How to Get Ahead in the Job Interview Jungle
What I've Learned in My First Three Months As an HR Professional and What You Should Know As an Applicant
If I had a dollar for every time I called my poor mother to say, “I don’t know why no one will f*cking hire me,” I’d never have to walk into another interview again. When I lived in Daytona Beach, I ran out of jobs within a 50 mile radius to apply for on Indeed. I wouldn’t get calls back, I wouldn’t get contacted after interviews, and I felt like I was left for dead. I’d sit in front of my computer for hours tinkering with my resume and cover letter thinking THAT was going to be what got me the next job. Upon moving to Mississippi, I prepared myself for the struggle of the job hunt …Again. I spent days emailing companies, and submitting application, after application, after application, after application to every position that seemed like it might pay enough to cover my student loan. Let me tell you, I finally hit the jackpot. I got a call back for a Human Resources Coordinator position that I literally didn’t even remember applying for; five interviews later, I got the job.
Human Resources was always that elusive, secret, “behind the curtain” department that I never understood, never had exposure to, and just couldn’t figure out. I was given the opportunity to infiltrate my greatest enemy from the inside, and finally put my thumb on what the hell was happening during and after those interviews, and why you can’t get a damn call back. I’ve officially been a Human Resources employee for three months. Here are three things I wish I would’ve known during all of those hours scrolling through Indeed hoping for a miracle.
Your professionalism shouldn't outshine your personality.
The first time I was in an interview and had a candidate that I LOVED, and the hiring manager for the department said “Nah.” My mind was blown. This person did everything right. Cover letter, resume, great experience, dressed well, articulate, professional, the whole package, and I RELATED to that girl. Why wouldn’t she get hired?! WHY AREN’T WE HIRING HER?! The answer I got was, “She wouldn’t be a good fit.” What the hell does that mean, you ask? Even with all of the good things about her as a candidate, she just didn’t have “it.” She didn’t’ have what the manager needed to confidently hire her for that position. In an interview, your personality is your greatest asset. If you recite a bunch of pre-scripted answers without giving me a sense of who you are as a person, I can’t trust that person isn’t going to be COMPLETELY different once you get the job, and yes, that happens. All. The. Time. If you show us who you actually are from the beginning, it’s much easier to judge how you’ll fit into the team and how you’ll approach the position, instead of automatically writing you off as “closed off,” “monotone,” or “inauthentic”—all of which are words that I’ve used to describe candidates in interviews.
When I interviewed for my position with HR, one of the things they said about me was that I was “open, and honest.” Wanna know why I was open and honest? Because I was just throwing shit at the wall and hoping something stuck at that point. Obviously, nothing I was doing in previous interviews was working. So, I just dropped everything I had ever been taught, and started doing me. It was the best thing I’ve ever done. Now, being on the opposite side of the interview table, I totally get why “open and honest” is the best possible thing to have written about you during an interview. When someone tries to interview with me the way you learn how to in your high-school English class, I realize they’re performing for me. I recognize those tactics because I, too, took a high-school English class. I leave the interview knowing nothing about that candidate as a person or an employee, and that doesn’t help you get the job. Moral of the story, let your resume reflect your education, strict professionalism, and your ability to follow a template. In your interview, be open and honest, let me learn about you as a person. Use that personality to tell me why you’re an employee that I want for my company or department. Remember that your hiring manager is thinking about you as a person that they want to work with, and that their department will want to work with. Being the pinnacle of boring professionalism isn’t going to give them that impression. And then, if you still don’t get the job, you know you laid it all out on the table. If the hiring manager felt like you weren’t a good fit because of your personality, then you’d probably be miserable in that job anyway. Win-win.
Be 16 minutes early.
I know this sounds like minor advice, but I assure you it is not. When I was showing up for interviews, I never knew when to arrive. Obviously, you want to be there early, but how early is too early, and how early is too late? I have the answer. 16 minutes. Arrive to every step in your hiring process 16 minutes early, and here’s why. When I set up an interview on my Outlook calendar, it notifies me 15 minutes prior to the scheduled time. When a candidate is walking in the door just before that notification goes off, my life is easier, and then I hardly pay any attention to that notification because, “Perfect, they’re already here.” On the other hand, when that notification goes off and that candidate isn’t there yet, the first thought that immediately pings through my brain is “I wonder if they’re even going to show up,” and then I spend the next 15 minutes fluttering my eyes back and forth between the clock and the front door waiting to be stood up by another flighty applicant. This 16 minute window also allows you time to meet your interviewer or other team members of the company, as well as complete any additional paperwork or application information they might need without feeling pressed for time. Conversely, don’t be the guy that shows up an hour early to their interview, and then stares at me while I’m trying to get things done. Just don’t do it.
Follow Up. Follow Up. Follow Up.
FOLLOW UP. I’m telling you this, because I never understood how interviewing worked on the back end, and I, as an applicant, had faith in the process and never wanted to be that annoying candidate that harassed HR for answers. I never called to follow up, because in my mind if they wanted to call me, they would have. Learn from my mistakes, and be the person who brings attention to themselves throughout the application process. Don’t be pushy or harassing, but you can absolutely, and should absolutely, follow-up when you apply. Once you put your application in, call to confirm that the application was received, You’d be amazed how often they aren’t. Then, if it’s been a while, and you haven’t heard anything back, give them a call again to see where your application is at in the review process. If your application is still under review, then just wait a while and continue to follow-up on that application until they come to a conclusion. If they inform you that they’ve gone with other candidates, then ask about other similar, open, positions you can apply for. There’s a possibility that there’s more than one opening within a job title, and you just need to apply in a different place to be considered for it. (I'll give you more information on that later.) You’re allowed to ask questions, and the answers you receive may be invaluable when it comes to getting in with a company that you really want to work for. Finally, if you have an interview and don’t get a call back, FOLLOW UP! The application, interview, hiring manager, HR, labyrinth is intricate and complex. Don’t be the applicant that slips through the cracks, because you just got caught up in the maze. When you call us, you’re bringing yourself and your application to the forefront, and you’re essentially demanding action and answers, all of which are good things for all involved.
In the same vein, just because you apply for a position, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep applying (yep, here's the rest of that information I was talking about). If you are scrolling through Indeed, and you see a new job posting for a job you’ve already applied for, apply again. Just because you’ve applied for a position in the past does not mean that your application is being properly considered for that same position that is now, again, coming available. Ghosting is one of the most astounding things about talent acquisition in our current job market. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, “the odds are about one in four that [candidates] will go through the process without being distracted or disengaged—and disconnect—at some point” (Gurchiek). What this means: people apply for jobs, and somewhere between that application and their first day of work, they stop responding. What that looks like: open positions on job boards are closed when candidates are hired, that candidate never shows up for their on-boarding, drug screen, or orientation, and then that position is left vacant and a new posting is put up on job boards. What this means for you, as an applicant: If you applied under the old job posting, the candidate they selected never showed up, and then that position is once again open. You’re most likely not being properly considered for that “new” job posting because you’re not included in that new batch of applicants. Keep applying, keep calling, keep bringing attention to yourself, and get that job.
What do I have to say for myself after joining the dark side in the job interview rat race? Human Resource teams aren't evil, they don't hate you as an applicant, and they're not playing with your voodoo doll as you walk into your interview. They're just walking a lot of thin lines based on what their companies need, their managers need, and what their applicants need. If these tips from "behind the curtain" were helpful, drop me a tip once you get that cool new job. Or you can share this to help your friends know what's what in the job interview jungle.