Let’s face it, if there’s anybody who’s qualified to advise people on how to function as an adult, it’s me, the unemployed, broke freelance writer who speaks almost entirely in Tumblr memes. Recently I managed to snag a phone interview for a neat little job and it was such a rip-roaring success that I decided to share my knowledge with others in the hopes that it can help them achieve their dreams, too.
To prepare, spend the night before your interview playing World of Warcraft until 4 a.m. It’s okay, you have nothing else going on in your life, so you can just set your alarm for 11:30ish and possibly even have time to shower after rolling around making bleating noises for an hour. Lay out a set of clothes for yourself, because you’re more productive when you’re fully dressed like you’re actually going to leave your house for once. In the morning, you will look at these clothes and decide that it’s just easier not to wear pants. (It’s a phone interview, it’s not like they’ll know. I do not recommend applying the same mentality to in-person interviews, unless you are interviewing at some place that encourages pantslessness. Be sure to give them your cell phone number instead of your landline, if you have one, because nothing contributes more to a successful interview than both you and the interviewer having to stop every ten seconds and ask “What?” Communication is key.
Now that you are sans pantalons, unwashed, and only recently vertical, it’s time to wait for the phone to ring. Sit at your desk — you know, the old crappy one missing a drawer that you refer to as your “office” so that you can sound important and keep people from knowing that you actually conduct all of your business two feet away from where you sleep — and stare at your phone, because using the Force will totally make it ring. If the interviewer is 30 seconds late in calling, decide 10 seconds into his tardiness that they’ve changed their mind and secretly hate you and go into a full-blown panic attack.
When the phone rings, it is totally acceptable to speak in your approximation of a “professional” voice even if said voice actually sounds more like a “phone sex” voice. This is in no way awkward for all involved and nobody will notice when two sentences later you forget to sound like a grown-up and go back to speaking in your normal voice, which sounds like a fairy on a three-pack-a-day habit for the past 20 years. Introductions should be brief and relatively painless, but sometimes they throw you a curveball by having a second person in the room who will also introduce themselves. Here is a sample of how to respond to such a situation:
- Interviewer #1: Hi, I’m John Smith, calling from Acme Co.’s hand grenade manufacturing team.
- You: Hello, Mr. Smith!
- Interviewer #1: I also have Pat McGroin sitting in with me today.
- Interviewer #2: Hello!
- You: Ok!
There will be a long, awkward pause where you’d think you’re supposed to correct yourself and actually greet the second interviewer, rather than treating him like an unloved bastard stepchild. Instead, remain completely oblivious to social norms and sit there with a vacant smile on your face wondering why everyone has just stopped talking. After 6 seconds or so, the interview will continue. Only after this point should you realize that “Ok!” was probably not the expected response and spend the rest of the interview feeling like a douchebag and wondering how your faux pas has affected Interviewer #2’s psyche.
By now, you’re undoubtedly nervous, and while there are words swimming around in your head, reaching up to grab enough of them to string together a coherent sentence is probably going to be out of your realm of ability. Thus, I recommend spending the entire interview cracking stupid jokes and giving rambling answers to every question they ask you. You will receive bonus points for nervously giggling every two minutes. After realizing that the interviewers are not laughing and that you sound like a completely unqualified 16-year-old idiot instead of the 25-year-old creative powerhouse that you are, your stress levels should rise to such high levels that you begin having an out-of-body experience in which you can see yourself verbally digging your own grave but are powerless to stop it due to the fact that ghost hands are notorious for being unable to interact with the physical world. Instead, your ghost self should stand there helplessly chanting “shut up shut up shut up” until it returns to your body, at which point you should spend five minutes hoping that what just happened was all in your head and that you did not chant “shut up shut up shut up” out loud.
