May 4, 2012

Why I bombed my first job interview, and how I can do better next time

Interviewer: Why did you leave your last job?
Me: Blah blah blah assigned above industry standards. Blah blah balh, overworked. Blah blah blah mistakes were made and they asked me to leave.
What I should have said: I was downsized. My duties were split between the remaining admin, a billing coordinator and a marketing coordinator.
They said they were firing me, but did not contest my unemployment claim. I’m told this qualifies as being “laid off.” The reality is they hired two people to do what I did, though I won't say it because that is not exactly "downsizing."
Interviewer: What was your most challenging class?
Me: We learned programming through a graphical program called Alice. I just couldn't make the leap from the graphics to the programming elements. I talked to people who do programming and they helped me understand.
While it shows I was able to find a solution, this was an outright lie. The question took me by surprise and the programming class was the first that came to mind. Have I mentioned I don't lie well?
What I should have said: The most challenging class I had was Project Management. I had only rudimentary experience with Microsoft Project. We were required to map out project elements such as scope planning, schedule development, resource planning, and cost budgeting. I struggled more with the program requirements than I did with the concepts. Ultimately I passed the class with a B+.
This answer is similar to the one I gave, in that the difficulty lay with the interface, but it 1) shows I learned the elements of project management and 2) is actually the truth so I’ll convey it better. It also shows that I succeeded on some level, by passing with a B+.

My first response to her question was actually “I can think of 2…” Honestly, the most challenging class was the one I attended while my Dad was ill, which I dropped soon after he passed. I didn’t want to talk about that though, so my brain jumped to “what is another, that makes 2…” Not the best way to start my answer. 
I was equally challenged when I took that last class over a month later. My brain still didn't work properly, and while I finished with a B+ I really don’t remember anything about the class at all.
Interviewer: What was your most rewarding class?
Me: Project Management, because I have some history and experience, so therefore was able to take lead on the project.
See my answer above. This was also an outright lie. I finishing the interview thinking “I  told her basically that I don’t do well when I’m unfamiliar with a subject, and that I do well only when I am already familiar.”  This did not answer the question of a rewarding class either, only one where I supposedly did well.

This answer also gave the impression I only took the lead on subjects I know. I took the lead in several of my classes, and resisted the impulse to take the lead in many others. Taking the lead was a lot of responsibility and extra work. As with many team efforts, people were getting by because other people (like me) would do the entire project themselves rather than get a bad grade because one person wasn’t pulling their weight.
What I should have said: Probably the most rewarding class was the one which was also the most challenging, because I had to overcome not only learning the material, but also the program required to present the material in a professional manner. That was a hard won B+.
This is different from the programming example I used, because we were actively being taught the programming interface. We were left to our own devices with Microsoft Project.
I don’t think I could have won by bringing up this class, regardless. She wanted the project to have been a real project, instead of just mapping out a project in a program. 
Interviewer: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Me: Blah blah blah want to be a database administrator or business analyst, but (obvious pander to this job) feel I should get experience in the trenches first.
What I should have said: In an IT position that offers the chance to learn and grow. Right now I would like to be a database administrator or business analyst, but am open to whatever opportunities cross my path.
The other question she asked was about what I called “content management” on my resume. It involved managing the content of a website, making sure everything was accurate and up to date, and attending meetings with the people who actually made the changes. Again, the interviewer wanted me to have been the one making changes.
Ultimately, the reason I didn’t get the job is because I did not prove I had any tech experience. They gave me a series of questions prior to interviewing, one of which involved an experience where I had to ask a lot of questions to gain information. I used the purchase of a car, but could easily have used troubleshooting my own personal network, or setting up my web server (which I am still troubleshooting).

Now all I have to do is get someone else to spend more than 6 seconds on my resume, like what they see, and give me a chance. I wonder if the federal government will call about that customs agent position I applied for the other day…

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