Sigmund Freud once wrote that every time you take someone to bed, you and your partner bring all of the past to bed with you -- domineering parents, past relationships, cultural attitudes, and more. The bed is so crowded and so scary that making love is best done in the dark under covers.
Much the same can be said about job interviews, except that you can’t do them in the dark, even though you have the feeling that you’re sitting there naked and exposed. Whether you are talking to a human resources manager or someone is looking over your portfolio, it is not just you, but your parents, your teachers, and your past employers, among others, who are in the room with you.
Don’t believe me? How many times, when you were starting out, did someone look at your work and ask you not only where you studied, but whom you studied under? How many times have you used that as a talking point when it first met with approval? How many times have you told your life story, albeit in abbreviated form, about how you left your provincial small town to come to the big city to make it? How any times have you heard the voice of a parent or a teacher in your head, lecturing and hectoring you while you stumble through an interviewer’s questions?
Okay. You get my point. The real question, though, is, what are you going to do about it? Good sex depends upon either quieting the voices or asking the spirits in the room to join in to make it a threesome or a foursome or whatever, and good job interviewing skill depends on how well you can do the same thing. Interviewers know that the people of your past are always in the room, but it’s up to you how you bring them into the conversation.
How do you do that? Rehearse. No lawyer ever puts a witness on the stand without rehearsing his or her testimony, so why would you go into an interview room cold and unprepared? Sit down and figure out what questions an interviewer is likely to ask. Pick out work samples you’ve done that most resemble what a potential client might be looking for.
Once you’ve asked yourself the questions others are likely to ask you, work out a narrative that is simple, to the point, and non-repetitive. Then ask a friend or friends to ask you the same questions and have them listen to you. Was it too much or too little? Did your answers open doors that were better left closed? You know the drill.
When it comes to your greatest strengths and weaknesses, figure out answers that don’t open you to ridicule, analysis, over-interpretation, or suspicion. For example, I always tell potential clients that my greatest strength is that I deliver work on time and below budget, and that my greatest weakness is the curse of all thinking creatives -- overanalysis. The former is a good, safe answer, and the latter is one that interviewers don’t want to touch.