Interview advice to avoid. Unless you enjoy swimming against the tide

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.

Crashing Wave
This is not the kind of splash you want to make in an interview…

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…


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