How to mess up a job interview

2009-05-27 00:00

IN the land where I come from, I used to hear the elders saying that “not every day is a Sunday”. I never got the chance to ask them what that meant. However, as a small boy at the time, my inquisitive nature realised that it was something to do with luck: that not every day is a lucky day.

Luck is what I needed when I attended a get-to-know-each-other meeting with elders from the family of my in-laws-to-be, for what I went through was some sort of an “interview” that had the ingredients of a Guantanamo-Bay interrogation. With his x-ray eyes staring at me, one of the elders wondered if I had smoked “something” that day since my eyes looked sleepy. Calmly, I denied the allegation. Another one said I looked skinny and was fearful that their daughter was probably going to be starved since I didn’t know how to take care of myself.

I passed that interview because I knew what was required of me and played according to their rules. That’s why I was not branded counterrevolutionary and redeployed back to the bachelors’ club. But while that was a walkover for me, a job interview I once attended was a disaster.

First, I was late and complained about the directions and awkward location of the company’s offices, parking problems and even expressed my fear for the safety of my car in its parking lot. I didn’t forget to mention that the lifts were slow and probable death traps. I thought I was creating a rapport with the interviewer, not knowing that as cordial and happy-go-lucky as interviewers may seem, they didn’t like dealing with a complaining job seeker.

The interviewer didn’t comment but asked me the reason for leaving my previous employment. I brought the unpleasant experience of my last job to the table. I bad-mouthed my former employer and even some of the employees in such a manner that if I was a state witness testifying against a priest on trial, he would have definitely been put behind bars.

While I continued with my outburst, the interviewer kept shaking his head, and I thought he was sympathising with me, not knowing that he was probably wondering: “Will this person be bashing me and our company behind my back at future interviews, too?”

Although employers have their own shortcomings, bad-mouthing them backfires on the job seeker.

The other blunder I made was letting the interviewer know that I wasn’t a keen listener. He had asked me: “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an arrogant customer.”

I blurted out, saying that I had dealt with such customers many times. I was behaving like the Yellow Pages, having answers at my fingertips not knowing that such a question by an interviewer was to elicit a problem and its solution from me. I should have taken time to think through the question and come up with a thoughtful answer.

When the interviewer was interrupted by the secretary, I took the opportunity to take a break and started slouching. Another interview killer. I laced my fingers together behind my head then tipped the chair back off its front legs. And when my cellphone rang loudly, I almost fell on the floor in shock. I had forgotten to switch it off before the interview. Unknowingly, yet part of my habit when something goes amiss, I let out an “f-bomb”, while I was answering the call.

The interviewer and the secretary seemed utterly shocked by my behaviour. He then asked me if I had anything to say before the conclusion of the interview. At this point, I opened the kimono and lamented that the job hunt had been really hard and even after sending out almost 100 copies of my CV, I wasn’t getting any callbacks, that I needed the job desperately and I was prepared to take up any offer.

Although it’s tempting to share your frustrations with a sympathetic interviewer, this lamentation is a jinx and interviewers do not want to hear what they heard from me that day. With the composure of a mortuary attendant, the interviewer suggested that I try acting as a career. I think that was his way of telling me that I was the wrong candidate for the public relations post that I had applied for.

After having surmounted the huge hurdle of being face-to-face with the person who was making the hiring decision, I blew it by crossing the interview “red-lines”.


• Tiema Haji Muindi is a Kenyan journalist based in Durban.

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