Acceptability verses Unacceptability in an Interview

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What is it about an interview that connects with all the youthful messages we carry about acceptability verses unacceptability? Somewhere in time, someone indelibly impressed on our souls that as we lived our academic lives, there was some kind of transcript of life we were recording with every missed class, unfinished assignment, or lesser grade. Whomever it was that articulated that message, a well-meaning parent, a threatening teacher, an ambitious counselor, or the ever-illusive definers of success, the stage was set. We were programmed to think that our imperfect life would somehow need to be defended in almost every place. Why didn’t we finish college? Why did we stay in school so long? Why didn’t we get better grades? Why weren’t we able to get along better with people? And on and on.

I can’t tell you how many clients have entered my office with all those fears and damages foremost in their mind. “I have three degrees but haven’t ever had a decent job.” “I never went to college. I’m afraid they will think I’m a professional student.” “I went to college for 3 years and never got my degree. I’m afraid they will think I’m a quitter.” “I’m too young. I have no experience. I am afraid no one will want to hire me.” “I’m 50 and I’m terrified that I won’t be hired because of age discrimination.”

As I listened to and attempted to comfort my clients, I came to a profound realization. We ALL have things in our past, unfinished academic business, job choices, job losses, or things that make us feel unacceptable. And the good news is, NO ONE has it all or can present the perfect record! So let’s get down to the basics of presenting what we do have to offer! The person who is a professional student has a marvelous education to put on the table. He needs to recognize and promote that! The woman who went to school for three years and did not finish needs to realize that she has 75% of a college degree! The young graduate that lacks experience has a wondrous youth, new ideas, endless energy, and trainability! The 50-year-old has precious experience to share!

My oldest client was 84 years old when we did his resume! He came to me one day and said, “Retirement has never been for me. Do you think I’m still marketable?”
As I spoke with this man, I realized that he was a fantastic forensic specialist with unique and voiceprint expertise. He has been hired by prosecuting attorneys and testified in trials as an expert witness in voice recognition.

I said, “Mr. D, how many people can do what you do?”

He said, “There aren’t many with expertise in the field of voice identification.”

“Then you have 60 years of experience to offer. You are sharp as a tack and there is certainly a market in law enforcement for what you have to offer. But there are also young upcoming professionals that would probably pay to have even the smallest portion of your knowledge and field experience.” I heard from this client recently, and as far as I know, he is still going strong!

So we come to the job interview with the backdrop of our past, with this “transcript” that we think we created. We may feel defensive.  So it becomes our task somehow to prove our acceptability to the person who sits on the other side of the desk. Because we need and want a good job, our worthiness somehow appears to be defined by whether we can articulate our worth to the manager or HR professional who has the power to hire or dismiss.

So our first preparation for the interview is to work at quieting those old voices, to somehow take back our power, because the interview is not the definer of our acceptability. An interview is simply a mutual exploration process, an effort at determining whether we can meet a company’s needs and whether they can meet our expectations. If we somehow can disarm that “unacceptability land mine”, we can free ourselves to enter into that mutual exploration process without becoming devastated if we don’t fit their profile. And too often we don’t even consider the other side. What if they don’t fit ours? What if we see things in the interview about company policy, protocol, or even their management philosophy that give us warning messages that we would not want to work for them?

My point is simple. The interview is a two-way street. It affords us an opportunity to present who we are and what we have to offer, and in turn, to explore  how a company operates, and what, if anything, they have to offer us. When there is a common meeting ground between both parties, a wonderful working relationship may come to be. Our ability to handle interviews with this attitude  is a skill we must develop. It may not come in the first interview. It may not come in the 10th interview. But we only need one job. So what is it worth to try to find the right job-a job that makes us feel happy to go to work, a job that allows us to feel that we are making a contribution?

Our first step to finding that kind of opportunity has to begin with our ability to disarm our unacceptability button, and open ourselves to a two-sided exploration process!

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