Photo by Kim McKinney
I thought the job interview went well. Very well. I was excited about the prospect of working with them. Then I found out it didn't. Being the analytical type, I was more confused than sad. It was time to figure out what went wrong.
If there were a degree in job hunting, I would now have my doctorate. Losing a job at age 58 due to downsizing, I thought the process of finding a new job would be easy. My technical skills were sharp and varied, I had a strong work ethic. I am a strong and creative problem-solver. I work well with other people and am a team player.
Plus I had always been offered any job that I really wanted when I was younger. Why should this time be any different? I was excited about the idea of change and only sorry I had not taken the initiative before.
But it was more difficult. Yes, I knew statistically it was harder to find a job after age 55, but it never occurred to me those statistics included me. I finally had to acknowledge age could be a factor, especially after seeing some of the shiny people chosen for the jobs for which I interviewed. (Yes, I sometimes check company websites to see who got the job.)
Still, age is an easy excuse. Everyone doesn't discriminate due to age and some employers actually like mature employees. When it comes to doing a job interview post-mortem, you don't learn much if you focus on one thing. Still, we often do it.
Sometimes in the job hunt mode, you become myopic. Well-meaning friends and family will tell you the reason you got the job is some factor outside of your control. It could be. But things outside your control don't give you a whole lot of room for making positive change in yourself. What can you change to get better? That's why you do an interview post-mortem.
Keep in mind you are usually interviewing with strangers. It is easy to miss their cues - or they may not give them. That doesn’t stop them from making judgments about you, which is the point of the interview, after all.
It’s vital to debrief when you complete an interview. If you get feedback, it certainly makes it simpler, but even if you don’t, go back and analyze everything yourself. You can learn a lot of valuable information to use as you go forward in your search.
Here's an example from my job hunt. It was my third interview with a company. I already had two phone interviews, both with company executives. They went well. This interview was to be a systems demo. The company sells a product that mines health claims data for large self-funded insurance plans.
The position I was interviewing for was part client manager and part data analyst. That combination is an excellent fit for my skill set and interests, so I was excited about the position.
The interview was over Zoom, as is common in these days of COVID. It was a demo of their system. I thought the purpose was to see if I had the technical skills to use their system. I focused on what the person performing the demo was doing and how she did it. It was a good system, quite intuitive.
I asked questions throughout the demo that I thought showed I was not only focusing, but thinking through ways it could offer value to clients. I knew rather quickly I had the technical aptitude necessary for this side of the job and knew I could use the system well. I also felt as though I could help improve the utilization of the data generated for clients
We ended the Zoom call, and I felt great about it. Then I talked to my recruiter.
The people who interviewed me thought I wasn’t engaged. That I appeared tired. (I wasn’t.) When it got down to it, I was not what they wanted to see. How could my impression be so different than theirs?
As I have analyzed the interview, I believe I have figured out at least some of what went wrong.
- I never asked them the purpose of the demo. I assumed with it being a systems demo the focus of the time was whether I had the technical skills to operate the system and run the reports that would be part of my job. Maybe I was wrong? Possibly they simply wanted my reaction to the system, much as a client would react when shown what the system could do. While I thought I had expressed my enthusiasm, I never focused on an analysis that encapsulated my thoughts from more of a sales perspective.
- My introverted side showed. Though a strong introvert, I am often drawn to jobs that require extrovert behavior. When dealing with data, however, my mind is more in introvert mode. I suspect I appeared pre-occupied as I followed the demo, even though I asked questions throughout. I focused on the data, and my mind was already in overdrive of all of the possibilities for the data generated.
- I was too comfortable. Their style was casual, and I had already had an interview with one of them, so I thought, “we’re all friends here”. They were evaluating me for a job. I should have paid more attention to them, watching for cues as to what they were looking for and finding opportunities to demonstrate I had all of the skills for the job.
- Client management was a large part of the role, and I did not give them a picture of how I would interact with clients. Once again, I was too focused on the data. I thought that I had done that in prior interviews and that there would be another interview focused on that side of the job.
I could be completely off base with my analysis, yet it is valuable information for me. I learned things I could work on to better connect with those who interview me. Getting outside of ourselves and trying to find ways to improve is important.
When interviewing, there are several things to keep in mind.
- Try to find out the company and interviewer’s goal for each interview. These days there is often more than one. Rarely is there just one interview before you get the job, and typically you interview with multiple people.
- Keep the job description in mind. Make sure your behavior addresses all components of the job.
- Don’t forget to pay close attention to the people interviewing you. They must always be the focus. Don’t let any of them fade into the background. It’s especially easy to do this if one is quieter than the others. Often they have the loudest voice when the interview is over. Think through their roles in the company and what qualities may be important for them to see in you.
- Remember you are interviewing for a job. Sounds silly, but sometimes we get too comfortable and forget. It’s up to you to sell them on what you bring to the table. You need to be operating on all cylinders.
- Remember that everyone brings their preferences along with them. They probably have an idea of the kind of person they would like to hire. You may not be the picture in their head. This is not a quality over which you have much control, yet you do have the potential to shift that picture a bit to show your face.
- Most hiring processes possess a bit of randomness. The best person does not always get the job. Time spent beating yourself up is time wasted. Maybe it's not you - it's them - and you don't control them.
- Sometimes they pick wrong. Being analytical, I often pay attention to the status of the jobs for which I have interviewed. I already confessed to watching to see who was hired. Often in a short amount of time, this person disappears from their website, and they have the job open again.
- There are jobs you simply don't want. Remember to interview them as they interview you. One friend who got a job I had applied for lasted only three months at the company. She started looking for another job almost immediately. Later she told me “It was a horrible place to work”. As I looked back at that interview and some of the attitudes I had seen in the people who interviewed me, I suspect she was right. I felt it during the interview but believed at that point in my search that any job I got would be acceptable. I have since changed that attitude. A good fit with the company culture is critical to me.
When you get feedback after an interview, don’t let it discourage you. It is gold. Analyze it. Let it empower you for the next interview. Use it to refine not only your own behavior but also accept when a job or company or potential supervisor isn't right for you.
Often these days feedback is not given after an interview. In fact, very often you are not even told you didn't get the job, no matter how much time and energy you invested in their interview process. Yes, this is rude on their part, but for me, that's just another sign they may not be the company for me. If they treat job candidates like that, how do they treat employees and clients?
If you don’t get feedback, analyze what you know. You were there. Don't forget to give yourself credit for what you did well and if overall you are proud of your performance. Interviewing can be demoralizing, and that can impact your performance in future interviews if you let it. If nothing else, it takes a certain amount of courage to get in there and keep trying.
If you stay in the job market, there will be future job interviews, and not all will end poorly. You want to work for a company that sees your worth and that will be your champion. Why waste your time with a company that doesn't?
Yes, that one particular job interview did not end well for me but I learned a lot from the process.