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Interview: Perfect time not to worry

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Everyone was waiting for me to tell them the three things they must know before a job interview.

Janeen Coyle and Chris O'Brien of WGRR-FM in Cincinnati were perched across from me in the studio where they are every morning and from where we talk once a week. Their show has — potentially — a quarter of a million listeners.

Yes, applicants need to know three things, I had said.

No. 1, what the job is. What problems and issues does the position address?

No. 2, yourself. What are your talents, and what makes you an expert or familiar with the issues this job deals with? What characteristics help you fit this role? And how have you applied that successfully in the past?

No. 3. My mind went blank. I couldn't remember the third thing.

I had written and talked about it dozens of times. It was right there in my new book under the 15 things you should never do: No. 1, don't act clueless and unprepared.

But I couldn't think of that third thing. I saw only Janeen's face, staring at me, waiting for me to complete my thought.

What can you do in a situation like that? The only thing you can do is avoid No. 12 on my list of things you should never do: Don't try to be perfect.

Instead, acknowledge the situation, perhaps laugh about it, move on and come back to it when you do remember. And later, maybe you use it as a way to make a point — like I am doing here.

Of course, I wish my response had been flawless, but that rarely happens — or helps.

When you're trying to be perfect in a job interview, you start all kinds of problems. Take the employer at a university who told me she had scheduled a face-to-face interview with a woman who sounded like a strong candidate on the phone.

In person, the candidate was very nervous.

“Her voice quivered. Her neck flushed,” the employer said. “Overall, she was very rigid. It was as if she was ‘overly professional.' She kept trying to be perfect.”

Things got worse.

When asked to describe a time she made a mistake, what she learned and how she resolved it, the candidate smiled and said, “I never make mistakes. I'm just perfect, I guess.”

“I could tell it was important to her to make a good impression,” the employer said. But her response was a detriment, “treating me so much like the authority figure she was trying to impress. I wanted to have a conversation.”

As a result, the employer said the candidate seemed as if she lacked maturity and professionalism.

“I need someone who can think quickly on their feet and who's willing to take responsibility for her mistakes,” the employer said. “She wasn't self-aware enough.”

Not trying to be perfect — in fact, even failing — can be a good thing.

I'm all for planning and practicing what you say in interviews. But sometimes, you go blank or it doesn't come out quite right.

And in case you were wondering that third thing to know going into an interview, it's this: Information about the company. What product does the company make or what service does it offer? What are its overall goals? Who's the competition?

Why couldn't I think of that at the time? Stuff happens. And none of us is perfect.

Email andrea@andreakay.com.

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