Many years ago I found myself racing from my then home in El Cerrito to the San Rafael Bridge, on my way to an important job interview. Just as I as I was about to make it to the freeway, the signal at the railroad crossing began to clang, causing me to slam on the brakes. The crossing bar, unfortunately, landed on the hood of my car, rather than just shy of it. I wasn’t sure what to do. Heart pounding, I jumped out of my car to see if I could lift it off, but it was much heavier than I would have imagined and didn’t budge.
When I returned to the driver’s side of the car, I found that the door had locked behind me. There I stood in the middle of the street looking inside my car at the keys in the ignition and engine running. Several cars had begun to line up behind me, and it looked like we were all going to be stuck for a very long time. In my rising panic, I looked to the burly guy in the car right behind me for help. He rolled down his window, and kindly suggested, “Maybe you should try the trunk. . .”
There was no alternative. While I was positive the trunk was locked, when I tried it, somehow it was not. Without so much as a moment’s hesitation, I then dove into the trunk, closed the hatchback behind me, and dropped into the driver’s seat in time to back up the car enough to allow the crossing arm to lift off the hood of my car, and release me from my humiliation. Too ashamed to look back, I headed straight for the bridge and interview. I was about 10 minutes late — and, as luck would have it, so were my three interviewers. More on the outcome later.
Can you guess what absolute no-no of interviewing I violated in the above scenario? You can Google Interview Preparation here if you need to and you will find multiple resources, from the simplest list of four basic last-minute guidelines from Monster.com, to entire books on and courses in interview preparation. You will soon notice that they all contain one specific admonition that sounds something like this: “Be sure to allow extra time to comfortably get to the interview ahead of time,” in case, let’s say, a train comes along, the railroad crossing arm lands on the hood of your car, you lock yourself out of your car with the engine running, and you rip your dress and bruise your shin when you dive into the driver’s seat from the trunk of your car.
Here, from HuffPost Business, July 20, 2013, is a classic list of The 7 Worst Job Interview Mistakes People Make, minus the inevitable one about not allowing enough time to arrive at the interview at least 30 minutes ahead of time:
- Leaving your cell phone on during the interview and/or actually answering it (people do this, apparently!)
- Being too focused on yourself and not much interested in the needs of the employer
- Being so desperate that it is evident by your rambling and over-eagerness to please
- Being unable to answer basic questions about your qualifications for the position or to speak clearly about your strengths
- Being unable to express why you are a great fit for the position (employers want to know this!)
- Showing that you know nothing about the company with which you are interviewing
Committing any one of these “No-No’s” indicates that you have some serious work to do before you are ready to interview well, let alone be chosen for the position you actually want. Don’t just wing it! Slow down, take yourself seriously, be mindful, “own” your own background and experience, and over all, be prepared to explain why you think your background, education, and experience have prepared you for the position at hand. Expect to be nervous, which is entirely appropriate, but don’t let that stop you. Be authentic and engaged, listen carefully, respond sincerely, and ask questions when they actually occur to you such that the interview becomes a two-way conversation. The ultimate decision, especially when it is in the affirmative, needs to work for both parties. Don’t take a job just because you fear you’ll never get another one.
And keep in mind that sometimes in life, when you least expect it, good things happen — like you actually get the job for which you interviewed, bruised shin and all, and you keep it for the next several years until you start your own business! Eventually you laugh with your co-workers, who have become your friends, about the disastrous day you had on your way to the interview for the job that turned out to be a significant turning point in your evolving career.