Numbers Matter and Other Interview Lessons Learned
This article was originally published on Medium.
It was 3pm. I sat at my desk with my laptop in front of me. My fully charged phone was to the right, sitting next to a stack of notes I’d taken to prepare for the interview. I stared at the phone, nervously waiting for it to ring, 3:05pm. Nothing. I was surprised. Though it was my first phone interview, I thought my interviewer, Gerald, would be prompt, like one would be for an in-person interview. 3:10pm. My phone remained idle. Time to check my email. Was it possible I got the interview time or day wrong? I refreshed my inbox and saw one unread email sent 8 minutes earlier. A message from Gerald.
“I can’t seem to reach you at this number. Can you let me know if there’s another way to contact you?”
My nervous energy morphed immediately into panic. Had I given him the wrong number? I checked the email I’d sent him with my contact information, desperately hoping that Gerald suffered from a dialing problem. Nope, digit dexterity was not his issue. It was mine. I had given him the wrong number! Turns out one incorrect number can make a difference. Ha! I reached for the phone and called him right away.
Gerald picked up and accepted my effusive apology. He was nice, generous even, in his understanding. I knew I had some making up to do; it was going to be an uphill climb.
When I applied for the job, I figured my chances were slim. After all, I was a 55 year old woman, applying for a job in social media, a field often (incorrectly) considered the domain of the younger. In my cover letter, I had addressed the issue of age directly. I said that, even though I had graduated from college the same year Mark Zuckerburg was born (true story), I was confident my experiences developing marketing strategy for nonprofits and small businesses would serve me well in this job. Let’s be real. We all know age can be more than a number when applying for a job. I figured why not address it. Besides, I was sure that if I got my well-treaded foot in the door, they would see that the ability to create and share compelling content didn’t belong to a single generation. And they would hire me.
Of course, that was before phone-gate.
It turns out the interview was a bit of a challenge and not just because it started off on shaky ground. Though I felt I had prepared well (remember the stack of notes?), I discovered that interviewing via phone, instead of in person, presented its own dynamic. Establishing rapport without the ability to read body language or maintain eye contact was more difficult than I expected. I didn’t know whether Gerald’s silence meant he was:
a. taking notes
b. considering his next question or
c. checking out the resume of the next candidate for the job.
Not knowing, I kept talking, making the interview less dialogue and more monologue. When Gerald said “tell me about yourself”, I took him on a chronological journey of my career. Did I answer the question? Yes. Did I answer it correctly? No.
Gerald had my resume. He didn’t need the Audible version. In hindsight, I realized he was interested in the story of my career, one that went beyond the date driven layout of my resume. What measurable impact did I have? What were my successes, failures and lessons learned? I needed to bring my resume to life as recommended here. By not doing so, I looked one dimensional, like a piece of paper on Gerald’s desk. As a marketer, I should have known better.
After the interview, I didn’t hear back from Gerald. I sent him a mea culpa/thank you email after we hung up. I didn’t get a response, leaving me to wonder why I didn’t get the job. Of course, I’d like to blame it on my age (it’s not my fault!), but I’m sure If my age gave Gerald pause, my mistake provided proof that I wasn’t right for the job. I imagine the one sentence evaluation of me as a candidate looked like this:
“If she can’t even manage to type her phone number correctly, what else is she going to screw up?!”
Despite the outcome, I’m grateful for the experience. Like most things ventured, it left me with valuable lessons. Here are a few:
1. My age can be a barrier to employment but so can I.
2. Phone interviews require a different approach than in-person interviews. (Too bad I didn’t have this breakdown of what to expect from Paula Barrios Sanchez.)
3. Prepare to talk specifics. Less when and where and more how and why.
4. And, never, ever, respond to an important email while standing on a busy NYC street corner.