Dear Ally,

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How [Not] to Nail that Interview

interview cat

Dear Ally,

Last Saturday your uncle and I volunteered to do resume reviews and mock interviews as part of the annual National Chemistry Week outreach event that our local American Chemical Society section hosts. It made me think about some of the outlandish stories I’ve heard as well as some of my own memorable experiences being on the interviewer side of the process. This weekend I polled my Facebook friends to see if they had any advice for you or their own tales to tell.

Here are the people you do NOT want to emulate:

  • Open mouth insert foot. As you know, I work at a Catholic college and an interviewee once hilariously and ironically referred to one of my women religious colleagues as, “Sister-what-the-hell’s-her-name.” Another interviewee for a science faculty position casually remarked that, “Women don’t like math,” one of the last comments to make while interviewing at a women-focused institution. One of my student affairs colleagues once had someone respond to the question, “What do know about our school?” with “I know you have mostly girls and I’m OK with that!” Your uncle’s friend, Housecatt (Do you remember him? He was in our wedding.), shared a story where someone went off on a critical tirade about a national not-for-profit, having no idea that the not-for-profit for which she was interviewing was funded by this very same organization. Lessons learned: watch your language, don’t stereotype, don’t say anything that could be construed as creepy, and do your homework.


  • Not ready to adult. One of my favorite interview stories that your uncle told me has to be about the interviewee who, on a tour of the company’s stockroom, picked up a very large flask and asked to have  a picture taken with it. Another contribution from Housecatt includes the story where he asked why an applicant wanted to go from a full time to a part time job, and the reply was that, “…all my friends are still in college and I missed hanging with them.” There are many stories about candidates who brought their mothers or spouses with them on the interview. So, while it’s good to be yourself and be honest, don’t go overboard, and leave mom at home.


  • Really make an impression. My friend, Jason, shared, “I had a guy show up for an interview with me wearing cat eye contacts. Yeah…no. I asked him why he decided to wear those and he said he wanted to stand out.” Your uncle came home one day with a story about a distracting female candidate who was dubbed inappropriate-top-woman. The same guy in Housecatt’s not-ready-to-adult story came in unshaven, wearing khakis and a shirt that an iron or dry cleaner had never seen – no jacket, no tie. Take home message here: don’t wear anything weird, no cleavage, and look like you actually care what the interviewers think of you.


  • Ramble on.  Jason also commented on my Facebook post, “One time I interviewed a guy for a position and when I would ask a question he would talk for 5-8 minutes. Around the 3rd question in, almost half an hour later, I could not keep my eyes open and I did one of those head-nod things. He noticed, and said ‘Can I assume I pretty much don’t have this job?’ And I said ‘Yes, sorry.’ I was a little embarrassed, but he just didn’t know when to stop talking!” I have had this same experience multiple times and then didn’t have time to get through all my questions, so I couldn’t really judge whether the people would be a good fit or not. You must have concise answers prepared to the obvious questions that might be asked.


  • Distracted much. Once when I was being interviewed, my phone was in my bag in the corner of the room and, although it was on vibrate mode, I could hear it buzzing and buzzing and I was freaking out wondering if they could also hear it and it was hard to concentrate on the questions. My friend, Kamala, had an experience where a candidate was actually texting. It was during lunch, but still inappropriate. The best, though, is my co-worker’s story about trying to do a phone interview while  the other person was driving and the call was actually dropped. Why would anyone schedule a phone interview to be during a time when they would be driving? Make sure that you can devote your full attention to the interviewer(s) by turning devices to silent/ do not disturb mode – nothing is more important at that moment than the interview itself. If it’s a phone interview be sure to be in a quiet, distraction-free room on a phone with a good connection.

I know it will be a while before you interview for a full-time, permanent position, but in the meantime, hopefully this will be useful for part-time jobs or internships for which you might apply or just for a good laugh.

Best of luck in your future interviews!

Aunt Sarah

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