It started as a friend trying to be helpful during a particularly difficult period in one of my (many!) employment searches. What happened after that was a lesson in being yourself. And how to re-hydrate appropriately.
Some years ago I was really struggling with my performance at interviews – it seemed as though recruiters loved my CV and details, but once I got in front of panels I was not performing as effectively as both parties had hoped.
Discussing this one evening with a friend, he suggested it sounded like I need to be a bit more forward in terms of making a positive first impression – which, in fairness, seemed a valid development point to raise as I could sometimes be too meek when trying to sell myself (my elevator pitch you say? Get me out of here!).
His suggestion was when I first entered the interview room was to take control by offering the panel/interviewer a glass of water (assuming that there was a jug on the table, as there often is). Psychologically this would mean that I was taking some control back of the meeting, showing that I was not shy and retiring when it came to dealing with senior people within a business, etc.
“I am not entirely comfortable with trying to take control of a meeting full of strangers, but offering and pouring a glass of water you say? How difficult could that be?” Well…
My first (and last attempt) was undermined by my arrival to the interview – it was a really hot day, I was very parched so was definitely in need of water and slightly hoarse as a result of being stuck on the Underground for 35 minutes or so. So when I arrived at the interview, I was not only keen to offer everyone a drink but I wanted to raid Pow-Wow’s offices for all of their good stuff!
So before I sit down in front of the panel of three people, I ask “Would any of you like a glass of water?” However, due to a combination of nerves and a parched throat they could not really hear me. So when one of the panel said “Sorry, what was that? You want water?” I thought it best to speak up a little – what came out was: “WOULD ANY OF YOU LIKE A GLASS OF WATER? I AM JUST GOING TO POUR ONE FOR MYSELF”
Though not quite the Fergie hair-dryer treatment (for non UK/football fans see here for more details), it came across really poorly and I felt on the back foot immediately. Sensing my nerves one of the panel (smiling broadly, willing me to perform) said “Why yes, I would love to – it looks like you have had quite a journey here…” An olive branch in a storm of interview nerves – salvation for this weary candidate? Not quite…
It was then that I went for her glass without keeping my eye on my own that I managed to over fill it. Panicking, I tried to reach for said glass, whilst also trying to sort the out the panel members glass – with the jug suddenly not one of my top priorities, I had suddenly made a very simple task a very complicated one. I am sure you get the picture of what happened next.
Lessons to be learned
Needless to say I do not consider this to be the most effective interview advice I received but there were some lessons to be learnt and things I did differently afterwards. Aside from taking a bottle of water on the train, it taught me the following:
- Own the advice you are given – do not implement it for the sake of it
Although my friend meant well with his advice, I was clearly not comfortable from the off with implementing it – but trying to be too much of a people pleaser, gave it a crack. If you are not entirely comfortable with trying something new, do not attempt it in a high-risk situation such as interview. Make your mistakes in the dark (where no one can see them) before you bring everything out in to the light.
- You need to believe your own hype before others will follow
I realised after I would only be comfortable with presenting myself as a credible recruit if I thought I was exactly that; no amount of Jedi water-glass tricks could convince a panel of anything else if I did not truly believe it myself. That was part of the reason why I was so nervous in the first instance, which was then probably exacerbated by my journey and first interaction with the panel – something of a perfect storm of how not to perform in an interview.
Believe in what your skills and expertise are bringing to not just a recruitment process but every working day you are in a role – you have earned the right for that role/interview/promotion, so start buying in to some of that hype!
- There is more than one way to skin a cat. Or dazzle an interview panel.
The overriding lesson I learnt was that although I could not work the room through a glass of water trick, I had other aspects of my personality and career history that could grab an interview panel’s attention. Once I realised this the whole process became a lot easier – and I became a lot more employable.
There are no hard and fast rules on this because you have a unique set of skills, competencies and experiences that are informing your behaviour – for better or worse. It is good to be self-aware but not to the point of self sabotage by trying to be something you are not.
So there you go – my least effectively implemented advice. Fingers crossed my suggestions do not lead to a drought of employment offers…