A running joke with my clients is to use a wire system during their job interview so I can feed them lines. This would be terrible coaching. My clients do quite well in interviews. Who needs wires?

I love interviews. I love the strategy of thinking of the questions they might ask, rehearsing a solid Tell me about Yourself, and knowing which questions to ask. I love learning about their business, meeting the decision makers and finding out what problem they are really trying to solve. I’m naturally curious about people and the places where people work.

I didn’t always love interviews. I had to learn many lessons the hard way (by being rejected for positions I wanted) to understand how to get better.

There are three jobs I wanted that I didn’t land. These were jobs I was fairly certain at the time were my dream job. While rejection feels awful, you can learn from the experiences by doing a post-interview review after each interview.

After each interview, ask:

  • What went really well?
  • What did I feel great about?
  • What question(s) did they ask was I unprepared for?
  • What did I forget to say? (For this one, you might be able to sneak this into the thank you letter).

Each interview is like a little gift of learning.

Rejected Job 1: Radio Host

Background: About ten years ago a radio station put out a call for a weekend radio host. I had minimal radio experience. For the advertised gig, applicants were asked to call in and record a one-minute pitch. I recorded my message and within 30 minutes got a call back from the station. I submitted a follow-up resume and got an interview.

The interview:  I didn’t have any interview-type clothes so I got a pantsuit from my friend who is a foot shorter than I am, but has impeccable style. It was not my natural style and the pants were a little short. I wore it to the interview and that was the extent of my interview prep. I assumed that they loved me based on my pitch. I just needed to “look the part” and show him how I could talk to anyone about anything.

The station director asked me questions like, “What is Winnipeg to you?” and “how do find out what people want to hear?” I answered with a lot of “that’s a great question” and “I don’t know.” It was a short interview.

The lesson:

  • Prep for the job as if you already had it. Come with research and ideas.
  • Wear nice clothing, but in your own style to feel comfortable as you. Research the culture of the place you will interview, most of the professionals at their station wore jeans. Dressing business casual would have been fine, I wasn’t trying to be a tv news anchor.
  • Rehearse a few stories in advance to highlight your experience.

Rejected Job 2: Sustainability Assistant at a College

Background: About 7 years ago, I had finished my M. Ed in Humane Education. I had just completed a term position managing a Community-Led Emissions Reduction Program where I helped establish a community bike-hub, coordinated the building of compost bins, and established an intergenerational gardening project. I knew how to measure GHG emissions and help people become more aware of their habits. I was on my new career path of working in Sustainability.

The Interview: The interview was my first experience doing Behavioral Descriptive Interview (BDI) style. They asked for specific examples of my project management skills and I skipped the details. I assumed the details were too mundane. I gave credit to volunteers and the board and forgot to promote the work I did. I told them that even the low end of their salary range would be a big bump for me. Oops!

The lesson: I had the experience for the job but I didn’t tell them what they needed to hear. They couldn’t prompt me for better answers because it was a unionized position and would be unfair to other applicants. Earlier this year I saw one of the people from that interview panel at a networking event. We talked for a bit and I asked if she remembered interviewing me seven years ago.” She said, “We all really liked you, but the other person backed up their experience.”

  • Being likable is not enough. You don’t get jobs because people like you. You get jobs when people know you have the skills and experience to do the job.
  • Give details about how you did the work to add credibility. If they can imagine you doing the work, they can imagine you working for them.
  • Remember to give yourself credit, even if you are team-minded.

Rejected Job 3: Senior Career Consultant

Background: I was working for a firm as a Career Transition Consultant/ Client Services Coordinator. I liked the coaching part of the position. One senior consultant had retired and another was leaving for a new job. I spoke to the VP about transitioning into 100% consultant work and he was agreeable. I spoke to my manager and she thought I had the capacity. She gave me a plan on how we could increase the number of senior clients I saw and look for stretch opportunities for me over the next year. But, they would hire another consultant in the meantime.

The interview: It wasn’t a formal interview, but I should have treated it like it was. I didn’t bring a plan on what I would do if given the promotion. I didn’t talk about how it would benefit the company to make this change. I didn’t address any of my previous performance weaknesses (which were mostly about not taking action on the ideas I had and inconsistent client meeting tracking). I didn’t show my capacity for the new role.

Additionally, I was meeting all the needs of the coordinator role. My knowledge of the business operations was more valuable than me working as a consultant. I allowed her to give me a development plan. I had her do the work I should have been doing. (Note: this was THE VERY BEST manager I ever had. She was accommodating all my asks, I was just impatient and wanted the job immediately.)

The Lesson:

  • Prepare in advance and highlight the benefits to the organization
  • Model the necessary skills in your existing role, don’t wait until you are in the role to show your capabilities
  • Bring in a suggested timeline and transition plan

Since leaving the firm as a full-time employee, we continue to have a great relationship. I found my own way of assisting people through transitions and enjoy the flexibility of doing the work in casual settings. I collaborate with the firm on projects and have great respect for them. That’s a secret tip, don’t burn bridges over a lost opportunity because you never know when you need to cross it again.

Rejection is hard; not learning from it is harder.

It is hard when a job comes up and you don’t get it. In a job search, you keep trying. Allow every rejection to teach you something. Your ideal job is out there. I hope the lessons I learned the hard way help you in your job search.

Do you have any interview lessons to share?