Job interviews are like meetings. Everybody hates them; but until somebody thinks of a better way of doing things, we’re stuck with them.
As a manager looking to hire a potential candidate, my problem with the interview process is how subjective and conditional the whole thing is. See too many lacklustre interviewees in a row, and one can inadvertently find oneself wanting to hire a person with no experience or ability–– except that of being really great at being interviewed.
This is bad news for all you ‘talented-but-retiring’ job hunters; especially when trying to crack into the entertainment business.
I’ve interviewed dozens of people over the years; and I’m always struck by how interviewees just seem to make the same mistakes; in spite of the wealth of information available on the subject. So, for what it’s worth, here’s the six things (in my very humble opinion) you should keep in mind when going for a job interview…
1/. want the job.
As obvious and obligatory as this sounds, you have to appear as if you really want the job.
Here’s the thing: some interviews are just flat-out incompetent; others are like applying for NASA space academy. Some interviews are handed over to employees just one step up from the cleaner; others are obsessively micro-managed by the CEO. [*see footnote]
But whatever the case, job interviews all have one thing in common; and that is the interviewers all want to know that you have a strong desire to work at the same company they work at.
Why? Because the interviewer them self once made a decision to work for the company and will be keen to know what other people think of that choice. You need to demonstrate just what an awesome choice that was.
This rare, yet powerful form of validation acts to quell concerns that the interviewer might be squandering their precious life in an ultimately meaningless existence.
Okay. That was harsh. But seriously, don’t try to pull the old Dummies Guide to Reverse Psychology trick here; this is not the dating game. If you’re too cool you will lose the job to someone who wants it more than you.
I’ve see people try and ‘Fonz’ their way into a job… and it just. doesn’t. work.
2/. believe in yourself, but carefully.
Pay attention here. This is important: Wanting the job is one thing; but why you are the right person for it is something else entirely.
I’ve interviewed a surprising number of candidates lately who seem to think that the one and only qualification worth presenting is their own self-belief. These kind of candidates talk about themselves 99% of the time.
I blame the rash of reality talent shows for this. Those kids on TV might be able to become the celebrity of the week just by singing “I Believe I Can Fly”; that doesn’t mean you can land a gig in TV doing the same.
Of course you have to be confident in your ability to do the job. But this alone will not see you through. Too much emphasis on self-belief can be off-putting… because it’s up to your interviewer to decide whether you have the right stuff, and they will be looking for more than just your own assertion that you do.
3/. ask questions, but know what the job is.
You should always have questions. There’s a couple of things an interviewer should never hear:
Interviewer: So, do you have any questions?
Interviewer: So, do you have any questions?
Interviewee: What’s the pay?
So, ask questions about the job. But… make sure the questions demonstrate that you have gone to the trouble of finding out what the job is about, and that you wish to have your research confirmed in the interview.
You have to prove in an interview that you understand what the job is and why it’s the opportunity that it is. An interview is not the time to ask questions like:
Interviewer: So, do you have any questions?
Interviewee: Yes. What does a <job title> actually do?
If you don’t know… you shouldn’t be going for the job!
The best thing about having questions to ask is that it allows the interviewer to do lots of talking. There are plenty of folks in business who just lerv the sound of their own voice; and will feel better about you if you let them prattle on, while you nod your head positively.
Prove you can take directions by demonstrating your ability to listen.
If in doubt, remember this handy aphorism: One mouth, two ears… Coincidence?
4/. assume the position.
Oddly, in spite of the first three points, you also have to show that it doesn’t matter if you get this job or not, you’ll be doing it anyway; one way or another.
As much as “assume the position” sounds like a call to the casting couch, it actually is a very important truth.
Don’t wait for someone else to put a label on you. If you want to be, for example, a Director; then from this moment on, you’re a Director, okay?! Start doing things that Directors do.
The best candidates are the ones who prove to the interviewer they are already doing everything they can to give themselves the skills that they will be gaining on the job they’re going for.
If you are not already doing everything you can to give yourself the skills… then start!
If you say something like: “this will be a good opportunity for me because it will get me out of what I’m doing now” you are already putting yourself behind the pack, because in this highly competitive world, the best candidates will not be looking for other people to empower them. They will be doing it themselves.
Applying for a job is not the first step in the process of removing yourself from a rut. It’s not up to an employer to rescue people from a situation they no longer like.
Which leads to:
5/. never complain about your current job.
Even if it is a total shocker, it just makes you sound bad. I don’t know why, it just does. Simply concentrate on the positives of what you have learnt from your current job and what you are hoping the new job will bring you.
Same goes for your current employers and colleagues.
6/. don’t wait for a job vacancy to be interviewed.
There isn’t a boss worth working for who won’t gladly speak to a person about the ins and outs of the business.
So get on the phone, ask to speak to the HR department and politely ask if they could put you in touch with the department head, or whoever else they recommend would be the best person to speak to about becoming the thing that you want to become.
Be firm: You’re not asking for a job. You simply want someone in authority to spare some time to answer a few questions and give you some advice. You are asking for ten minutes, tops. Whenever/wherever it can be fit in.
You might catch the person when they are busy, they might not get back to you straight away. But stick with it.
The simple point is this: why put yourself in a race with other potential candidates, when you can make a connection with a manager in advance?
Show them your CV and examples of your work; then ask questions about it:
• Is this the kind of thing you’re looking for?
• What skill could I develop to give myself a better chance of getting a job if one turned up here or elsewhere?
• What kind of editing software do you use?
• Do you allow outsiders to spend a day watching a working producer?
• Can you recommend other people who I could talk to?
• Would you be okay with me checking back in with you in a few months?
Because you are not going for a job, this is the perfect opportunity to ask “dumb questions” and get away with it.
You won’t land a job at this interview, but you will have a greater chance of coming to mind if/when a job comes up, or if/when the person hears about a job going elsewhere.
If you don’t by now understand the psychology behind why this final point is a winning strategy, then perhaps you aren’t cut out to be a persuasive communicator; and maybe should consider something else. As I point out in my rant about creativity, there’s many dimensions to it. One of them is the ability to pitch an idea.
The idea in this case is that you would make a great contribution to the team!
Well, that’s about it. Of course there are companies out there whose management have no idea what they’re looking for, or the first clue on how to conduct an interview.
And hey, you just might land a job by playing it ultra cool; or by simply repeating how much you want it… but I’d guess these companies are not the kind of places any serious contender would want to work, and you’ll probably find that out for yourself about a week after starting the gig!
* FOOTNOTE HYPOTHETICAL:
You’ve just interviewed for a job as the company mail clerk which was conducted by the CEO. Should you be suspicious?
That depends. Many upper-level managers prefer to have a hand in hiring the people who they will then totally ignore once the person gets the job.
The two main reasons for this are:
Rarely 1/. They are actually a great CEO who cares about the whole company.
Typically 2/. They don’t want some over-zealous HR person inadvertently hiring-on potential threats.