Happy Halloween! In celebration of this fun holiday, I want to share with you one of my own frightening job interview stories. I shared it this time last year with Monster.com.
A number of years ago, I was interviewing for a job in Pittsburgh. The company flew me to Pittsburgh to interview in person.
I flew in relatively late at night and was taken by taxi to my hotel, with the interview scheduled first thing the next morning.
As I unpacked my suitcase, I realized I had forgotten the pants to my suit at home. Uh oh.
My mind was racing as I went through the options of what to do:
Could I wear the pants I’d flown to Pittsburgh in? No, they were sweatpants—and I was interviewing at a large corporation.
Could I call a cab to take me to a mall to shop for a new suit? No, it was around 10 p.m. and everything was closed.
Could I go into a nearby 24-hour store and look for pants? No, the only store nearby was a drugstore and they didn’t carry pants.
Could I have a pair of pants shipped to me from home? No, all the shippers were closed for the day.
This brainstorming went on for about an hour. I tried to calmly think of a creative solution to this big problem.
Eventually, I found the answer online.
It turned out, packages could be dropped off directly at the airport until around midnight for FedEx, and could be delivered as early as 6 a.m. the next morning. The only catch was getting them to the airport.
So, then began the task of figuring out how to get pants from my apartment to FedEx in a short period of time. The building manager was the only one with a key to my apartment, but I didn’t have her phone number. So I called a female neighbor who was friends with another male neighbor who had a dog that the building manager walked every day—I knew he would have the building manager’s personal contact information, and I knew my female neighbor had the dog owner’s phone number.
After a few calls, I got the building manager’s phone number. Then, I called the building manager and asked her to give my backup key to a friend who was willing to drive the pants to the airport. Fortunately, the building manager was willing to do this and the friend got my key.
Then, the friend entered my apartment and called me in order to locate the correct pair of pants that matched the suit. After locating the pants, the friend drove them to FedEx, which was at the airport, and set them to be delivered at the earliest possible time.
Then, I alerted the hotel to contact me the moment the pants arrived at 6 a.m.—which they did. The interview went smoothly and nobody noticed anything unusual.
The funny thing was that one of the questions they asked was, “Tell us about a time you encountered a problem and were able to find a creative way to solve it.”
It was the perfect opportunity to share my story. The interviewers were both surprised and very impressed. What started as a potential nightmare turned out to be a big win.
I honestly don’t remember if I got that job, but I do remember that the interview went really well.
The lesson here: When it comes to job interviews, don’t expect everything to go perfectly. In fact, there’s often one thing that will go wrong. If you can plan on that one thing, it’s much easier to roll with the punches and have an overall positive experience.
Interviewing is not about answering every question exactly right, either. The hiring manager is much more likely to remember how they felt about you than how you answered each specific question. It’s much like the experience of going to a live comedy show. You don’t remember each joke that was performed, but you remember whether you laughed and had a good time.
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If you have a job seeker in your life, there’s a decent chance you’re concerned about them. This is especially true if they are currently unemployed. They’re upset. You feel upset. You may secretly wonder what they’re doing wrong, and what you can do to help.
The right answer to this question can be tough. One thing to keep in mind is that although the job market is improving, it’s still not easy. Jobs are more specialized. Many roles are done by fewer total people than in the past. And, different markets and cities are improving at different rates. As you would expect, not every job seeker is having the same rosy experience.
The online process also presents huge challenges. It’s hard to overestimate this issue. Companies often use their websites to collect resumes, but it can be tough to know which internet applications are actually seen by human eyes. The online process sounds like it should be simple, so a job seeker may wonder what’s wrong with their resume when they don’t hear back. They begin to take it personally. This negative experience is compounded when family and friends begin to question the job seeker regularly on what the problem is, or perhaps more accurately, what “their” problem is.
One of the best things you can do is be supportive and provide a listening ear. Job searching, especially when you’re unemployed, can be an isolating experience. This is true for almost everyone. The job search and its difficulties is something job seekers rarely talk about openly to other people. Because of this, the job seeker will likely assume they’re the only one struggling through the process, or the only one not getting calls back from online applications.
A second helpful thing you can do is to offer assistance. Offer to review the job seeker’s resume. Offer to introduce the person to contacts you have. But, be prepared to follow through on your promises. During this time of change, the person needs to know they can count on you.
Last, try to be understanding and supportive. If you haven’t looked for a job in some time, realize that the job market is constantly changing. Finding a new job takes time – even for the most seasoned and successful professional.
It’s also important to note that finding a job in one field (for example, technology) can be much easier than finding a job in another (for example, communications). Some fields are flooded with applicants while others have very little competition. And, certain jobs require certifications or education while others are open to a broader base of candidates.
The bottom line is, don’t assume the job seeker isn’t trying, or that they have chosen the wrong career path. And, if they have a tough time emotionally, realize that it’s just part of the process. They’re normal and they will find something new in time. Until then, try to be as patient and supportive as you can. It will help them in the long run.
Angela Copeland is a Career Coach and Founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at CopelandCoaching.com or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.