There are a number of books written about how to present oneself at a job interview. Much of what they say is reasonable, although somewhat beside the point, I think. Among other things, they recommend:
- Dressing relatively conservatively, and being well-groomed.
- Learning as much as possible ahead of time about the nature of the job and about the organization (usually a company) itself.
- Of course, being on time for the interview.
- Having on hand a resume that has been re-written with that particular job in mind.
- Asking questions about the company, (rather than waiting to be told.) And so on.
They also recommend ways of addressing the interviewer: looking him in the eye, speaking in a loud, clear voice, sitting upright, smiling. I think this advice is likely to make the person being interviewed self-conscious. Besides, what is the purpose of these instructions? It is to paint a certain picture. That issue can be addressed more directly.
But first of all, if you are going for a job interview, ask yourself if you really want the job.
When I applied for a particular psychiatric residency, I told myself I did not want to pretend to be someone else for three or four years. Either they would want me the way I was, or they would not. It turned out they did not want me the way I was. I was sort of surprised. Later on, I realized I really wanted the job. If I had been willing to admit that to myself I would have presented myself differently—for one thing, I would not have told them I had been supporting myself by playing poker.
Some people don’t seem to care one way or another if they get the job. Later in my career, when I was the Director of Psychiatric Training, and when I was the one hiring residents, I asked a particular applicant if she had read anything by Sigmund Freud.
“No,” she told me, “but I saw a picture of him once.”
Let’s say, then, that you have decided you want this particular job, whatever it is. It may not be the ideal job for you, but given the fact that you are unemployed—or given the fact that it is a steppingstone to a better job—or given any number of other considerations—you want this job. Maybe next year you think you will be in line for a much different, much better job, but right now, you want this job. Then, you should present yourself as being exactly the kind of person they are looking for. Forget the person you happen to be. Do not think of how to emphasize your strong points, or minimize your short-comings. Think of how to appear to be the person they are looking for. Is it possible you might, then, have to lie? Maybe.
I had a patient who was being considered for a good job for which he was qualified, except that the job required his managing other workers.
“I can’t do that,” he told me. “I hate telling other people what to do.”
“Do you want this job, or not?”
The patient nodded yes.
“Then you have to tell the interviewer that managing people is exactly what you like to do; and it is what you do best. Make up a couple of stories about when you helped someone confront a difficult problem at work. It can be fiction. Make up two stories. When you get to the interview, you have to lean forward and emphasize that managing people is one of your strengths.” The fact is, I went on to tell him, we become the people we pretend to be. Being definite is, in fact, one element of being a good manager.
He told himself when he entered the interviewer’s office that he was not going on a job interview; he was giving an acting performance—and he got the job.
In a way, both people in a job interview—the potential employer and the potential worker—are both lying all the time-- or exaggerating, if thinking of yourself as a liar is too awful to contemplate. The employer exaggerates the opportunities the job represents, the perks, the wonderful people who will be colleagues, the chance for advancement, and so on. The potential employee emphasizes (and exaggerates) his prior experience and skills, how much money he has made, and, in general, what a great guy he is. It is important for the person being interviewed not to lie outright in an obvious way, or about something that can be checked easily. Certainly, he/she should not pretend to having a particular academic degree. Such a misrepresentation is easily discovered. Also, the interviewee, if he is going to be acting. he should do a good job of it. He should not seem to be boasting. Even if he is telling the truth, he should not seem to be boasting.
I remember a psychiatrist who came to a job interview carrying the six or seven books he had written. He could have let on in some way during the interview that he had written books. Carrying them around made a bad impression.
At around the same time, a second job applicant made a bad impression on me for somewhat different reasons. I was sitting in an office with my feet up on the desk, as usual, when the director of our department showed this potentially new psychiatrist around. He mentioned in passing to this applicant that if he got the job, he would have the particular office I was sitting in. After leaving, a moment or two later, the man returned to give the office another look. That is not what we wanted in a psychiatrist—someone who cares about how his office looks. We did not hire him.
The individual being interviewed should be concerned about conveying certain attitudes about himself/herself. Dressing, talking and sitting properly will follow automatically. Besides the particular skills required by a particular job, there are certain qualities of mind and character that are desirable in any job applicant. This is the way you want to be—or seem to be:
- Poised and in control
- Sincere. (Some wag said that sincerity is everything in show business. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.)
If you can convince yourself that you are these things, you can readily convince an interviewer. Practice.
p.s. My patients, many of whom have an anxiety disorder, are particularly distressed by coming across in an interview as being nervous. Seeming to be nervous is okay. When I was the interviewer, I interpreted nervousness as a sign that the person in front of me really wanted the job. I did not think it reflected a kind of weakness. (c) Fredric Neuman 2012 Follow Dr. Neuman's blog at fredricneumanmd.com/blog