a little like going on a blind date. Without Cilla or Our Graham (for British readers of a certain age...) You want to like the other person. You want them to like you. You dress according to how you want them to see you. You make sure not to order spaghetti... Ok, the analogy only holds up so far, but you get the point. Ultimately, if you aren't right for each other you don't see one another again.

Try it on a little bit

Not for the dating. We're finished with that.

There was a point in my career when I wanted to move from middle into senior management. My only real incentive to begin with was that I'd seen a colleague do the same and I didn't really think she was very good at the job. Not the best motivation and one that I had to reflect upon as time went on.

Because I had no fewer than eight interviews for different jobs and failed to get a single one. My application was strong, I knew I'd performed well in the various tasks. I couldn't seem to get any feedback on what was going wrong, though, beyond, "the other candidate was just a little bit stronger on the day."

Finally, I got the truth from someone. "You knew what to say, we know you could do the job. You just didn't seem as though you really wanted it."

Lightbulb moment

And then it dawned on me. I probably hadn't wanted that job, nor the ones before. And then I became annoyed at myself for not wanting them and wasting my - and their - time.

I had thought I was being clever by dealing with the stress of the interview by coming across as calm, relaxed and nonchalant. Unfortunately, I had come across as simply not being bothered.

I was successful at my very next interview because I took that on board. I injected some energy, some personality into my answers.

I smiled.

You don't have to be overbearing and wave your hands around like you're being attacked by wasps at a picnic, but a little human warmth goes a long way.

What fruit would you most like to be?

The end of a bunch of bananas
Interview questions that drive you bananas

Those dreaded questions: name your three favourite songs without thinking; what would you do if someone came to work with a pet donkey? How many beans make five?

Don't let them throw you. Smile. Take a breath. Then just say what comes into your head (avoiding expletives, preferably) because the answer isn't the important thing. It's more about how you respond. Are you thrown into a mad panic at someone taking you by surprise? Well then how are you going to deal with the last minute alteration tot he contarct you've been negotiating?

People have their own view as interviewers about their validity but ultimately they're never the deciding factor.

There's more than one person being interviewed

Finally, always remember that you're not the only person in the room - or over the web - being interviewed. You don't have to take any job if you don't feel it's right. That's easy to say and difficult to hold to in these tough times but being unhappy for the majority of your waking life because you're working somewhere you hate isn't worth any amount of money.

The right job is out there for you. Now go out, believe you can, and get it!

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