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Going beyond the comfort zone
In my last period of joblessness, I could comfortably spend days at my computer, combing the Internet and writing and rewriting resumés and cover letters. In fact, I became so immersed in computer land the only beings I engaged with on a regular basis came equipped with paws, tails and little pointy ears on the top of their heads (cats, not aliens). Any people skills I had were starting to rust from lack of use.
And it showed.
After weeks of pumping out exquisite resumés I landed a job interview that I fumbled and sputtered through, completely managing to avoid eye contact with all four interviewers. After many days of waiting for a callback that never happened, I braced myself to ask for some feedback from a friend (I still had a few left) who could be both perceptive and maddeningly blunt. After the conversation, I had to admit Gillian might be right: what’s the point of creating resumés that are like works of art when at a critical time (the interview) you plunk yourself down in front of a row of interviewers and stare at your feet and mumble.
Sometimes the truth hurts. After a day and a half of weeping and wailing (which really annoyed my cats), I made the decision to get out of the house and to practise meeting people. I started going to networking groups, I met with an employment counsellor who did a mock interview with me, and (briefly) I took a public speaking course. I got a little more confident, a little less awkward; I learned to look my interviewers in the eye, to make small talk, to answer questions without stammering. And I found a job in short order.
Still, if I were to be honest, my interview skills only ever went from substandard to mediocre and luck played a role in my securing the position. If I were looking in today’s tight job market I know I would have to spend much more time beefing up my interviewing skills. As Sean Gregory writes in New Rules For the Job Interview, “The job interview has always been a crucial part of the hiring process. But in today’s intensely competitive labor market, it couldn’t be more key.”
If my current employer ever sends me packing, at least I would be well aware of all the support out there for job seekers. (Think Employment Ontario agencies.) For instance, just last month I attended an interview workshop at Humber Community Employment Services, where I learned, among other things, this strategy if you feel uncomfortable looking your interviewers in the eye: look at their forehead instead.
I learned other things too. Like the sandwich trick. This is not to be eaten but to be used with the “Tell me about your greatest weakness?” question. Essentially, both slices of bread in the sandwich are positive statements while the meat of the sandwich is the negative statement. Here’s an example (slightly reworded) that facilitator Anna Stefanczyk-Pindral gave:
Q: Do you have any experience with AutoCad [software application for computer-aided design]?
Positive statement: At my last job, they needed someone to learn ACCPAC [accounting application]. I didn’t have any experience but I took courses and got fully up to speed with this application.
Negative statement: I don’t have any AutoCad experience.
Positive statement: I would be willing to take courses and do online research in order to learn all I can about AutoCad. I am fully confident that I would be able to quickly become proficient in this application.
Sounds a lot better than “no” to me.
Most importantly, at the workshop, I got to watch Anna do a mock interview with one of her colleagues, who seemed to engage and connect with Anna smoothly and confidently and sold her skills in a natural way. I was impressed but not entirely surprised as I knew this colleague had been freshly hired. It seems she had aced the interview in real life as well.
For more articles on this subject, check out out the interview section of poss.ca.