Career Resources

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An interview is not a confessional

Many times when I am conducting mock interviews with students, I have to remind them that the interview is not a confessional. As a Catholic, going to confession is part of my religious tradition, but it always amazes me how many students treat the interview in just the same way. It's not that these students are confessing their deepest, darkest secrets to me. No, not at all. It's just that they either divulge way more information than is necessary to answer the question or will readily share information that will be viewed in a negative light. Skilled interviewers are adept at leading their interviewees down this path to total disclosure and many students, just starting out in the professional world, may not be prepared to handle this.

Let me give you some examples. I recently conducted a mock interview with a student who was going into the final round of interviews for a full-time position. When I asked him why his GPA wasn't so great, he started telling me how he had a hard time in freshman year because he couldn't balance his academics with his social life. I said to him, "Do you mean social life as in partying?" and he said, "Yes." Hello! However, after talking to him "off the record," I discovered that his GPA had been steadily increasing since his first semester as a freshman. So I advised him just to say that and not mention his problem with partying.

Another student was going on a first-round interview which required leadership skills. As president of a sorority, she clearly held a leadership role which would make her a competitive candidate for the position. However, when I asked her about her role as a leader, she started to tell me that she was "opinionated and overbearing" and had a difficult time taking suggestions. "Off the record" we discovered that the reason she said this was because she was nervous and hadn't planned to say that. After some discussion, she was able to identify the positive traits that made her a terrific leader.

I asked another student who was interviewing for a client services position, which job on her resume she liked best and which one she liked least. She proceeded to tell me that she liked the client-centered job the least because dealing with the public can be annoying! So "off the record," I told her either to not apply for jobs that involve client contact or make sure to change her answer.

Okay, so I know what you're thinking..."How could these students have said these things...didn't they know better?" Thinking that is like watching "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" while shouting out all the right answers to the contestant from the safety of your living room. An interview can be an extremely anxiety-provoking situation, somewhat similar to being a game show contestant on national TV, where people end up saying things they hadn't planned on just because of nervousness.

So what's the solution? The solution is to plan, plan, plan your answers to the commonly asked interview questions. I'm not saying to memorize your answers but to know beforehand the key points that you want to mention. By doing this, you will know when to stop and it will keep you from rambling, which is the slippery slope toward the confessional. Another critical piece of advice is to be comfortable with silent pauses during the interview. Interviewers use these pauses to see how you will react...to see if you can remain calm under pressure (this means STAYING SILENT) or if you will start to fill the void with nonsense.

The best way to prepare for interviews is to keep conducting mock interviews with career counselors, other professionals, or your peers. By doing this, you will be perfecting your interview technique and greatly increasing your chances of hearing those magical words, "You're hired!"

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