I have always been paranoid about interviews.
Doesn’t everyone get paranoid about interviews?
I think so.
The thing is, they’re so artificial.
You sit there in a room, you’re asked questions no one really knows the answers to (“Where do you see yourself in five years?” Seriously?! Fucked if I know), and you have to make yourself seem professional and like you know what you’re talking about.
Nowadays, of course, I work for myself, and I have no intention of going back to working for someone else. So you’d think this whole thing would no longer be a problem, right?
If anything, it’s now even more intense.
When you work for yourself – especially if you do what I did and leave your old company for a totally different area – it’s easy to feel like people have more reason than ever to judge you, personally, rather than whatever work you’ve done before.
Sure, you can wow them with stories of who you’ve worked for and what you’ve done – although if you work in private investigation/forensics like I do, this is hard to do without breaking client confidentiality – but ultimately? They’re just going to get an impression of you and decide whether or not they like it.
The problem is that this impression can directly impact on your ability to make rent.
This is why you’ll read all those business blogs and “10 Tips To Interview Success” posts, and they’ll all basically tell you to blend in as much as you can. Wear something conservative. Wear enough make-up – but not too much! Look like everyone else. AND FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, DON’T BE YOURSELF.
This worried me for ages, until I realised it actually doesn’t really work anyway.
So I’m here to tell you that it’s fine to be who you are.
Even in business. Especially in business.
Becuase yeah, sure, that lawyer you’re meeting to talk to about running investigations for some of his clients might look at you a bit strangely when he notices the tattoos on your hands, but you know what?
I’m gonna let you in on a little secret.
When you meet a potential client, when you go for an interview at a company, when you’re at a networking event introducing yourself to as many people as possible, you know what they don’t give a flying fuck about?
You. That’s what.
You know what they do care about, though?
Their revenue streams. Whether they’ll get their projects finished on time and win that extra upweight they need to push them into eligibility for their bonuses.
So you know that thing you’re really worried about every time you step into an interview room or a networking venue? Your size 20 figure? The tattoos all over your hands that look suspiciously like you might have spent part of your adult life in prison? Your undercut? The way people aren’t sure which pronouns to use when they meet you?
Your job is to make those things irrelevant.
Because they are.
Not all the time, obviously. At home, with your friends, your tattoos and your love handles and your gender identity and your hairstyle are all elements that make up who you are.
But in business, they’re just a feature people might use to describe you; to pick you out from the crowd.
Make them into an afterthought.
By making the conversation all about work.
Eye contact is great for this. Look people in the eye and act as if you’re really seeing them when they talk to you.
Hate eye contact? Then make sure you sound like you know what you’re talking about. Hold your own in discussions on the state of the industry (whichever industry you’re in). Talk about current affairs. Throw in an anecdote or two about past clients (without naming names). Demonstrate that you’re established, trustworthy and knowledgeable.
And then all the stuff you were worried about just becomes a bunch of adjectives.
Which actually can be pretty useful.
I cannot tell you how many times, over the past few years as a forensic investigator, I have found myself in a room with a bunch of middle-aged white men in suits. Mostly with slight beer bellies, grey hair, pinstriped trousers, a tie, sometimes with glasses…
How the hell am I supposed to remember which one is which later on?
I had a particularly horrifying example of this a while back, when I walked into my client’s office, went up to the CEO and said “I don’t think we’ve met before, have we? I’m Scar.”
You guessed it. We’d met. Twice.
So yeah, try to steer clear of that.
But if you have some kind of defining characteristic, it can actually be useful in business.
“Who should we use to work on the next campaign?”
“Oh, you know, that guy we met at the conference, I have his card somewhere…”
“What was his name?”
“Uh… Steve? Ed? John?” (Good luck with that. The number of men in business called ‘John’ is bordering on obscene.)
“What did he look like? Maybe I met him too?”
“Uh… maybe. You know, average height, greyish hair, blue pinstriped suit…”
Or instead, you could have the following conversation.
“Who should we use to work on the next campaign?”
“Oh, you know, that person we met at the conference. I have her card somewhere…”
“What was her name?”
“It was something unusual. Nala? Star? Scar! That was it!”
“What did she look like? Maybe I met her too?”
“Maybe. She had all these crazy tattoos on her hands…”
The thing is, your differences by definition are what make you stand out from the crowd. Because of this, it can be easy to feel like you need to hide them in a situation where they make you feel even more different than normal.
But often, if you don’t make a big deal of stuff, neither will other people.
Turn your differences into adjectives, not obstacles.
On a related note, I’ve often found that people will open up to me more, precisely because I don’t look like them.
I’ve had countless conversations with the aforementioned middle-aged white men in suits, where they’ll admit things to me that they wouldn’t admit to their coworkers. They just assume I’ll be more accepting, presumably because (A) I’m younger, (B) I’m female, and (C) I look a bit strange.
I was shy about all the things that make me different for a really long time.
Then I got tattoos, and it’s hard to be shy about things that are blatantly displayed on your skin. But somehow I still was.
It took loads of networking events, various interviews (at conservative companies, too), and several years in business, to finally come to the realisation that the only person who really cared about these things was me.
So, my advice to new job-seekers and people who hate networking events and feel self-conscious is:
Be yourself. unapologetically. Unashamedly.
Show the people you’re talking to that you can do the job.
Show them that the things that make you different are important and interesting because they make you you, but they’re also irrelevant to your ability to get the work done.
And that way, you’ll end up showing yourself that being a bit of a weirdo in business can actually be a good thing.