Stories from the field: Interviews

I’m still basking in the glory of the moment with getting this job. I’m also basking in the sun! It’s been ridiculously nice out here for the past week and I am loving every minute of it.

Now that I have a job lined up, I’d like to share some of my favorite interview stories from the past two years. I’ve shared snippets before, but at the time it was still too close to home. A reminder of all the hoops I’ve jumped through and nothing to show for it.

The dance organization

I had a phone interview with the HR Director while I was weeks away from finishing grad school. I was huddled up in the school lobby, trying to not let the extraneous sound infiltrate my interview. I answered their questions and thought it went well. I was so excited when they called me for a second interview.

I went into the second interview with confidence and grace. I answered everything perfectly and we were having a great chat. Then the artistic director asked me about my experience in dance.

“Oh well, I have no technical experience, but I love the performing arts and have a lot of experience in arts administration!”

When I said this, they were scouring my resume as if they missed something. Mind you, this was not a teaching position, it was an administration position that I had a lot of qualifications for. I knew once they realized I wasn’t a dancer, it was all over. It seemed as if the HR staff and artistic staff had not communicated about the needs of the position.

The arts organization

I interviewed for one of the best arts organizations in NYC. I was thrilled and so excited about this opportunity. I had a wonderful first interview and was invited for a second interview to meet with their entire artistic staff. We hit it off immediately and things went as well as they could. I thought, this could not have gone any better. I felt like all my career experience and schooling led me to his job and everything made sense. I followed up with a thank you and they said would get back to me within a week. Of course, when someone tells you this, every single day that goes by you are waiting with baited breath and time moves so slowly. A week passed by and I didn’t hear anything. Not a good sign.

After a few days of going crazy, I followed up via email. The person I interviewed with said the Executive Director was out of town, which was holding up the decision.

While it was somewhat relieving news, it was still frustrating. I now knew my fate lay in the hands of the one person I did not interview with. A few days later, I received an email from the person I interviewed with and she told me I didn’t get the position because the ED wanted someone with more “New York experience”. OK, um what was I doing in New York? I was going to school and working at the same time. I replied and asked her to clarify. Apparently they wanted someone who was both an amazing professional actress and arts administrator with 5-7 years of experience in New York. From what I know, most professional actors don’t want to be full time administrators and vice verse. If that’s what they were looking for, once again I wish it were more clear in the job description!

The technology organization

I applied for a job that was slightly out of my field, but had a lot of overlap in the management requirements and my experience. The first step was to interview with a consultant, who was doing the initial screening for the organization. It was awkward timing as I was just about to go to Montreal, but we decided to set up the initial 30-minute conversation while I was on the train. I was huddling up in the viewing car of Amtrak, heading just outside of New York City. I was paranoid about reception and noise. Luckily, it went as well as it could have considering I was having a phone interview on a train. It went well enough, as she said she wanted to meet me in person when I got back.

I got back from Montreal and this time the consultant let me know it would be a 2-hour in person interview with her and her colleague. I thought to myself, really, 2 hours to meet with the consultants? When am I going to be able to speak with someone from the actual organization? This was highly peculiar for a non-profit job. I met with the consultants and they grilled me about my experience, my management skills and how I would handle a bunch of different difficult situations. I was exhausted after the 2-hour interview, but one of the consultants spoke to me privately and said I did really well and thought I had a good chance at getting this job.

I was asked for a 3rd interview, this time to meet with the Executive Director. However, I was not meeting her at her office, but a technology fair that was over an hour away. I took three trains to get to the suburbs of Queens, dressed in my best interview clothes and set out to go find this woman. I found her at her booth and we were surrounded by noise and distractions. I told her my story, about my experience and we hit it off. She said she was impressed with my experience and that I seemed very mature “for my age”. At the end of the interview, she told me I was a great candidate and that we would schedule a 4th interview. The way the interview went, she told me this fact as if it was just a mere formality. I left feeling confident and excited.

The day finally came for the 4th interview. I thought to myself, I got this in the bag. The Executive Director basically told me she loved me, I just need to show the other staff members how cool I am and we’re done. I met with three other staff members and answered their questions with insight, confidence and passion. At this point, I was getting a lot of practice talking about myself, so I did well. I thought the interview was coming to a close, then the Executive Director asked me:

“Ok, we have one more step in the interview. Do you want to submit a writing sample or build a robot?”

