How to Completely Screw Yourself in a Job Interview


On Monday, I posted a list of dumb job interview questions, and there were some great comments (which made my day—comments mean people are actually reading this stuff, which still kinda blows my mind.).  Alison from Ask a Manager is a non-profit executive and a real-life hiring manager, and she pointed out that she really does want to know what people’s weaknesses are.  She wants to ensure that they’re not going to be ones that will be fatal to the candidate when he/she is in the job.  I completely agree, and here’s why.

A long time ago, I was in a situation where I needed another job really badly.  I was desperate, and I was also pretty inexperienced, and the combination of the two made me kind of an idiot.  I was interviewing for several different jobs, and there was one in particular that I really wanted, for all the wrong reasons: it was a very stable job, with a very stable company.  The benefits were good.  It was comfortable.  It was with one of the most desirable employers in my town.  Everyone wanted to work there, and they were interviewing me.  I was flattered.

Plus, like I said, I really needed a job.

So when they interviewed me, I gave every answer I thought they wanted to hear.  Every single person who interviewed me there said, “This place is very, VERY conservative.  Are you okay with that?”  And I said, “Oh yes, I’m very conservative.”  Now, if you’ve read this blog more than a couple of times, you know what a crock that is…but I needed a job, and I really wanted to work there.  I was coming from an environment where conservative and stable sounded fabulous, and like said, I was an idiot.

I got the job.  I worked there five months.  It was hell.

Now, let me say right now that there was (and is) nothing wrong with this company.  In fact, it’s a great company to work for and to do business with.  I have recommended them as an employer to friends since then.  But for me, it was a terrible fit.  It was very, VERY conservative, just like they said, and I felt completely suffocated.  My boss tried hard to help me adjust, but I would have needed a personality transplant to make this job a fit for me.

Culture plays a huge role in how well you like a job.  In fact in some cases, it’s the primary determining factor in whether you enjoy going to work or not.

I feel bad to this day, because I wasted five months of my manager’s time, and she was a very nice person who had been completely up front with me in the interviews.  I just didn’t listen to her, because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.  I also screwed myself, because for years afterward, I’ve had to explain that five-month stint on my resume.  It was awkward at first, but now I use it as an opportunity to tell this story to potential employers.  Then I tell them how I learned my lesson, and what sort of culture is a better fit for me.  If that’s not their culture, well, then that’s not the job for me.

I’m not suggesting you walk into an employer and say, “You need to conform to what I like, or I can’t work here.”  No one wants to hire a prima donna, and no job is going to be an exact perfect fit for you.  That’s unrealistic.  You’re always going to have to do a little bit of adjusting and conforming.  Those are good things, because the experience will help you expand your horizons and discover new ways to work.  Adaptability, in fact, is a trait everyone should cultivate, because it makes work (and life) much easier.  Plus, as Elizabeth from Tink’s Mom points out, sometimes you just really need a job, and other times your long job search has beat the crap out of you.  Under those circumstances, it’s harder to assess just how much of a stretch it’s going to be to fit in.

But if you’re having to go through each interview with a completely different personality, that’s a red flag.  Personality transplants are rarely successful, and they’re exhausting.  If the job you’re interviewing for requires one, consider whether you really want to put yourself (and everyone else) through that kind of grief.

Photo by sirgabe

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