Most people new to the job market will have to go on several interviews before receiving an offer for full-time employment. Or, if you’re like me fresh out of undergrad, you’ll likely go on 15 or 20 interviews before you land something. Even though I was rejected over a dozen times before I landed my first “real” job, I noticed something surprising happening: I felt more confident during each new interview. In hindsight, I can see that I felt more confident because I was becoming a better interviewer. This is a skill that is difficult to hone on your own time, because it’s hard to artificially create the atmosphere of an interview. Yes, you can (and should) practice answering common questions that will likely be asked during your interview. But it is next to impossible to replicate the uncomfortable feeling of a stern hiring committee made up of high-level managers drilling you with personal and professional questions in a small, quiet, and unfamiliar room.
The best way to get good at interviewing is through real-life practice, which often entails being rejected. The way I see it, each interview that results in a rejection is an excellent and unique learning opportunity. Here are my reasons why:
1. Interviews give you an opportunity to learn about your own behaviors.
If you go on enough interviews, you’ll start to see patterns in your behavior — how you carry yourself, how you respond to recurring questions, how you navigate uncomfortable situations, etc. Going on dozens of interviews gives you the chance to reflect on what specific behaviors worked. For example, did you feel calm and well-rested because you got a good night’s sleep the night before? Make sure to do that again in the future. Did you feel confident in your outfit? Awesome — wear it again!
You can also gain perspective on what didn’t work and avoid those things in the future. For example, did you drink coffee before your interview and then notice you were jittery? Don’t drink as much coffee next time. Did you notice the joke you told about the weather didn’t land? Don’t repeat that joke during your next meeting (Maybe your joke would have landed with a different group of people. But generally, you don’t want to test new material on an interview committee).
2. You learn how to tell your “career story” in a compelling and concise way.
We are authors of our own stories, and it can be tempting to go into lengthy explanations about our history and experience. However, your story is not guaranteed to be interesting to others — especially if it isn’t edited and refined. An interview is a pitch. The best pitches are those that are concise, but full of detail, energy, and color. You want your audience to be engaged and intrigued the entire time.
In order to land a great job, you need to explain where you’re coming from and where you want to go. The best way to hone your story is to practice. You can (and should) practice with friends and family, but there’s only so much feedback they can give you on your performance. Telling your story in a real interview setting is the only way to truly assess your ability to speak about yourself in front of an interview committee. An interview offers you the chance to practice focusing on the “major hits” of your skills and experience. If you found yourself rambling and ending sentences with “and, um, yeah,” it’s not the end of the world. Just make sure that after the interview, you reflect on why that happened. Take this opportunity to fine-tune your presentation skills. Every sentence should have a clear point and tie into the larger narrative you’re constructing. Give concrete examples of your work, but don’t get bogged down in details. Tighten up your pitch, and go into the next interview with stronger, clearer bullet points about your professional journey.
3. You learn to not put all your eggs in one basket.
I know people who have gotten lucky and not had to interview for a single job. Instead, they’ve been offered jobs through connections or based only on their previous work history. However, many of them are petrified of going on the job market because they are intimidated by the interview process. In the long run, this can be detrimental to a person’s career. This latent fear may cause a person to stay at a job that makes them unhappy, because they worry that the stress of being on the job market might be even worse than their current situation.
Interviews can be scary, but they shouldn’t be scary enough to keep people from achieving their professional dreams. If you go on enough interviews, you’ll find that they become much less intimidating over time. Although it might hurt to be rejected, it is also empowering to demystify the interview process. Not being afraid gives you more freedom of choice in the future.
4. You learn to improvise.
No two interviews, positions, or companies are the same. If you go on multiple interviews at different companies, you’ll start to realize you’re learning how to think on your feet. These improv skills will help you wherever you end up.
Reflecting on how you responded to the environmental factors of your interview can be a great learning experience. How did you navigate the unexpected and awkward elevator ride with the HR rep before your interview? How did you react to the interview committee including a high-level manager without telling you beforehand?
Hopefully situations like these don’t occur during your interview process. But if they do — that’s okay. You can take what you’ve learned and move forward. And when you’re in your new job and a curveball is thrown at you — you’ll have previous experience to draw on.
5. You learn what feels right (and what doesn’t).
If you go on more than five interviews, you’re bound to encounter at least one office or hiring manager that you don’t vibe with. It’s often easier to list things we don’t like instead of the things we do. This is unfortunate, because it means that some people never get around to actually discovering things they love in a real and intentional way.
Leaving an interview with an “off” feeling is an opportunity to think about why you feel that way. But more importantly, it’s an excellent way to find out what you like. Try listing out each negative opinion (and why you had it). Then, think of something you would have preferred instead. For example:
Dislike: The ping pong table in the reception area was crowded with people having loud conversations about the party they went to last weekend.
Like: I would have preferred a quieter, more formal atmosphere.
Dislike: Everyone was dressed in suits and my interviewer didn’t smile much.
Like: I would have preferred a business casual setting with more cheerful people.
Now, if you get an offer from a company whose culture you didn’t initially like very much — that’s another topic. But if you get rejected, consider it a positive thing:
A. You don’t have to deal with making a tough decision.
B. You now have a better idea what a good culture fit would feel like.
C. You can change your job search and intentionally target more companies that you know have a company culture that you like and want to be a part of.
The right company is going to want you not only for your job skills, but for your attitude, personality, and ability to make positive contributions to the office culture.
At the end of the day, a job interview is just a conversation. Both parties are hoping to strike a win-win deal, but it’s okay if it doesn’t end up that way. Keep your up your perseverance during your job hunt — you will prevail! Use the interview process as an opportunity to reflect on your history, attitude, goals, and dreams. Also, if you don’t get the job after an interview, follow up with the hiring manager to ask for feedback. They can offer you insights that you can take with you in the future. Doing this is also a good exercise in building thicker skin. Which, if you’re like me, you might need.
If you’re looking for more insight on this topic, I recommend checking out Jennifer Romolini’s post about going on 23 job interviews. It goes in-depth into many of the things I mentioned above — and it’s funny. Here’s a piece of advice on interviews from Romolini’s post that I especially liked: “Don’t oversell yourself. A smart boss will see right through it and will not hire you; a less smart boss will believe you and expect you to flex those skills on day one, and you will start your job on the wrong foot and perhaps never recover. You have merit as precisely what you are at this moment. Stick with that.”
Good luck on your job hunt!