On my very first interview…

I had my very first phone interview for a real, grown-up library job this past Wednesday. I really don’t know how it went — they didn’t tell me to “get off the phone, idiot,” but you’d have to be pretty rude to say quite that!

I was amazed at quite how nervous I was. I like to think of myself as a relatively confident person — or at least good at putting on a confident front when I am nervous. I have my standard level of nerves that I get in the few minutes before getting up in front of a class to teach. But this was crazy, worse than any time I can remember! Butterflies in the stomach to the level of mild nausea, plus my voice was cracking at some points!

Luckily, I had over-prepared. I spent several days reading all of the advice I could find on interviewing, including:

There were more, but those are the ones I bookmarked!

So I had my list of possible questions, with well thought out answers for each. I practiced out loud for days. Luckily, my husband is a high school teacher and was gearing up for finals, so he was staying late to revise his exam, prepare the answer key, make copies, and so on… So only the dogs heard me talking to myself!

I explored their website, looked up the interviewers on LinkedIn, re-read the job description, my cover letter, and the job description again, and was reading through my prepared answers when they called.

That was the only thing that saved me — I had ground those answers into my brain well enough that the important parts came out (even if I included more “and um”s than I would prefer). I still can’t believe I got so ridiculously nervous! I almost wonder if I should have applied to some lower-stakes jobs first to get a bit of experience interviewing, but I would feel wrong wasting those interviewers’ time just to make it easier to get a different job that I really want. So I haven’t and don’t plan to apply for anything that I’m not excited about.

Despite my preparation, one question did kind of stump me. It was something along the lines of “what is one thing you’ve done that nobody else would do?” Ummmm… I was prepared for a question about taking incentive or being proactive, but not that! I stammered about how I am probably too hard on myself because I tend to think there is nothing new under the sun. Then I went into some of the examples where I took initiative, going above and beyond, though I can’t claim that nobody else would do quite that. So who knows what they thought of that answer.

Really, aside from inventing the WWW or something, who has done anything that nobody else would do? Even Mark Zuckerberg was just adding a new twist to an idea that was already out there, and just got lucky that Facebook became such a hit (yes, that took lots of hard work, but the risks he took could have just as easily flopped). The first men on the moon did something nobody else got to do, but not something nobody else would have done. I do generally go above & beyond what is expected. I do plenty of things that some other people wouldn’t do. But I honestly can’t think of anything I’ve done that nobody else would do.

Did I shoot myself in the foot with that response? Am I thinking about this completely wrongly? What were they looking for with that question? How would you have responded to that question?

And while I’m at it, what tips do you have for managing nervousness? Aside from repeatedly rehearsing responses to common questions and dressing the part (yes, I got all dressed up even though it was only a phone interview!), what do you do to keep the nerves at a manageable level?

*Update — I’ve had two more phone interviews since that one. In the first one, I allowed myself to pace around while talking because, well, I always pace while talking on the phone. Since then, I’ve forced myself to keep my butt in my desk chair — that has helped a huge amount in managing my stress levels! So, if you also tend to pace & get really nervous, try sitting in one spot, surrounded by your notes!

** Update #2 — Just in case anyone is checking back, I thought I’d let you all know that I got the job! I am extraordinarily lucky — though I had some other phone interviews since this first one, the job I wound up getting was from my very first phone interview and then my very first on-campus interview!

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6 Responses to On my very first interview…

  1. Kristi Powell

    To me it sounds like you did great! I’m not sure what a good response to that question is, but maybe they just wanted to throw you a curve ball to see how you would handle it. I think your answer was appropriate. I haven’t applied for any professional jobs yet, much less had an interview, but I do get nervous even thinking about the possibility someday. I think when I get there, I’ll just just try to remember that all the candidates probably feel the same way and that the process is just another test to get through! Now I have my fingers crossed for you…

    • Angela Pashia

      Thanks! It is kind of nerve-wracking. From what I hear, it gets easier once you go on several interviews, but I’m really hoping to land one of the jobs I’ve already applied to and not get to the point where interviews are no biggie anymore!

  2. It sounds like you did a good job! I prepare for phone interviews by doing the same thing that you did. I think my approach to writing thank you emails is probably terrible since I thank them for the interview, then write a few sentences about something I know that they are personally interested in, and then say I look forward to speaking to them again soon.

    I have no idea how that’s going over but I’m also the one who writes super personal Christmas cards each year as well. >_>

    • Angela Pashia

      Thanks! Thank you emails are definitely important, too. I’ve read all kinds of advice about that too — adding the personal touch like you do probably helps, as long as the personal interest is out there for the world to see on a website/blog or discussed in an interview… You know, not falling over into stalkerish territory! :) And good luck in your search!

  3. You could have answered the question with some added context, instead of trying to tackle the enormous question. You could say something that you’d done in a previous job that no one else *there* had ever done before. (Instead of something no one else in the whole world had ever done.) For example, when I started at my current library, I was surprised to find that no one was doing outreach to the local Headstarts. I created a plan, talked to my manager, and began contacting Headstarts to schedule visits. I may not be the first librarian *ever* to do that, but I was the first one at my library, and it is a good example of initiative, planning, and vision.

    • Angela Pashia

      Thanks Rachel! I did get into ways that I had shown initiative, doing things that others in certain settings had not done (as you suggest, so I’m glad you think that’s a good way to handle it!), but that was after stammering about the larger question. It’s definitely a question that I will be better prepared for in future interviews!

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