The disastrous job interview that changed my life

Sometimes over preparing for a job interview can backfire. Like it did for Dwayna Covey

Girl giving job interview

A few years ago, I landed a job interview for what I thought would be a great director level position in the wellness field. I was eager and ready, as this was the career step I had been waiting for. I was not the least bit concerned that I had been scheduled as a candidate due to my professional network connections. I knew well that my application was one of many and without the referral from a friend it may have stayed at the bottom of the pile, as at the time I did not officially hold a director title.

The reality: sometimes we need a little help from our friends—even in the professional world.

The interview call came in while I was in the waiting area of an emergency room awaiting test results of a family member. The question: to answer or not to answer? What was wrong with me; who thinks of such a thing at a time like this? I answered.

I had to contain my happy dance when I hung up the phone—it was just not appropriate at the entrance to an emergency room. So I danced in my mind; and it was a pretty good one!

I prepared well in the weeks ahead of the interview. I was like a kid in a candy store voraciously reading everything I could on employee wellness programmes and had, in my head and on paper, some killer answers to questions I thought they might ask. I documented my strengths and challenges and had a portfolio of successful projects that I thought would support my well-planned answers.

The day of the interview

My bedroom looked as though a bomb had gone off in it as I dressed that morning for my interview. I had planned the outfit ahead of time; yet last minute I switched gears and decided to go with less of a corporate look and more of a “I am smart and healthy, hire me” look.

I had an hour to prepare on my drive to the big interview. I used my mirror as a guide to help me not look grouchy, pompous or dumb as I responded to the questions I asked myself in my mind. I was feeling confident and ready when I stepped out of my car. I had this! The job was all but mine; they would be crazy not to hire me.

I was like a kid in a candy store voraciously reading everything I could on employee wellness programmes

I gave a firm handshake and an assured smile to the coordinator organising the big event. She handed me a stack of papers that included the job description and responsibilities. I was to review them before starting the interview. I scanned the five page document thinking how helpful this would have been had I received this while preparing for the interview. I imagined flipping through the document and aligning the expectations with my ‘prepped’ answers. Yes, that was what I would do—make the connection to the prep I had done. Got it!

My performance in the torture room

As I was escorted to the interview “torture” room as I now refer to it, we made small talk and I reassured myself that this was a good day, a new beginning, the next step. I could see myself working here, making a difference, finding my way to impactful leadership.

The interview room door opened, I took a deep breath, reassured myself and stepped into the room; eight serious faces [male and female] were staring at me as if I had five heads.

The questions started—and around the room we went like a merry-go-round. I was off and running, or so I thought until I realised my hands were sweating and the words coming out of my mouth sounded like someone who didn’t know how to talk and surely had no idea about wellness initiatives. What was happening?

I took a deep breath, imagined all the preparation… and then—the dreaded moment that I heard the interviewer ask me for clarification on an answer… twice. For a moment, I was gone, lost in the “Smith Stare” [what my family refers to when one simply looks ahead lost in thought in mid-conversation].

This was not happening. I was, for all intended purposes in my mind, rocking this interview. This was just a blip on the radar screen. I could pull this off! As the questions wrapped up, I blew off that one bad answer; I had done fairly well.

I could see myself working here, making a difference, finding my way to impactful leadership

I stood up confidently [in my mind at least], smiled and shook hands with all eight interviewers. When I came to person number four sitting on my left, he smiled brightly [I had won him over] and said, “Well you have a lot of energy, I will give you that!”  “Oh, thank you,” I said, in the moment, taking that statement as a vote of support.

I took one last look at them, and then it hit me… their faces looked like those of pity; not of cheering for the most awesome director candidate ever. I felt deflated. The air was feeling suffocatingly flat, like they were thinking: get this woman out of here.

Once out the door, I practically ran to my car. What had happened? I had prepared—I brought along a portfolio for goodness sake. Portfolio; what portfolio? I looked down and there it sat next to me on the passenger’s seat. Had I brought it in? Yes, yes I had. Yet, I set it on the floor next to my interview chair, and never once opened it.

Driving closer to home, the feeling of absolute panic began to set in. I had prepared so well. How could I face my colleague who had gone to bat for me? The torture artist interviewers were probably on the phone with him asking him what he possibly saw in the blubbering, sweating, fast talking, heavy breathing, and staring into nothingness candidate.

The air was feeling suffocatingly flat, like they were thinking: get this woman out of here

OK, take a deep breath, I told myself. Walk through the interview and analyse your answers. Perhaps, it wasn’t all that bad; and I really did kick some awesome interview butt. “Ms Covey, there are various budgets overseen in this role; tell me about your experience.” I rattled on about having experience with budgets, in various roles, doing various things and stuff. Then I rounded it out with a horrible career ending answer. “If you have seen one budget you have seen them all!” Yes, that would give them a fair idea of my eye for details, skill and ability.

Why didn’t I just stand up in the chair and tell them that I really didn’t want the job, that this was a joke by my colleague to see how much they could take? I had fallen out of my head, I was like a babbling monkey who could not seem to slow down her brain. I was wanting the job so much that it oozed out of my every pore. Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me!

Why did I fare so miserably

Our inner adventurer, that voice that talks to us and tells us that we can do anything and be anything is our friend. It can be very useful and without it we may not take the necessary risk and steps to get to where we want to be. And sometimes, we get so hyped up on an idea or a thought that we find ourselves behaving in a way that is not how we would have envisioned.

I did not get that job; and have never looked back. I replayed the interview scene in my mind more times that I wish to ever recall and took away lessons that will be with me throughout my lifetime. My nerves got the best of me that day—I didn’t trust what I knew and I over-prepared, giving my mind way too much to think about.

I did eventually land a director level position, one that suits me and the organisation. I interviewed like a champ in that round because I brought my genuine self to the interview table. I was willing to admit that I did not have all the answers, and trusted that my inner adventurer would keep me on the same reality plane as those in the room with me. I did remember to put my portfolio on the table and actually referred to it.

This time I was not off in the clouds on some wild adventure of my imaginary self; I was there in the moment giving it all I had.

A version of this article first appeared in the October 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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