Interviews. A quintessential and very daunting part of any job you’re going to apply for. No matter how early or late you are in your career, you’ll still get the backflips and butterflies in your belly before every interview.
Though I have had a fair share of good interviews throughout my career, I’ve also had a good amount of awful ones too. When I say awful, I mean that I absolutely failed at them. At some point in one’s life, one would have done really badly in an interview amongst the really good ones. As I progressed in my career, I learned to accept that it is normal and completely okay to fall down and fail at an interview; it happens to everyone and I am no different. In fact, I still remember my very first interview in the recruitment industry - believe me when I say that it was an utter disaster.
At that time, I had just got out of working as a restaurant manager. I realised that after years of long, gruelling hours, not-so-good pay and constantly running around trying to put out fires (literally and figuratively), the restaurant business was just not for me. However, I did note that I found joy and accomplishment in hiring great people for jobs at the restaurant and I was quite good at it. Hence, I made up my mind to pursue a career in recruitment.
I scored an interview with a major recruitment agency, and geared up for it. I did as much research as I could about the company I was interviewing for, watched countless YouTube videos and prepared answers to questions I may get asked. Clearly, one could not be more prepared for an interview. When the day arrived, I made sure to get up early, shined my shoes, had my suit and shirt ready ironed out and went into London with confidence that would make Kanye West feel embarrassed. I was so sure I would knock this interview straight out of the park.
I arrived at the location still feeling really sure of myself. It wasn’t until I was waiting to get called into a room, did I feel nerves of any sort. 10 minutes later, I was walked into a bigger room with 10 other people interviewing for the same position I was. Then the nerves hit me like a steamroller - I did not prepare for a scenario where I had to do an interview with other candidates in the same room, let alone a board of interviewers. I felt like I was asked to audition for X-Factor right there or something. I sat there like a deer in headlights, terrified out of my mind. I was never good or confident at speaking in front of more than one person. [I still get nervous to this day]
One by one, the board of interviewers went round the room and asked each of us to give them a 60-second pitch about why they wanted to work for the company. At this point, I was petrified. When it came to my turn, I barely remember standing up to greet the interviewers or even what I said, but I do remember pronouncing the name of the company incorrectly enough for people to laugh in my face. Talk about humiliating. I wanted to run away so badly.
Reeling from the embarrassment and humiliation that the initial interview went so awfully wrong, we were asked to divide into groups and to interview someone who was already working for the company. By this point, I was all over the place and whatever small amount of ego I had left, was smashed into oblivion. Long story short, I flubbed that part of the interview process too. To make things worse, I was told upfront by the interviewers that I had flubbed it. Yay. So much for feedback, huh?
When I left the building, my opinion of who I thought I was had been shattered like glass. How could I have been so nervous to the point of being unable to speak properly in front of more than one person?! Traumatised, I went home with my tail between my legs and felt a little sorry for myself. However, I still had that little bit of hope in me. I immediately bought “I Can Make You Confident” by Paul McKenna, and got to work on the weaknesses I clearly had.
I’ll be honest. I held on to that failure for quite some time. I think I even carried it with me to the subsequent interviews I had, and probably my first recruitment job too. But I learned that it is okay to fail. We’re all human and we’re not exempted from failures in life. Heck, if I were to re-do that same interview that day, I probably would fail again too. [I don’t do well speaking in front of large groups and the thought of it still scares me, but I’m working on it…] I’ve learned to not beat myself up too much about not doing well at something. I’m not perfect and I don’t think I ever will be, but the important thing is that I learned something from the experience.
Interviews are subjective; that company wanted someone with a specific skill set. Would it have made me a worse recruiter, in hindsight, probably not. But unfortunately that mattered to the company and I personally cannot control that. What I can control, is myself and the way I approach interviews now. I always tell candidates to prepare for an interview not going the way they wanted it to. After a while, you learn to take it on the chin and move on after. Remember, there are always more opportunities out there; it is never a ‘one size fits all’ thing.