Job Interviews: From Novice to Nailing It
I’ve worked at a high level for twenty straight years but I never had to interview for a job.
Until December 2021.
I’ve run my own businesses my entire career, and since 2019 I’ve been freelancing as a copywriter. But as the world shifted, so did my copywriting business and I became hungry for more in-depth opportunities. That’s when I applied for my first “real” job with an email copywriting agency. I had no idea how to approach an interview, having always been my own boss. I felt confident in my abilities, but had zero confidence about the interview itself. Not surprisingly, it didn’t go well, and I didn’t get the job.
So when the next opportunity came, this time moving in-house with an upstart SaaS company as their email marketing strategist, I made sure I fixed the mistakes from my rookie interview and came into this one feeling prepared and able to show my future employer exactly why I was their best choice.
The first interview with the SaaS company was with their recruiter, and it went great. Since it’s a remote position, I was able to have all my notes spread out around my laptop, and I knew what to say and when and how to say it. I got called back for a second interview with a junior in the department I’d be working for, and though I was way more nervous for this one, it went even better than the first one. The next day I had my third interview with the director of the department, with only one evening to prepare!
Now I’m in line for a fourth interview with a panel of decision makers… which I’ll admit still has me sweating a little. But now I’ve got the confidence and knowledge I need to make it all the way.
While I’m waiting for that final interview (and to hopefully get the job offer) I thought I’d share the different tactics I used to go from interview rookie to pro in just a few short months… and without much practice.
Tactic #1: Reframe Your Insecurities
Instead of trying to hide those parts of your resume that worry you, or feeling that you have to overcompensate for weaknesses, you can reframe and position these same attributes to make you an ideal candidate. With this exercise, you can present your honest self to a future employer instead of concealing parts of your history that are relevant to the job you’re applying for.
In order to work, reframing your insecurities needs to take place way in advance of the time and date set for your interview. The key to this tactic is less about what you say in the job interview, and more about your attitude and perspective on your so-called weaknesses.
Look objectively at each part of your work history, skills, personality or situation that is making you feel insecure about your upcoming interview and start to list the positive aspects of the thing you think is wrong with you. Get help from a friend or co-worker, or spend some time journaling to get some ideas out on paper. Once you can see positives, where before you saw only negatives, you can start to reframe that aspect of your resume or situation, or whatever it is, and speak about it in a new way.
Sit with this reframe for a while. Practice looking at yourself through this new lens until the shifted perspective takes hold. Build confidence around this new way of thinking about yourself.
- If you’re ultra shy… are you also incredibly mindful and tactical?
- If you’ve switched jobs a lot… have you been exposed to many different skills, work environments and approaches to the same problems?
- If you have very little experience in the field you’re applying for… doesn’t that also mean you won’t be bringing bad habits to this new employer?
- If you’ve got a hectic life with kids or caretaking… Have you figured out a way to devote specific time and energy solely to your professional life, making you more focused?
Tactic #2: Dress Outside Your Comfort Zone
Part of nailing an interview is being able to act like someone you wish you could be, a vision of your most confident and competent self. This is why you hear the advice of dressing for the job you wish you had, not just the job you have.
But I take it a step… to the left.
I like to be warm and cozy, I wear scarves 10 months out of the year, and bring a sweater with me 345 days around the sun. But when I’m prepping my outfit for an interview, I drop the sweater and hang up the scarf. I find that being a little chilly helps me feel different, and thus, channel this other self, the one that feels different (and better) from my usual self.
So when you’re figuring out what to wear to an interview, dress powerfully, but also, don’t be afraid to take a risk that you wouldn’t normally take. Use your outfit to become a different version of yourself, and the costume will help you channel the fabulous alter ego you have, perhaps hidden, inside.
Tactic #3: Do the Research
This one should make everyone’s list of how to prep for an interview, but I bet most people still skip it. My advice here is simple. DON’T SKIP IT.
I googled simple things, like the title of the job I was applying for, just to see what aspects of the job I might not have thought of. I read other blogger’s thoughts on tactics and lists of do’s and don’ts. The more I can picture the job I’m applying for, the more prepared I am to ask juicy questions and lead with answers that point out my area of expertise. I even watched some demo videos about the tech stack mentioned in the job description to get more of an idea of the software the company uses and what pieces of the puzzle are most important to them.
