Most of us have experienced the anxiety of a job interview many times. Most of us also understand both the high that goes with believing it went well and the low that goes with knowing you completely blew it. Here’s my worst job interview experience, along with some of the lessons I’ve learned since.
Several years ago I wanted to be a federal officer. So I applied to several job openings, went through written tests, and even managed to get an interview. I was very excited and felt prepared for anything. When I went in for the interview, I felt almost invincible.
When they ask for specific examples.
That feeling lasted until they started asking me for specific examples of experience, particularly those dealing with teamwork and communication. My job at the time was almost all teamwork, and yet, I blanked on examples. I lamely answered those questions by explaining that my job required teamwork and good communication all the time.
In my experience, most interviewers will ask for a specific example at some point. They usually seem to want an example of where you had to work on a team, where communication was especially necessary, where you had to work alone and unsupervised, and where something went wrong. They want to know how you dealt with all of these things What I wish I’d done to prepare for that is think of examples for all of that, and then written them down the night before. You don’t want to take notes into the interview with you, but you can go over them in the car before you walk in the building. This might help you avoid going blank on those questions.
Explaining your weakness(es).
Another question they asked was, “What is your biggest weakness?” I gave the overused, canned answer of, “I’m a perfectionist, it’s such a problem, and here’s why.” The job did require extremely strong observational skills and attention to detail. However, the old “make your weakness sound like a strength” trick is clichéd, and failed me miserably. I actually saw one of my interviewers roll his eyes.
Interviewers don’t seem to want to hear that you’re a perfectionist, let alone how it’s so awful. Too many people say that. Something I wish I’d have thought of instead was taking something I’m not especially good at that was only tangentially related to the job, and explaining how I wanted to improve it.
Here’s how that works: If you’re interviewing for a simple data entry job, talk about how you’re trying to work on your leadership skills. If it’s a management position, maybe discuss your writing skills and how you’re working on them. Regardless of the job, think of a skill you have, but aren’t great at, that may be related but not important to the position you’re seeking. Explain how you want to improve and what you’re doing. It shows initiative and a desire to grow, along with an understanding that you’re human.