My first interview: how it went

I had my phone interview last Friday. I got an email from the HR person, BA, on Tuesday, and we set up a time for a phone call on Friday at 10:00. I spent all day Thursday preparing: I researched the company on their website, read news articles about them, and made a list of potential questions and wrote out my answers. On Friday morning I was all ready, and made sure to put some real clothes on, and do my hair and makeup. Even though BA wouldn’t be able to see me, I knew I’d feel more professional wearing something nicer than my running clothes & sneakers.

BA was about 10 minutes late calling me. Rather than stress me out, the delay made me a lot less nervous. I think it’s because it gave me a chance to truly compose myself and do a little last minute prep. And it goes to show how this is just one small piece of a much bigger picture, both for BA & company and for me.

When she called, I did my best to sound smiley and friendly. I’d thought she might ask me some off-the-wall questions, as this is a tech-related company, and that’s the sort of thing tech companies do. But it turned out to be very straightforward, standard interview questions. Her first question was the standard, “Tell me about yourself.” I did my little spiel, though perhaps a bit more awkwardly than I would have liked. Other questions focused on why I was leaving academia, how I would make the transition, what about this company’s work appealed to me, my weaknesses. And, speaking of weaknesses, this is such a hard question. Not because I don’t have weaknesses, but because I don’t want to sound like I can’t do the job. If I were being honest, I could definitely identify some things that I would need to work on in order to make a successful transition to this type of work. But these are the things you’re not supposed to say; instead, you have to come up with something relatively benign or even unrelated. I thought I’d found a solution by saying that I have a tendency to procrastinate, but that I work well with a deadline in mind, so I always make sure to create a deadline for myself. But apparently procrastination is one of the two or three things you’re not supposed to admit as a weakness, along with misanthropy and being Republican. So while I hope I spun it to my advantage, maybe it was a total faceplant.

She threw in two questions I wasn’t expecting: “Tell me about a time you failed at something.” I think I came up with a pretty good answer–I talked about not getting funding for my last year of grad school, and how I turned it around into something positive. The other unexpected question was, “Tell me about how you use technology.” This was so huge and open-ended, I was too flustered to think more strategically about what she was really looking for. So I stumbled around and came up with some fairly weak responses.

The bad thing about a phone interview, of course, is that it’s harder to establish rapport and show your enthusiasm. The good, even great, thing is that you can refer to the notes you made for yourself. I didn’t end up needing to do that except on one or two questions, but it made a huge difference to my level of nervousness to have that extra bit of security.

In terms of preparation and setting up the interview, I mostly did everything right; I just forgot to ask how long it was scheduled to take. So I’m not sure if it was meant to last an hour, or if it’s a good sign that she wanted to talk to me for so long.

As far as how the interview went, I feel pretty good about it, especially considering it’s my very first one (I’ve had three or four interviews in my life, but they were for low-stakes, part-time jobs, so I consider this to be my first real interview.). Since I’m my own harshest critic, I take it as an especially good sign that I feel okay about it. It may have something to do with my own ambivalence about the job: while I do want to continue interviewing (and hopefully get an offer!) I’m not sure this would be a great fit for me (for reasons I will get into if it does get to that stage). This is a good situation for me to be in: I’m learning the interviewing ropes with a job that I’m not desperate to get (except in the sense that I need an income, of course). And hopefully one of my preferred jobs will come through soon.

Oh yeah, and I have another phone interview on Monday!

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