Most importantly, research the company you are applying for, and if possible, the person who will be conducting the interview. This is your chance to make personal connections with the company and the person, which will make your interview memorable when decision time comes.
When I googled my first interviewer, her lovely wedding website came up and I enjoyed looking through a few of her joyous, gorgeous photos. During the interview, when she brought up a story involving her wife, I took the chance to mention I’d enjoyed finding and viewing her wedding website. It was an easy, natural (and honest) personal connection with the person evaluating me.
Tactic #4: Control the Narrative
The scariest part of an interview is being asked a question that you don’t know the answer to. It’s always ok to say, “I don’t know, but I can look into that and get back to you.” But you can take those uncomfortable moments a step farther. Instead of dwelling on your deficiencies, and the things you don’t know about, naturally steer your answer back to your strengths, the parts of the job where you know you’ll thrive. If there is something unique you can bring to this company or this position, make sure to bring those unique aspects up regularly, and find creative ways to answer from a place of strength.
Another way to control the narrative is to turn the question back onto the interviewer and their company. A great example of this is when the employer wants to see proof of similar work you’ve done before, and you simply don’t have that proof. Focus instead on what you’ve seen of the company’s work, and how you would do it differently or better.
When in doubt, move the interview in one of two places, either towards your areas of strength, or onto what you know and believe about the company you want to work for.
Tactic #5: Use Their Words
Before I sat for each of these interviews, I spent a couple hours of research and talking through different ideas with mentors of mine. After that research process I had lots of scattered notes that I condensed and organized (in a way that made sense for me) and had them propped around my laptop for backup security during the interview. If the interviews had been in person, I would have brought a small notebook to keep my notes close to me.
One of the most helpful pieces of paper I made sure to have close by for all of the interviews, was a print out of the job description with key words highlighted. Every time I prepped for the interview, I would read over the highlighted words until they became second nature, and part of how I naturally described my vision for the position during the interviews.
Most companies spend a lot of time choosing specific words to characterize their values and mission, their expectations and identity, and their product or service descriptions. It’s incredibly helpful to naturally use those same words during your live interview. It will make it seem like you already fit right into the company you hope to join.
Tactic #6: Mine for Confidence
This is the last tactic because it comes from doing the other five exercises fully. The whole point of reframing your insecurities, researching for hours, dressing like a new you, controlling the narrative and mimicking their words, is to make sure you come to the interview with as much confidence as possible. Confidence is what sells you to other people, but it only works if the confidence is real. When you actually believe in yourself, and believe that you will be a great fit for the company and that they will be satisfied once they’ve hired you… selling your interviewer on that belief feels natural.
Mistakes I Made
Even though I consider these recent interviews a success, and they were successful enough to move me forward in the process, of course there are things I could have done better.
The biggest mistake I made was going over time. While my interviewers all told me they wanted to take extra time to get through the questions, I was not mindful of the clock myself, and allowed my answers to take longer than they needed to. I’m a talker, and even though I was careful not to ramble on, I should have been watching the time and shortened my answers a bit to fit inside the allotted time frame for the interview. Even the anecdote I mentioned about my interviewer’s wedding photos should have probably been left out in the interest of respecting my interviewer’s time. Now I know I need to watch my extra words which tend to bubble out of me, especially when I’m a little nervous.
The other mistake I made, especially in that first interview for the agency back in December 2021, was my over-eagerness for the job. No one likes a desperate person. Unfortunately what feels like excitement, adoration and anticipation to us, can easily feel like desperation to the person interviewing us. While you certainly want to show your excitement for the company and what they stand for, I need to temper my excitement for the specific job, maybe only mentioning my anticipation once at the beginning, and holding back for the rest of the interview. I just have to make sure to have a friend or my hubby ready for when the interview is over so I can offload my pent up energy!
Whatever you do to prepare, make sure you are mining as deeply as you can for your own confidence in yourself. Don’t spend your energy on self doubt, and try not to get lost in a sea of nerves. Turn your focus to the things that make you feel the most confident, and hold on to that, even if it’s just a thread. Listen with confidence, speak with confidence, and allow silence with confidence, and I promise, whether you get the job or not… you’ll nail the interview.
Hi! I’m Annie Aaroe, a b2b marketing strategist. To find out more about story-driven, conversion copy and strategy that’s tailored for tech and SaaS brands, visit my website, aaroewriting.com, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.