How To Blow An Interview
The best interviews -- like the best biographies -- should sing the strangeness and variety of the human race.
You're meeting with a prospective client, hoping to land an assignment. No doubt you've been hearing all kinds of conventional wisdom from your friends about how to make a good impression. The key term in the preceeding sentence, however, is conventional: do you really want to be common and normal for the rest of your life, when you could be an interesting anomaly? Get your priorities in order!
Here's my advice for how to comport yourself when interviewing with a potential client:
Dress Like a Slob
Sure, lots of clients think dressing up is an indication of professionalism, but do you want to work for a client with a superficial worldview like that? And what if you're a nudist? How do you dress professionally then? Look, if they don't love you for yourself and your skills, you don't want them. Wear your oldest, worn-out duds, preferably grease- and saliva-stained. It's a good way to test the client for philosophical depth.
Another piece of conventional wisdom is that it can't hurt to be dressed more formally than the client, that even if they're dressed very casually, your caring enough to overdress will make a good impression. I guess that's true, but if my goal in life were to make a good impression, would I be writing this column?
Being late for an interview shows the client that you're an important person, that you lead a busy life and you're in demand. If you're late, you must be good, right? The conventional wisdom is to figure out in advance how long the trip to the client's site will take, and plan on being about five or ten minutes early to show that you're punctual, reliable, and really interested. The problem with this advice is that it ignores the laws of physics and astronomy: no matter what time it is at the client's site, it's some other time someplace else in the world. And if you're on another planet, as I am, it's a different time completely! How does that jive with "being on time," huh?
Screw the First Impression
So-called business-psychology experts say that the most important part of any interview is the first five minutes. I think the most important part is when you're having a beer with your friends later that night, telling them what a dork the client was and that you really don't care that they're not going to give you the assignment. I mean, what is life for, anyway?
The veterans tell you to act strong, positive, and confident, and be aware of your body language. Body language, huh? In my case, that means trying not to fall out of my chair if I get a sudden angst attack or some other variety of psycho-philosophical vertigo.
The experts also advise you to be careful how you phrase things when you respond to questions. No problemo, that's my specialty. For example, one phrase I find useful at interviews is "Who told you that, your mother?" I recommend this line, especially if delivered in a sneering tone, as references to family are always a big winner. The career types also advise that you rehearse tough questions with a friend beforehand. Of course, they don't say what you should do if your friends are all morons.
I'm notorious for giving a bad interview. I'm an actor and I can't help but feel I'm boring when I'm on as myself.
Switching into their touchy-feely mode, the experts suggest that you "be yourself" during an interview. What does that mean, that if you're a hard-core phony you should put it in abeyance for an hour? Hah. Anyway, in my case, being myself is exactly the wrong advice. In fact, I mostly land projects by being a good actor. (I can act normal for about an hour -- you know, not drool, rant, or pass out -- so I'm careful never to let my interviews go longer than that.)
The so-called experts also advise that you state, but don't exaggerate, your accomplishments. That's probably true, assuming that you have any accomplishments. Personally, I have thousands of them, but I won't bore you with the details.
Don't Follow Up
Look, this business of sending a follow-up letter to thank the interviewer for their time and express your "continued interest" in the project is ridiculous. Sure, it works, but like I have nothing better to do with my time than write bootlicking letters to a bunch of pathetic suits just so they'll give me work?Don't Ask Nothin'
It is not every question that deserves an answer.
The business gurus say you should ask intelligent questions at a client interview as a way of showing that you're interested and observant. Not only that, but they say that you should listen carefully to the client's responses. This is supposed to simultaneously impress them and gather valuable information. Personally I think this is a lot of crap. I regard interviews as a good opportunity to lecture the suits about my latest theories on Life, the Internet, and Nothingness, and to enlighten them concerning my aesthetic and moral superiority to their pathetic selves. You may not have my philosophical depth, but surely there's something you can lecture the client about.
Their Questions, My Answers
Here are some classic questions that the so-called business "experts" suggest you ask. These are supposed to impress the potential client while helping you to evaluate the project. In my opinion, these questions are hopelessly clichéd, so next to each I humbly offer an alternative.
If you happen to work through an agency, the suits tend to add additional advice, such as calling your agent right after the interview to let them know how it went, and not discussing money or other terms directly with the client, but staying focused on the project itself and letting your agent handle the business stuff. In my case, I guess the closest analogy would be calling my shrink right after the interview and not discussing my medications directly with the client. But I'm not exactly one to hold back. If clients don't want to accept me as I am, and hire me out of pure love, then to hell with them. I just gotta be me.
San was the founding editor of 1099 Magazine, serving as its first editor-in-chief and creative director. He's now back in the boss-free world as a freelance writer and illustrator. In addition to the inSANity column on 1099, San's other writings and cartoons are at www.sanstudio.com.
We'd love to hear your feedback about this column.