At some point, they will begin to ask you about your qualifications and experience. Your best bet is to put “um” and “uh” between every sentence and completely forget to mention 75% of your accomplishments and skills. If they ask you about other languages spoken, mention anything you have at least a working proficiency in, but also mention that you speak a smattering of others, specifying that all you can do in them is insult somebody’s mother and ask where the bathroom is. This way, they will know that you mean serious business when it comes to globalization.
If you’ve made it this far without the interviewers “mysteriously” disconnecting, you will now be out of the hot seat, and the tables will be turned; that is, they will ask if you have any questions for them. I find it best to ask one serious question that you pull out of your ass because you’re afraid that not having any questions makes you seem disinterested, followed by one stupid joke question that the interviewers will mistake as being completely serious and spend their valuable time actually attempting to answer. After their wonderful, well-thought-out answer, you should unintentionally make yourself sound like an even bigger asshole by chuckling nervously and saying “Oh, I was… actually just joking about that, I mean, I know better than to… um… awkwaaaaaard” because by this point there is no conceivable way you’re getting the job, anyway, and as a result, your brain has gone into complete shutdown mode.
After the interview is complete, repeatedly bang your head against the desk while you reflect on how you have let down every single person who gave you a recommendation for this position.
Incidentally, everything I’ve just suggested above is biting sarcasm, but it is the absolute truth with regards to how my very first phone interview ever went. I received a polite and professionally-worded email two days later advising me that they had gone with another candidate for the position, something I do not blame them in the slightest for. I’m not sharing any of this for pity or to complain, even. I’m sharing it to illustrate a very important point.
Sometimes we screw up an inopportune times, and that’s okay.
The “adult” kicks in when we don’t let one rejection letter ruin our lives and dash our hopes and dreams. It’s okay to feel sorry for yourself for a short time. Some self-care is in order — cuddle up with a good book, treat yourself to some ice cream, go out to dinner with friends if you find yourself needing the company of other people to cheer yourself up. Take the time you need to shake it out, and then get right back on the horse. You aren’t a failure. You’re not doomed. You’re not incapable of functioning.
I think we all forget from time to time that we are not superheroes and that we cannot win at everything 100% of the time. During my “sorry-for-myself” time, I called my mother to apologize to her for letting the entire family down and making them look bad. She laughed and told me about how when I was a kid, I’d go into hysterics and lock myself in my room for bringing home anything less than an A+. In 8th grade I brought home a C in math and very nearly had a nervous breakdown. There’s the (highly racist) joke about an A- being an Asian F? Well, apparently it’s a Mediterranean Jewish F, too. The kicker was that no one in my family gave me grief over having to keep a perfect 4.0. Sure, they had high expectations of me (and still do), but their primary rule was always “try your hardest, and if you still get 98 instead of 100, well, just try harder next time.” They never had to punish me, because I did a fantastic job of punishing myself.
Sure, it’s an admirable trait to always strive for excellence, but there comes a time when we need to step back and look at the situation with a much calmer set of eyes. In my case, I was applying for a job that I admittedly was not completely qualified for. I wrote a letter of introduction explaining that though I did not meet all of the concrete requirements as far as education and experience, I still felt confident that I could perform to and exceed the company’s expectations with no issue. Even getting a phone interview with that was a remarkable feat that, realistically, the majority of people with my level of qualification probably would not have been able to pull off. Trying to be Superman or Wonder Woman (or Batman) all the time just isn’t doable, and if we don’t accept that for ourselves and learn how not to beat ourselves up for it, we’re going to send ourselves either to a padded room or an early grave.
I took my time to lay around watching Disney movies and declaring that Mulan was my spirit animal for the complete disaster that was her date with the matchmaker which, in my mind, went about as well as my interview. I spent an entire day responding with “dishonor, dishonor on you, dishonor on your whole family, dishonor on your cow” to anyone who asked how it went. And then I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and jumped back on the horse with three more applications to the same company (but for different positions).
At the very least, eventually they’ll get sick of seeing my name on their desks and have no choice but to give in.