WHAT? This was never discussed with me. I started to get red and sweaty and I thought to myself, think, think, ok, you have a masters, you can totally submit a writing sample. I excused myself to go to the bathroom to throw some water on my face and psyche myself out. I came out and they gave me a computer, a prompt and 15 minutes to write. They wanted to know about one of my greatest learning experiences. I wrote about leaving everything behind, teaching and working with others. I think it was OK, but whenever you are under pressure it never seems like your ideas are any good. I was nervous they were going to judge every word I wrote. I was finished and felt a sense of relief.

Then they said, “Ok, time to build a robot”.

WHAT?! I thought it was an ‘or’ question not an ‘and’ statement! Of course, I couldn’t say that so I just stumbled and nodded my head. They gave me a wordless instruction manual, with only photos and a box of legos. I stared at the first page for so long trying to figure out what pieces went where. I was struggling. I kept looking at the page, then at the legos and I couldn’t find the red lego that was in the photo in the box. They saw me struggling and said I could ask questions. I said, “I can’t seem to find this red part”.

“Oh, the manual isn’t color coded, so it doesn’t matter. “

WHAT?!! Why didn’t they tell me this before hand? I epicly failed this build-a-robot challenge. All of a sudden my perfect interview had gone down the drain. Not only did they see me fail, but they saw me red, sweating and looking flustered. I thanked them for their time and fought tears all the way home. Here I thought I had this job in the bag, and I knew I wouldn’t be getting the job. It didn’t matter that the ED loved me, that I spent over 8 hours of my life interviewing for this place, or that I had great experience. I had failed their one test and it was over. Mind you, once again this job was not in teaching robotics. It was in managing people. They said they would get back to me in a week, but they didn’t actually reject me until a month later.

It was after this interview, I had decided I was done. I couldn’t live in expensive New York, be lonely without my love and have really good interviews that didn’t lead anywhere.

The LA organization

I had been offered an interview for a job in LA that I thought was out of my league. It was a management position making 55k. The day they wanted to interview me was when I was in Montreal on vacation! I emailed them back right away, saying that I could skype, call in, or even meet one week later as I had already planned a trip to LA to see my family the following week.

They got back to me and said because I couldn’t meet with them, that I should apply for future opportunities with the organization. D’oh!

The Music organization

After having so many interviews, and having such little luck in Portland, several people suggested that I take my masters off my resume. At first this was really hurtful. It felt like I had to hide everything I worked so hard for, everything that I was proud of. It made a mockery of my debt. But I decided to try it, because what did I have to lose? I found an amazing music organization that had a great, well paying job. I deleted my masters from my resume and applied. 2 weeks later I got the call about setting up an interview! I was so excited! My experience was worthy enough to get an interview for an awesome organization and great position.

We set up an initial phone conversation to chat. After playing phone tag a while, we finally settled on a date. The time finally came and the Executive Director called me.

First question: “So tell me about yourself….”

I respond with my standard story, my geographic history and mentioned getting my masters in New York. He replied and said, “Oh, you have a masters? I don’t see that on your resume”.

Being the very terrible liar that I am, I just said, “Oh, that’s odd”.  DUMB DUMB ANSWER. Then I made it worse by making up an excuse and said, “I must have not updated my resume”. UGH! Needless to say, my bad lying made me nervous the rest of the interview and pretty much killed it.

While I am so glad that I have had these incredibly rich, sometimes hilarious experiences I am glad to take a break from them for a while! Have you ever had any terrible, hilarious, interesting interview stories?


5 responses to “Stories from the field: Interviews

  1. Build a robot? That’s CRAZY! I haven’t had many interviews so no interesting stories. I did have to remove my BFA from my resume in order to find any job after being unemployed for 1.5 years after graduation. It felt nice to finally get a job, even if it was part-time, minimum wage. I just removed my BFA, included the school just in case I slipped. If they asked, I would say I didn’t complete the program. They didn’t ask about it.

    • Ugh, yeah it was a humiliating experience. It’s sad that people have to remove degrees that cost them 5 figures just to get a job. It’s not right.

      • Ironically sometimes the degree or name of the school can be a double-edged sword. I’ve experienced the same sort of thing. “Why would someone with a masters degree from X school” want this job. Umm because I need a job and there aren’t a lot of jobs available right now. Foolishness.

  2. Mostly, I wish all those people with “more experience” would stop applying for entry level jobs. Twice, I’ve supplied for jobs where I was a beautiful match to the posting, added the interview, seemed to make a connection with the interviewer, and then get a call back starting that they went with a more experienced candidate.

    • Interesting, I feel like people didn’t hire me because they thought I was overqualified. I think it can go both ways for sure. It does suck to lose out on a job for reasons outside of your control!

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