When it comes to job hunting, I've made my share of mistakes. I thought I would offer some of my less-memorable moments in hope you might learn from my missteps.
Not My Final Answer
My first story I call "up a creek without a paddle." In an interview with a publisher of outdoor books and guides, I was asked if I could read maps. I said sure, upon which the interviewer unfolded a map unlike any I'd ever seen. Buttes, bluffs and trails abounded. He pointed to a winding river and asked me which way it was flowing. Knowing I had a 50-50 chance of being right, I mustered the confidence to voice my guess with bluster.
"Correct!" the interviewer said.
As I licked my chops and began thinking about celebrating having aced the interview, the interviewer still had his doubts.
"How did you determine which way the river was flowing?" he asked me. Stunned, I stammered a feeble answer that revealed my complete ignorance of map reading.
The Lesson: Sometimes getting the right answer isn't enough.
Some years later I had an interview with the noted San Francisco design firm Clement Mok. I hadn't done my research on the firm, but felt it wouldn't matter much. After all, project management jobs are all the same, or so I felt at the time. Midway through the parlay, someone walked down the hallway behind me. My interviewer abruptly left to have a brief exchange with this person. "Sorry to cut you off," said the interviewer, "but that was Clement."
Foolishly, I said, "If I stick around long enough, maybe I'll get to meet Mok." That's when I learned that Clement was Mok. The company was named after its founder, Clement Mok. Suffice it to say, I didn't get the job.
The Lesson: Research is essential! And beware of those glib asides and casual remarks seemingly made off the record. It ALL counts.
Learn from the Interview
Many years ago I had sought employment with a privately owned recreational sports firm in Marin County. I had interviewed with the owner, the owner's wife, the manager I would replace, and the people I would be working with. It all seemed to go well.
As I was winding down the process and feeling pretty confident about being offered the position, the owner indicated there was one final hoop to jump through. He handed me a booklet containing 20 pages of questions. He described this elaborate questionnaire as indispensable for determining if I'd fit in with his company. He told me every employee took this survey as part of their hiring process.
I was perplexed. I had interviewed with half of his staff, he already knew my references, had seen examples of my work and had even given me a tentative first assignment. Yet he was placing heavy weight on the answers I was to provide through his questionnaire.
I needed the job, so I began to answer the written questions about my work style, communication style and problem solving abilities. Then came question #58: "What was my favorite color?" Well, color me blue! It was then I realized this wasn't the job for me.
The Lesson: Employers have their own criteria for hiring. If it's too far out then maybe the job itself might also be a bad fit.
By their very nature, job interviews are challenging, awkward and stressful. Mistakes will happen. Gaffes will occur. All you can do is come prepared, confident, and mindful that the unexpected may be right around the corner. Stay positive and true to yourself. And in the meantime, try to learn from other peoples' mistakes.